I have been role playing for almost 30 years. This time thirty years ago (I was 11) my cousin came to stay with us and he taught me how to play Car Wars from the pocket edition. At night he would draw out a red box with a warrior and a dragon on the front of it and he would design for a dungeon for his friends. I did not understand any of it and was a pretty mad Star Wars fan at the time so my contribution would be to tell him to add more storm troopers. Well, it took maybe a further four or five months but I got my hands on a mates copy of that box and started running games. The games have served me well and changed me in ways over that time that I felt might help others learn some of the benefits of Role Playing Games (RPG) and empower those around them that are interested in their benefits.
RPG’s have changed me completely from the child I was. In Primary school, (Grades 1 to 6 in Tasmania) I was a bright kid but not particularly motivated to learn. I was jealous of the higher performing kids but did not really see the link between the effort they made to get the results they did. I was more interested in the fairer sex and social life, so I had good friends and girlfriends. I had shown a creative nature and was pretty good at writing a story but the editing of the story and the final copy was something completely beyond me.
Year six was the year that I got into role playing, 1985. My parents were quite concerned about it because this was the time that the “church” was going to war with role playing as the recruiters for satan. Now we were not an overly religious family, in fact I think I can name the times we went to church without being invited on one hand, and I think that is a generous estimate. But it was also the year that I had a teacher who was pretty turned on with learning and student development. I attended a rural school and it is hard to get good teachers there but this man, Mr. Swanston, was keyed in and aware of every student that came to his class. My parents attended parent/teacher with the concern about my RPG habit.
Mr. Swanston was quick to show them hard data about my own learning. He had approached this conversation with his pedagogical (art of teaching) understanding and he showed my performance in English and Maths, as well as comprehension. All of my scores and trends had shown a distinct and immediate improvement. His reasoning for the improvement was that the RPG’s I was playing introduced reading and mathematics in a form that was fun and created, in me, a desire to understand and learn. Of course this was the case too. Many of the games in that era were wordy and held mathematics that required a good handle on the basics of these skills.
The bonus of this for me was that I was learning without realizing I was, and it also introduced the concept that something useful came from books and written sources. I made it through high school and college (years 7 to 12 in Tasmania) without any major problems. I was still not a studious kind of guy but I got good marks without a great deal of study (read without a great deal as none) because I had learnt how to observe and analyze information from a book through role playing. My parents never concerned themselves again with the issue either. They took on board what Mr. Swanston had said and were happy for me and my friends to explore the imaginary vistas around a table with dice and imagination.
In 1999 I left Tasmania to further my career and in doing so I left the reliable in person group that I had been playing with for so long. I moved to a strange town with no one I knew and I realised that my gaming was going to be compromised because of this. I started a play by email game of Earthdawn (which kind of still runs but we are lucky to get one or two posts a year these days) and that was the only gaming I was doing. To facilitate this I had to buy a computer and it is really the first time that computer/video gaming became such a huge part of my life. A lot of the role playing that I was doing was computer game based and it was so horribly narrow a focus unfortunately.
But video gaming got a hold of me and I got overloaded in receiving my role playing fix from directed online role playing games. The closest I came to anything decent was Wizardry 8 and the game based on the Vampire RPG franchise that allowed for development of a game via computer. I had lost site of good role playing. I did start playing again while away from Tasmania but it was not satisfying and my style was not a good fit with one of the other players that joined us and I moved on again to another town where I knew no one.
In fact it was not until I returned to Tasmania and an old mate (Scott Desmond) suggested we started gaming again. We did and have been playing for at least seven years now. A combination of these games and the games that I run online have helped me to “kick” the computer game habit of role playing. I used to be a solid video gamer but now I very rarely pick up a controller or a computer keyboard, unless it is somehow related to pen and paper role playing.
My wife and I have had the same issue with my then eight year old son (he is now 11). He was completely hooked on video games. Nothing would come out of its mouth unless it was something to do with Pokemon or Sonic the Hedgehog. In all aspects his social development was being stunted in this way. To assist in this I started him roleplaying with Michtim, Georg Mir’s great roleplaying game about anthropomorphic critters fighting to survive their environment. It was like a switch was flicked and all of a sudden I was under assault to be running role playing games and he also started to be weaned off of the video games.
A couple of years before that my daughter was also having social issues, but not really due to anything game related. She was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which I think has now been redefined as just an Autism Spectrum Disorder (there is no Asperger’s clinically anymore) and we knew that she would struggle to deal with social situations unless she was taught how to involve herself. My wife and I had a discussion and decided that we could use my weekly game to assist her in learning social skills and so she became the first of my children to join in.
It has helped a great deal to have her at the games and before where she was struggling to communicate she is becoming boisterous and fully into the game. She has taken some of this into her wider life and I am really proud of what gaming has done to help her in her daily life. In fact gaming all around has drawn in some great friends and provided me with an awesome creative outlet. The fact that I can use all of this accumulated knowledge that I have gathered over the years means I can pass on this material to new players and also create adventures that many people will enjoy.
How has role playing helped you? Let me know in the comments and keep rolling!