Regular readers of this blog don’t need to be convinced to play RPGs. And they don’t need to be justified either. You enjoy it, that’s all the justification you need for a hobby that’s not hurting anyone.
No, the purpose of this post is to give you ammunition to convince other people to play, because of the wonderful things playing teaches. It might give you some validation as a side-effect, you have that coming.
When there’s a disagreement at the table, the players look to the GM to adjudicate the difference. The GM doesn’t want to play favorites, so it’s great practice being an honest and reasonable arbiter of disputes. Since the dispute your arbitrating is about a game and the impact is usually small even within the game itself, its a safe opportunity to make mistakes and learn a skill that is going to come up in any job and many other social situations.
Much as I wish I could come up with a non-copyrighted term for this skill, I haven’t been able to. I’ve actually pushed this post back for months trying to. As a GM, you come to table not looking for your own gratification so much as looking to create a fun experience for your players, all your players. You sit down for 2-6 hours of play and try to make sure everyone is having a good time the whole time.
This builds all kinds of skills. Social awareness to notice players who need a spotlight turned on them. Seeing others to know what kind of aesthetics they engage with. Listening to properly assess the players’ actions. Teaching when a player doesn’t seem to understand something. The table is a great opportunity to repeatedly practice, with almost no other motives, the skills of building healthy relationships. How cool is that?
Finishing What You Started
When a GM starts a campaign, it’s a commitment to finish it, the other players expect it. It’s a lot of pressure to finish something you’ve started, which is a vital skill to learn. If you fail to bring the campaign to conclusion, it’s not the end of the world. Your players are disappointed, but that’s the only consequence, enough to make you want to finish, but not enough to crush you if you don’t, so it’s safe enough to try.
The table can be a hectic place, players and GMs alike learn to speak up for themselves and make themselves heard over the chaos. It’s a safe place to learn the sweet spot for fighting to get your own way, because you’re not losing much when you self-erase (just enough to notice you did it) and you’re not hurting anyone when you push too hard (just looking a little competitive). The feedback is pretty immediate and I’ve seen players (teenagers and adults) rapidly change their behaviors as they hone in on closer to “ideal” assertiveness.
Experiencing failure and set backs builds resilience needed to confront inevitable hardship in life, and the Tabletop RPG is a great place to get that in small, safe doses. Every time you roll a miss, every time you set off a trap, every time you say something insulting to a powerful NPC who then berates you, you are getting a little bit of failure, and every time you come back from it. Eventually, you experience a character death and you come back from that. The artificial trials and failures of the table that you overcome translate to real world resilience, allowing you to keep plugging away at an engineering problem when the last dozen things you’ve tried all turned up nothing.
Unlike other games, Tabletop RPGs present infinite options to choose from. That can be daunting for players at first, but since you don’t have to live with the consequences of your decisions (you character does), making a sub-optimal choice is fine, as it often is in real life. The infinite choices in the RPG also help you to practice thinking outside the box and challenging the concept of what’s impossible, mindsets that can help you be a real mover and shaker at work and other places.
With our hobby teaching skills most people go to corporate trainings and psychologists to practice and learn, and more effectively, it’s little wonder that the RPG community is full of some of the best people in the world.
Much has also been said for the merits of RPGs as therapeutic tools for helping people with social and other disorders. I don’t feel qualified to speak to that, but I believe it. If you’re interested in that aspect, check out Game to Grow and their recent kickstarter Critical Core for more on therapeutic RPGs.