Teaching social skills with roleplaying games

I was an exceptionally shy child and would rather have spent my time with my nose in a book, than spend it doing activities with friends. In high school, I spent my lunch breaks in the school library and managed to make few friends due to the fact that they also spent their lunch breaks in the school library.

When I entered university after school, I was completely out of my depth socially, and was immensely stressed because of it. My high school friends did not follow me to my university, and I was left still painfully shy, and remarkably lonely. I made a lot of social mistakes in that time.

I eventually managed to make friends again by accidentally sitting next to some students in a statistics lecture, who were talking about a computer game I also liked. They were very patient with all of my social flaws and blunders, because they were also social outcasts in school. I found myself with a remarkably tolerant group of quirky and nerdy people.

I was introduced to table-top roleplaying through this group. We played some games set in the grim dark future, some set in a sci-fi present-day setting, and still others set in medieval fantasy. I loved it. I loved making a character, figuring out their backstory and character quirks, and then putting myself into my character’s shoes while playing in the adventures.

A few years later, we had graduated and started entering the workplace. I found myself able to navigate the stresses and social interactions of daily adult life remarkably well considering my terrible social skills of only a few years before. Table-top roleplaying games taught me self-confidence and social skills.

What roleplaying games can teach you

Table-top roleplaying games are open-ended and take place entirely in the imaginations of the players, with the Game Master or Dungeon Master providing the setting and acting as a referee.

A typical scenario you might face could be something like this:

“You travel along the corridor, when up ahead you see a big hulking warrior guarding the door you need to go through. He seems bored and slightly sleepy. What do you do?”

And this is where the beauty of table-top roleplaying comes in. You have so many options, and what you can do is only limited by your imagination. You could perhaps run in to hit him with your sword, or you could try to walk up to him and convince him to let you go past. You could also try to pretend to be a superior officer and order him to let you pass.

The success of your endeavours is determined by rolling a dice. You can then add a few bonuses to your roll based upon the skills your character has developed. This total then gets compared to the guard’s defense. You could succeed and things go smoothly, or you could fail: “You tried to talk to the guard, but forgot to observe some social niceties, and now he distrusts you and doesn’t want to let you go past. What do you do?”

Now things start to become interesting, and how you navigate this new situation is the best thing about roleplaying. You get to test out conflict resolution in a safe environment that has no real world consequences.

You also learn accountability and responsibility: “Remember that kid you ran into a few sessions back? Yeah, his dad is a rich merchant that just got back to town. The town guard is now looking for you and some of the merchants no longer want to do business with you.”

The consequences in the game are also very real. If your character dies, you don’t miraculously come back to life. You have to make a new character and start over. This means that you stay motivated, and you learn from the mistakes you make.

These games teach cooperation and teamwork in a team where everyone has very different skills, and very unique characters. The only way you can get through the challenges in the adventure, is by cooperating and making sure you do your part.

Lastly, roleplaying games teach empathy. The ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes, to figure out how they would react and what they would do in certain situations, is very important. It makes you more tolerant of others’ differences and allows you to work with lots of different people.

Roleplaying games and literature

A number of great science fiction and fantasy writers are roleplayers, and quite a few books have come from roleplaying games and their settings and worlds.

The Riftwar Saga, written by Raymond E. Feist, is set in the world he and his college friends roleplayed in. The books in this series are set long before the time they are roleplaying in and were written to flesh out the backstory and history of the world. The series now contains more than 30 books and is a fantastic read.

The Expanse by James S.A. Corey is another series of books based upon a roleplaying game. One of the authors (it is a collaboration by two authors writing under the names James S.A. Corey) started long ago by writing out notes about the world the story is set in, and then ran an online roleplaying game on a forum based in the world. The characters that played in this roleplaying game are now the lead characters for the story. The roleplaying game eventually ended, and the author went on a writing workshop (attended by none other than George R.R. Martin who wrote Game of Thrones). George talked to him and they started up another roleplaying game in the world of the Expanse. It was during these playing sessions that another author joined him, and they formed James S.A. Corey and compiled all of the adventures and notes into a book. They had a second book written by the time the first book, Leviathan Wakes, was published. The series has since been turned into a fantastic TV series.

Your child’s English teachers will be very glad to have a student in the class who roleplays. That student will never be short of ideas for narrative essays. Furthermore, having developed their skills in empathy by playing as characters who are different to themselves, their own fictional characters will always be well fleshed out.

Roleplaying games and children

Roleplaying games, like Dungeons and Dragons, are now being used in schools and classrooms to help teach social skills. There are also numerous studies on using table-top roleplaying games to teach social skills to children with Asperger’s Syndrome or who are on the Autism spectrum. Roleplaying games help to place rules upon social conduct, which is something that can really help these children. Roleplaying is also being used in therapy and social rehabilitation.

Kids learn social behaviour by play-acting and through social play. An example of this could be pretending to be firemen. Table-top roleplaying games take play-acting and give it a bit more structure. It is an excellent way to extend social play throughout your child’s life and to make it fun and rewarding.

If you would like to start roleplaying with your kids, you can buy a beginner or starter box for the Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder roleplaying systems. They are the best known and most popular systems, and you should be able to find groups roleplaying with them in any city in the world.

You could also try the WRM system. It is available for free online. It is a system that is very easy to learn and only uses normal 6-sided dice, so you can get started with minimal monetary input (you can raid your boardgames cupboard for some dice).

Try running one or two sessions with your kids so they can learn the system and then let them take over and start making their own world and adventures. Figuring out how a system works together is very good for social skills, and making up a world and adventures is very good for their imagination and creative writing skills.

My own social skills and social confidence have vastly improved because of roleplaying games, and I highly encourage you to give it a try!














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