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Role-playing Games

Role-playing Games (RPGs) are powerful pedagogical tools in which players co-create fictional scenarios while enacting characters. Role-playing is commonly used in trainings designed for learners to practice skills in addressing conflict, such as crisis management workshops, first responder scenarios, simulated patients in healthcare settings, and international diplomacy deliberations.

Many people have trouble understanding the perspectives of others. Such difficulty can lead to issues of strife, ostracization, and systemic disempowerment throughout society. Role-playing invites participants to take the role of a person within the fiction who may be similar or quite different from themselves. This practice promotes perspective-taking and empathy; difficult skills to access in times of distress, fear, and conflict. Reflection after the role-playing activity helps learners not only better understand the challenges others face, but also how their own behavior in conflict situations positively or negatively affects the experience of others. Role-playing allows learners to realize they have options in how they choose to respond to any given situation, rather than reacting solely from instinctive or unconscious behavior.

ROCKET innovates such trainings by adding techniques from role-playing game theory and practice to teach concepts in conflict transformation. Participants create and embody short scenes guided by skilled facilitators that explore common conflict situations in educational environments for students, teachers, and admin staff. These target groups practice skills at identifying and communicating key aspects influencing their characters’ engagement with conflict. Such aspects include their character’s positions, interests, feelings, needs, and conflict styles. Participants thus better understand their own worldview as influenced by their cultures and subcultures. They also practice nonviolent communication, checking the perceptions of others in order to build a shared understanding and seek win-win scenarios.

Such practices are essential for socioemotional learning (SEL), particularly when engaging with issues relevant to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Inherent to the practice of marginalizing others is an inability to understand their perspective, communicate respectfully, and help them get their needs met. Role-playing games often deal directly with issues such as power imbalances, allowing them to be experienced in a visceral way. While role-playing scenarios will never replicate another person’s life experience, they can help build a bridge, making the struggles of others more personally relevant and relatable to learners. They can also carve a space for people who experience marginalization to share their experience or express themselves in a less risky environment. ROCKET’s goal is for such trainings to contribute to greater peace, justice, and understanding throughout our respective educational institutions, as well as to society outside of academia.