Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Role Playing Games

by AJ

As I brainstorm ideas for creating (in Aaron's words) "addictive language play"... I cast around for metaphors, examples, connections.

As I do so, I remember my adolescence... in which I spent a great deal of time playing role playing games (such as Dungeons and Dragons). It struck me-- these games are excellent language labs. The games involve the same sorts of stories, puzzles, and engagement found in video games. However, they have bigger advantages: they are also highly interactive... and they require constant verbal interaction. Role playing games are essentially language games. While dice or figurines may be used, most of the action is conveyed through language... and happens in the imagination.

My question: could such games be adapted for foreign language learning? Could they be simplified? Might we, for example, model initial games on "choose your own adventure" books? Might we create scenarios that more closely mimic the everyday situations students will encounter in the "real world"?

I think this is certainly possible... but another challenge comes to mind-- Would students respond? Role playing games demand a certain amount of imagination and a lack of inhibition. Would my adult students respond? Can I design a scenario that would pull them in and lessen their inhibitions?

My guess is yes. But I also guess that students would need to be eased into such a different approach. Initial tries would need to be highly structured, I imagine... In fact, "choose your own adventure" books might be an excellent first step. Students, individually or in groups, could each work through the book once.... then discuss the choices they made and the results.

The point is to move towards a classroom experience dominated by experimentation and "addictive language play". Students might reference grammar texts & dictionaries during such play... in order to advance through problems,.. but their focus would be on storytelling and interactive problem solving (ie. authentic communication). Properly designed, such games would teach vocabulary/grammar in a covert, highly contextualized, meaningful way.

The only problem (from a teacher's perspective): Sounds like a lot of work!

San Francisco, CA