Jun 27, 2010

Learning English Through Role-Playing Games (C2)

Wen-Hung Fang
May 19, 2010

Learning English Through Role-Playing Games (C2)

There are many ways to learn and practice English. One interesting way that helped me immensely is through role-playing games. Today, I will first define and describe role-playing games, and then talk about their benefits for English learners, and finally I will give two examples of role-playing games that I used to play.

So, what are role-playing games?

Role-playing games are games that allow the players to act out various roles in a story and interact with each other within that story.

In a role-playing game, a Game Master is responsible for developing the storyline, while other participants play the story "characters." Within the bounds of certain game rules, the Game Master and the players are free to improvise. Together, their decisions determine the direction and outcome of each game.

And what are the benefits of role-playing games for English learners?

Role-playing games build vocabulary, in all kinds of subject matters ranging from medieval history to modern science, depending on the game genre.

Role-playing games enhance reading abilities, especially if you read all the manuals and novels to bring your story and your characters to life.

Role-playing games sharpen speaking and listening skills. Just like being a speaker in a Table Topics Session, you need to listen carefully to the Game Master, think on your feet, and respond quickly.

Role-playing games hone the art of storytelling, especially for the Game Master. The March 2010 issue of Toastmaster Magazine had an article that mentioned how storytelling skills can be useful for Toastmasters. So, as the logic goes, when you become a better Game Master, you become a better storyteller, and in turn you also become a better Toastmaster.

So, now that we have defined role-playing games and talked about some of their benefits for English learners...

What are some examples of role-playing games?

BattleTech, which I used to play in middle school.

In this science fiction role-playing game, you play the role of a soldier, or perhaps a mercenary, traveling from planet to planet, and fighting in a 10-meter tall war machine, either for money or glory. Perhaps you're helping rebel soldiers to overthrow a tyrant. Or perhaps you're working for that tyrant to put down a rebellion.

Through this fictional world, you can strengthen your vocabulary and knowledge in the areas of military affairs, physics, astronomy, technology, etc. You’ll pick up terms like "autocannons," "nuclear fusion," "interstellar travel," "electroactive polymers," and so on.

Now, let me give you another example. Even a demo. For this second example, I'll need the help of several members of the audience. Guys, could you come up and get ready? Thank you!

Dungeons & Dragons, which I used to play in high school.

In this role-playing game, you and your friends are adventurers in a fantasy world similar to the one in The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, where there are many fantastic creatures like elves, goblins, and dwarves. You travel together to seek adventure, or go on quests sent by the King.

In Dungeons & Dragons, the bard characters are usually portrayed as happy-go-lucky traveling poets and singers. Bard players often make up lyrics and sing to the tune of popular songs during the game.

The fighters are often portrayed as simple-minded muscle heads, but that's just a stereotype. You can of course also role-play a fighter in a different way.

The mages or magicians are just the opposite; they are often portrayed as cautious and intelligent powermongers.

Now, we're going to start our demo. Listen carefully. What would you do if you were one of the players? Let's begin.


Game Master (WH): You finally clear the enchanted woods and come to the river. The rushing water looks too dangerous to wade across. There’s a nasty looking troll on a narrow bridge up ahead. What do you want to do?

Fighter (Jack): Kill him!

Mage (Daniel): [TO FIGHTER] Wait, not so hasty! [TO GAME MASTER] Isn’t there another bridge upriver or downriver?

Game Master (WH): Yes, you look at the treasure map in your hand, and there looks to be another bridge about five kilometers downstream; however, it appears to be guarded by a big red dragon.

Bard (Trinity): Dragon? Forget it! Let’s try our chances with this bridge. I just learned a magical lullaby last month. I can try to put the troll to sleep. Then we can walk past safely without having to pay any tolls.

Mage (Daniel): That’s a great idea! Let's hope it works! I'll have my magic spells ready, though, just in case.

Fighter (Jack): But I wanna fight! Charge! [WAVE SWORD IN AIR]

Mage (Daniel) & Bard (Trinity): [TOGETHER] Nooooooooooo!!!!

Game Master (WH): Freeze! Thank you, players! Please return to your seats, and let’s give them a big round of applause. Thank you! Remember, real games are unscripted, so players must improvise and give impromptu responses to problems presented by the Game Master. How would you have resolved the situation?


So, that's role-playing games in a nutshell. It has its benefits, and it’s fun. If anyone wants to go adventuring together, you can find me at the KTV, practicing my magical lullaby, just in case I come across a troll bridge someday.

Mister/Madam Toastmaster.

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