Tablet-top Role Playing Games in Education?

I received an interesting email yesterday. Here is an abbreviated version:

Mark,The world of serious games – as in serious _video_ games – is fairly new to me. I know that there are a lot of people writing and talking about the use of video games in education. Since I come from a tabletop role-playing (i. e. Dungeons & Dragons and its myriad descendants) background, I was wondering whether you have any thoughts about using tabletop role-playing in an educational context? It would be very interesting to hear what, for me, would be a view from the outside about the pros and cons of this approach.

– Matthijs

This prompted me to write a brief response that I want to share here. It’s a topic I’ve touched on here before, and which I hope to return to in the future:

Matthijis,There are many ways in which I think tabletop role playing games might be better for educational purposes than MMORPGs. More actual role-playing tends to take place in a table-top game, and naturally table-top games are considerably more open ended and can thus be much more nuanced on an many levels – and much easier to differentiate for individual students’ needs.

However, the need for many (quality) gamemasters is a challenge that makes it difficult to give each student the attention they need. Also where a human gamemaster might excel in fllexibility, he or she loses in computation (in comparison to a computer). It makes it difficult to keep up the pace of a game. Also, and this might be the most difficult challenge, while the need to exercise the imagination might be a pedagogical bonus it does severely limit the accessibility of the game for many. It would loose the motivational and engagement factors often associated with video games. The bottom line is FAR fewer people enjoy playing table top role playing games than video games.

Thanks for getting me to think about this. It’s a topic I want to pursue more when I’ve finished my dissertation. I’m most interested, though, in how we can make modern multiplayer videogames (especially role-playing games of all sorts) more like table-top role playing games so that we might capture more of their benefits without taking on all of these drawbacks.


I’d love to read any comments in response to this – or other thoughts on the topic.