I’m a nerd. How much of a nerd? I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Dungeons and Dragons. So, I can tell you with some authority that D&D is not a common hobby for the “In crowd” in high school. Honestly, it was not even that popular amongst nerds for a while. In recent years, “pen and paper” and “live action role playing games” have seen a resurgence. There have been more teens buying books, attending cons and even playing in libraries. But what are Role Playing Games?
In short, Role Playing Games are cooperative story telling games where a group of people takes on the role of a character in a story and setting. It is a story and setting created, managed and judged by one or more players who have no character of their own. These players, sometimes called Game Masters, also control a cast of characters that make up the rest of the people in the world.
There are two primary styles of role playing games that these posts will be concerned with. The first is Pen & Paper. Also called table top, P&P games involve some aspects of improvisational theater. Players sit around a table top, and they talk in character. When it comes time for combat, they use a battle map or board to maneuver figurines that represent their character (as seen in E.T., and unfortunately in Mazes and Monsters).
The second type of game is called Live Action Role Playing, or LARPing. These games have more in common with the Society of Creative Anachronism or Re-Enactors. The difference is that the setting is generally either fantasy or sci-fi based. More attention is paid to being true to some story, than to historical accuracy (as seen in the movie Role Models).
Both types of Role Playing Games have been used in education. The Arlington Enrichment Collaborative (AEC) has used a LARP to get their kids into creative pursuits such as writing, crafts and art. They also have used it to help some kids deal with serious emotional and psychological concerns, as well as the rigors of teenage life. Educators have used role playing games to help ESL students of all ages to practice English.
It is a hobby I feel librarians should encourage. It is something that pulls teens away from the computer. It is highly creative, and it allows teens who don’t have a passion for writing to have an outlet. The gaming community is multi-generational and it allows teens to form bonds with older people with similar interests.
Finally, it encourages literacy of all kinds. Gaming helps build an understanding of narrative, reinforces basic narrative principals and requires a lot of reading. In addition, RPGS have inspired popular intellectual properties and authors. Jim Butcher and Heather Brewer have referenced role playing games in their books. Dragonlance and Forgotten realms were both originally created by employees of TSR (the original publisher) of D&D.
In the following blog posts, I will provide you with collection development advice, program ideas and hopefully more. A lengthier introduction to role playing games by the podcast fear the boot can be found here. They encourage people to freely distribute the episode via CD, so it is a good way to educate your patrons about the hobby as well as educate yourself.