April 24, 2012

Playing Games is Good for You

CC Speech given at Boise Club 61
As I'm prepping for my speech today I decided to go through the Toastmasters directory on my laptop.  There was a particular file I'm looking for and I came across a multitude of interesting-sounding documents in that directory.

Most of the files were word documents from previous speeches or other roles.  It is hard to resist taking a moment to re-read a document called "Pirate Questions", which were the Table Topics I gave during the Pirate-themed meeting that was on Talk Like a Pirate Day.

If I was unable to resist "Pirate Questions" you know that there was no way I could ignore the document simply titled "Beer".  I was Toastmaster for that meeting and chose beer as the theme after watching a fascinating documentary on the subject.

While I still need to find that file, I opened up a third document that was one of my speeches from the Competent Communicator manual.  This was my "Playing Games is Good for You" speech:

"When I was growing up, games were for children or maybe a family event.  Playing games usually meant pulling out a deck of cards.  My parents, like many others, didn’t think gaming was important and they really didn’t know anything about Role Playing Games, or RPGs.

For the purposes of this speech I am going to assume that you are all much like my parents.  Maybe you have a child who wants to play this odd game you don’t know much about, or maybe you are just naturally curious.  I’m going to try and explain what a role-playing game is and why gaming is an enriching experience.  While I am going to focus on Role Playing games, many of the positive aspects to other types of games as well.

Regarding my role-playing qualifications, I’ve been playing assorted RPGs off-and-on with the D&D Blue Box set in 1977.  I was the 1996 German AD&D National Grand Champion and ended up placing in the top 10 at the European GenCon.  I run/play HackMaster now and I run the HackMaster Association on behalf of Kenzer & Company, the producers of the HackMaster game.

On occasion I get asked, “What is a Role-Playing Game?”  The Oxford Dictionary gives a great short answer, “a game in which players take on the roles of imaginary characters, usually in a setting created by a referee, and thereby vicariously experience the imagined adventures of these characters.”  My usual response is bit more complex, but I think it helps get the point across.

How many of you have seen Lord of the Rings?  I liken playing in a fantasy role playing game like participating in the movie, but there is no script.  Instead you have a Game Master, kind of like a narrator, a scenario, and character sheets.  The Game Master, or GM, presents you the scenario, in this case you have to destroy the One True Ring.  Everyone has rule books that help explain how the mechanics of the game works, dice to help determine success or failure, and character sheets that tell you what your strengths, abilities, and weaknesses are.

Best dice ever!
Right from the onset participating in a role-playing game is an enriching experience.  RPGs are educational and social events that spark creativity and reinforce critical thinking skills.  Role playing games generally require a higher level of reading and writing ability than other recreational activities.  Basic math skills are practiced while playing.  RPGs use many sided dice as a game mechanic, teaching probability and fractions.  It doesn’t take many players long to realize that they have a 5% chance of rolling a natural 20 on an icosahedron.  The first dice used in Dungeons & Dragons actually came from an education supply house where they were used for teaching shapes, probability, and colors (they were color coded).

Participating in any game, especially a role-playing game, is a social event.  It is a way for friends to get together and have a good time.  Most role-playing games are rather open ended and don’t necessarily end when some victory condition is met, like in card or board games.  Using the Lord of the Rings example, the Fellowship of the Ring, didn’t just quit when the ring was destroyed.  There were still things for them to do.  The long term social aspect of the game generally reinforces teamwork and cooperation among players.  The game is a group effort even though there could be some friction.  This happened in Lord of the Rings when Boromir felt the Ring should be destroyed.

Borrowed from http://www.austinkleon.com
Borrowed from Austin Kleon, check out his Blog
More than anything, playing in a role-playing game fosters creativity and surprisingly enough encourages critical thinking.  Even though some games use props and there is a lot of written material, at its core, most role-playing games are played within one’s imagination.  The players interact with each other and the game-master’s setting on a virtual playfield.  The players play their unscripted part under the guidance of the game master.  While a game is unscripted, it isn’t unorganized, at that is where the critical thinking comes in.  A good game master tries to guide players along a general path, giving them options and choices.  The players have to analyze those options and determine their own course of action in order to meet their goals.

Outside of a particularly rewarding work environment, few things have the potential for the level of enrichment provided by a good role-playing game.  Role playing games are educational because they encourage better reading, writing, and math skills.  Role playing games are fundamentally creative social events that also reinforce critical thinking skills.  Next time you are contemplating a recreational activity think about the difference between watching The Lord of the Rings, or getting together with nine of your friends and playing the Lord of the Rings."

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