What role playing games taught me about myself…

Fighting Fantasy game books

Before the days of portable gaming devices such as the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP, I used to read a lot of those Fighting Fantasy solo adventure game books. I would pick up all the sci-fi ones (especially Freeway Fighter!) and admittedly I’d cheat by finger-bookmarking various pages to pick the best outcome.

Strangely, I’d sometimes find myself picking the worse possible outcome just to keep things honest or balanced. In the context of hyperlinks on the web, this same behavior followed through with me keeping track of multi-treaded content with a ridiculous amount of web browser tabs.

Because of this, you can see why I’d invent a “Reality Tivo” (a ReVo?), so that I could backtrack and figure out the best possible decision-outcome scenario. There’s something about me that wants to explore all of life’s possibilities. Perhaps it’s the same for everyone?

While such role playing game books might still be passive (since they are still prepackaged environments), I did move on to advanced role playing by being a dungeon master to my gathering of friends. While I’d write a story and plan characters ahead of time, sometimes players would go beyond my realm of reason. Unlike a computer game, you have an infinite amount of choices when playing in real life, limited only by you and your companions’ imagination. At times like these, I had to imagine logical moments on the spot, which I think has helped me today to become a decent public speaker and hopefully a good teacher.

I preferred this Fighting Fantasy series over the other “choose your own adventure” series simply because of the impressive artwork and depth of story. While some might think that such game books are not as educational as reading regular novels, I seriously begged to differ. Beyond learning new words or phrases, I was engaged in decision-making simulation. Depending on how much branching was involved, I was actively reading and forming complex patterns of thought. As a result, stories become more vivid and memorable since you almost live them.

Now that I’m a student and teacher, it dawned upon me how active forms of learning are still missing in today’s classroom. Through the use of game mechanics, lessons would be more compelling and even addictive. Depending on the subject, some topics would be easy to translate for this purpose. As proposed by Amy Jo Kim, online community building guru, there are some patterns we can follow, including: Collecting, Points, Feedback, Exchanges and Customization. As I prepare my syllabus for Spring 2007, I’ll include some of these ideas in there and try to share them with you.

Aside: In a totally reflexive take, authors Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone are having their Fighting Fantasy game books translated for DS Lites and PSPs. I’ve seen some game books translated for the web (all you really need is hyperlinks!) so this will be interesting. Are Role Playing Game books dead?

Aside 2: Check out BBC’s massive h2g2 guide to Fighting Fantasy.