The Quest for Motivation: Tabletop Role Playing Games in the Educational Arena

The Quest for Motivation: Tabletop Role Playing Games in the Educational Arena

Arpit Bawa
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/IJGBL.287825
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Studies have shown Tabletop Role Playing Games (TRPGs) to be effective motivational learning tools that can be utilized in various subject matters. However, limited research has analyzed the elements within TRPGs that enable them to provide motivation to the users. As such, this study conducted an in-depth examination of the elements of TRPGs through the perception of players. Self-determination theory helped frame the study, while the Generic Qualitative Inquiry approach was used for the methodology. Semi structured interviews were conducted with six participants. Data revealed several themes that aligned with the motivational frame related to competency, relatedness, and autonomy. The findings indicate the importance of the roleplaying element and the connection between the player and their in-game character, as well as the effect choices within the game have on the players and other elements of TRPGs. Implications regarding design of TRPGs as learning tools are discussed.
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Tabletop Role Playing Games (TRPGs) can be effective educational tools, given the high levels of motivation and increased performance amongst learners (Cook, et al., 2017; Hergenrader, 2011; Lopes, 2015). Despite this, there is lack of research that examines specific elements of TRPGs that contribute to motivation. There is a need for deeper dives into these elements if we are to harness TRPGs motivational potential as educational aids, given the strong relationship between high motivation, cognitive engagement, and performance outcomes (Burinsma, 2004; Juriševič & Černe, 2021). Knowing more about how and to what degree specific TRPG elements impact player motivation will be valuable to develop a foundation for researchers, educators, and designers to optimize the benefits of TRPG based learning tools. This knowledge may also help designers enrich other instructional methods such as roleplays and simulations. This study aimed to address this gap in the literature by examining elements of TRPGs in relation to motivation using the perceptions of players.

Ryan and Deci’s (2017) Self Determination Theory (SDT) served as a frame for the study to examine TRPGs role in self-determination and social learning. TRPGs combine role play, narratives, character design, and robust social interaction amongst players. Some popular titles include Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, and Shadowrun. Players use a predetermined set of rules to create personalized characters, with a variety of levels and attributes that facilitate interaction with other players. The characters are divided into two broad categories comprised of the players and the Game Master/s (GM). The players are the ones who navigate the narrative controlled by the GM. The GM’s role is like that of an instructor in a course, both acting as guides. GMs guide player characters through narratives. introducing new scenarios and modifying the narrative based on the player characters’ actions, much like an instructor would modify lectures and feedback in a course (Coe, 2017; Youakim, 2019). The tabletop aspect relates to the setting where players are seated around a table when playing the game, much like a physical classroom setting. The focus is on intense interpersonal interactions between characters, where they use the game’s narrative-based setting as the backdrop for such interactions.

These games, played as campaigns, allow the players to make critical decisions regarding what to do and how to do it. In turn, these decisions influence the outcomes of the problem scenarios the players encounter in the narrative, resulting in lasting changes made to the scenarios. An example could be a situation wherein some villagers (within the simulation) must deal with water shortage because the village’s water well has been contaminated with pollutants. In this situation, the players will likely need to investigate options such as finding another water supply, finding a cure for the contamination, or finding the reason for the contamination. Players are given considerable freedom to select solutions, so each option may have its own complexity such as multiple ways to remove the contaminant from the well.

TRPGs may be valuable for education given their motivational potential reflected in customization of settings within which players enact their roles and engage in complex gameplay (Williams, 2019), gameplay mechanics that rewards creativity and complex problem solving within narratives (Chung, 2013; Coe, 2017). The option of using prior knowledge and critical thinking embedded in TRPGs are integral to adult learning, which is akin to Zone of Proximal Development where a learner can only acquire new knowledge by linking it with existing knowledge (Vygotsky,1978).

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