When I first conceptualised the idea of using games as one of my teaching tools, it seemed very wild and out there. After all, how would one marry both synchronously, never mind the difficulty of convincing someone that it’s potentially far more effective than traditional rote learning?

Just to be clear, Swords & Stationery does not only use games to teach. Various techniques and frameworks are taught to our students to help them grasp and build upon the fundamentals of the English Language. Games, particularly role-playing games, only come in at certain points when we deem them necessary to further the scaffolding process. Often, this involves:

A) Providing students with the relevant knowledge (technical and topical) to write well
B) Motivating students to write with a degree of automaticity (i.e. training students to not hate the writing process)

What’s a ‘role-playing game’?

Before continuing, let’s summarise what role-playing games (RPGs) are, for those new to this blog/hobby. In RPGs, players take on the roles of characters in a fictional setting. One person in the group will be assigned the role of ‘Game Master’ (GM) or some other appellation depending on the game being played, e.g. ‘Dungeon Master’ for Dungeons & Dragons. The GM will run players through a scenario that’s set in this fictional setting, throwing at them various challenges and encounters along the way, wherein the success/failure of players’ efforts to overcome them is typically arbitrated through dice rolls.

Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. In fact, I’ll let Vin Diesel demonstrate it:

How RPGs can help students to construct texts better

RPGs provide different lenses through which student-players can view a narrative

RPGs have two layers: in character, and out of character. Being in character means players are expected to see and act through the eyes of their characters. Being out of character means players acknowledge it’s a game that they’re playing, viewing the scenario through macroscopic lenses.

When in character, student-players acquire topical knowledge. With the therapist’s guidance, the student-player can expand his/her vocabulary, and pick up contextual information pertaining to the time period of the setting. Additionally, the mind’s eye is activated because the player needs to construct and lock in mental imagery according to what the GM is saying. This in turn strengthens parts of the temporal lobe that affect functions like spatial navigation and memory.

When out of character, student-players acquire technical knowledge. Again, with guidance from the therapist, the student-player can be taught to critically analyse and deconstruct the anatomy of a narrative essay, including its style and structure. A narrative composition is easier to dissect when it’s not just presented in text.

RPGs motivate students to simply… write

In RPGs, a player will always be actively developing his/her character’s backstory. What better way to encourage writing than to do it through a medium in which the character is the ideal projection of oneself? The game itself provides a narrative thread for the student-player to follow, with gaps for the student-player to fill. These gaps can be in the form of writing assignments (e.g. “Write me your character’s backstory, preferably in 250 words or more, so that I can weave your character into the game”), but because they’re part of the game, they never feel like a chore that the student-player has to wade through.

Seeing is believing

The effects that RPGs have had on my students’ writing skills are almost too good to be believable. Within 6 months, you could see an improvement in their vocabulary, sentence synthesis and overall coherence. Of course, you’ll still need the right instructor for it to work.

That’s why Swords & Stationery exists.

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