Role playing games (RPGs) have been around since the inception of Dungeons and Dragons in 1974, and have since developed into a variety of role playing games and scenarios in recent years.
Whether it’s a historical event, mythical place, exploration or some other type of experience, the idea behind an RPG is that you collaborate with real people to engage and immerse yourself in an imagined and theoretical world.
The game itself is usually moderated by a game manager (GM), who will act as a narrator and steer the direction of the story.
As the story encounters variables, those instances are dealt with by rolling dice, which incorporates the element of chance and uncertainty. Often times, the games are more cooperative than competitive, and require people to work together to reach a common goal or a certain place in the story.
The big question is simply this: how can it benefit those who play it?
RPGs, essentially since their beginning, have enjoyed a fairly poor reputation with the general public– mostly due to the fact that they are often viewed as being dissociative and disconnected from reality, which can contribute to a person’s withdrawal from real life, or their abnegation of life’s responsibilities in favor of the game’s responsibilities.
But might there be some social and educational benefits to RPGs?
The jury is still out as far as the scientific community is concerned, as the sample of studies done on this subject is small; however, of the studies that have been done, most have found that RPGs have a number of positive effects on those who struggle with various social and learning disorders.
Namely, they’re able to improve the ability to speak, learn and communicate with other people, while actually helping them to engage in real-life activities.
Individuals who struggle with various dissociative, social and learning disorders might stand to benefit in the following areas from participating in RPGs:
- Speech and Communication —
- Language —
- Social skills —
Over time, being required to communicate with other people to accomplish a goal can help to improve that muscle in the brain, and make it easier to communicate on a regular basis.
Language — Language improvement can be benefitted because of the simple fact that almost all RPGs are based on an 8th grade reading level or higher.
In fact, most games require you to have a fairly robust vocabulary, which can be beneficial to those who play it, often helping to build their vocabulary and further improving their communication skills.
Social Skills — This aspect is highly debatable, though several studies have shown RPGs can improve a person’s social skills, even in individuals who struggle with dissociative disorders, who might tend to be more withdrawn from real life.
The key is that these people avoid becoming dependent on the game as their only source of real social interaction. For those who can avoid that trap, they’re able to take the social skills that they’re learning and apply them to their real life situations.
A Tool for Therapy
There’s little question that RPGs have a valuable therapeutic effect on people who have learning disabilities or social difficulties. While there are certainly valid reasons to be careful with such methods, it seems like the benefits are worth looking into and considering as a possible alternative method of treatment.
Virginia Cunningham is a freelance writer for Northwest writing about health, gaming, and ways of maximizing potential. Her children love role playing and she finds that it helps them better communicate with their peers.