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Open Thread Wednesday: Role Playing and Writing

Role_playing_gamers_(III)One of the most frequent issues writing instructors encounter is student inability to distinguish between argument and opinion. Much of incoming undergraduate writing is riddled with unsupported generalizations, value judgments and lack of evidence. When tasked with responding to a text, many students often react instinctively with unexamined assumptions, finding it difficult to step outside of their preconceived notions.

I’ve been recently inspired by how role-playing writing exercises helps students to get over this ideological block. I am currently teaching a race and ethnicity course where students play a game called Trading Races, in which they play a variety of characters involved in the 2003 University of Michigan affirmative action cases. Trading Races is inspired by the Reacting to the Past series of games first developed out of Barnard College, where students take on the role of historical characters and through arguments and gameplay have the potential to change history.

My students started anonymous role-playing through blogging in character last week, and I was amazed by how much their writing improved from their usual assignments. Students who normally sounded incoherent wrote blog posts that were startlingly clear, even marshaling evidence from the characters’ ideological perspectives to support their cases with confidence. Some of this success may have to do with the game mechanic: a player cannot win the game without convincing and persuading others to support her position. Yet the contrast between this role-playing writing assignment and their regular assignments was stunning. I wonder how much of this has to do with the performative aspect of role-playing, and other pedagogical purposes for such games in college courses.

Have You Ever Used a Role Playing Game In Your Class? Has It Ever Had Any Effect on Student Writing? Share Your Tips and Tricks in the Comments. 

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