Using Games as a Method of Teaching

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Aristotle, Metaphysics

This quote from Aristotle caught my eye a few years ago, and I like where his thinking was at. However, I do disagree with the quote only to a degree. What Aristotle seems to be saying is someone who is learned will more than likely show this trait and thus the trait helps one differentiate an educated person from an uneducated person by assumption. When I read the word “educated,” I think more about the education process of the present. This may be where the misunderstanding is but just bear with me. Let’s assume that these words are now in the perspective of current times and “education” means to find some degree of academic success in college. This filters out a lot of people, and I think that the filter is too specific. Really what I choose to believe Aristotle really was meaning to say is the following:

“It is the mark of a wise mind to be able to observe a thought or change the mind’s perspective and through that shift make a conscious decision to change the mind’s fundamental beliefs.”

This is, in my opinion, a very important trait to have in the present world. The world has grown very small over the last thirty years with the internet coming into the mainstream and new viewpoints of cultures readily available and easily accessible. I believe that the ability of empathy and sympathy can help us navigate these metaphorical waters of colliding ideals. I experience this clash of wants and needs on a constant basis in business and in social situations, situations where I need to put myself in the other person's shoes before I can act or react. A common example of this is talking to Customer Service when you have a grief about a product or service. This situation is one of the more common tropes for difficult interpersonal communication and conflict resolution situations, and it is all for good reason.

To successfully navigate these types of conflict situations, it takes a measure of understanding the point of views of the other party. The idea is that you have your point of view in a conflict and that you need to legitimately try to see the conflict from the other party's point of view. This takes active practice, but once you are able to put yourself in their mindset, you can actively work to resolve the conflict at hand.

So I have been thinking, How can I teach this to my son? How can I make sure that my son is not the raging jerk in the supermarket line that is throwing a fit because his tuna is five cents more than what he expected? I want to make sure that he has many opportunities to learn, develop, and practice this skill of changing perspectives before I release him to the wild. So then I thought, Why not use a Tabletop Role Playing Game (TRPG) to facilitate this learning? I am well acquainted with D&D and though it will probably not have the supermarket example as an encounter, I can still use it to teach interpersonal communication skills, peaceful conflict resolution, and shifting paradigms to better understand the situation. The best part is, I can do this in a safe and controlled environment and monitor how he reacts to a situation so that I can correct when needed.   

So here is a brief explanation of what a Tabletop Role Playing Game is before we jump into my hopes and reasoning. A TRPG usually has a Game Master (GM) and Player Characters (PC’s) and then some form of rules. The GM is the person that acts as the story creator and game mechanics referee. They can create the world and situations around the PC’s and help the players explore these situations that they would not normally find themselves in. As for the players, they develop characters that they want to play, characters with strengths, weaknesses, bonds and other things that make these characters more like a real person. Then they act these characters out in the situations the GM puts before them.

This requires players to step into the mindset of another person (the paradigm) and through the game the Game Master can develop a situation that requires role play and interpersonal communication, not fighting, to successfully complete the character’s tasks. The GM can create these situations in a way that the players can experience moral conundrums and difficult situations that don’t have a “correct” answer. It allows the player to explore feelings and ideas with a degree of separation, and exploring these feelings and ideas can give the player more insight into who the character really is.

This exploration is the interesting bit as it is where the true learning resides. This is where a player and the player’s character can find themselves questioning their current beliefs and test them against difficult situations. In my opinion, this is the “meat and potatoes” of role-playing games in general and is some of my favorite situations to direct and play in Dungeons and Dragons. It gets everyone at the table thinking about the situation critically and can create the strongest emotional responses. I intend to try this out with my son, to get him thinking from different points of views in a conflict. It is my belief that nurturing this plasticity in the mind helps build healthier, whole-rounded people. People that have the ability to sympathize or empathize and be flexible enough to the changing times and ideas, being “progressive” is what it is currently being called, and it is my hope that one day it won’t have a name because it is something people learn early and just do without thinking about it.  

That is where I am going to leave it this week. As always, thank you so much for stopping in and reading. Feel free to comment, I love to read constructive feedback and love discussing ideas like these. Check back in next week to see what else I have on my mind or decide to analyze. Remember to follow The DM’s Table on Facebook or on Twitter @dmstable for updates and to let me know what is on your mind, or what you might want to read about. Thank you for reading.

-- The DM