CLECollege Living Experiencegames in educationsocial-emotional learningteaching social skills

The hidden third option: The use of tabletop gaming in social instruction

Scott Allen, Psy.D., is Director of Psychological Services at College Living Experience (CLE) in Austin, which provides wrap-around supports for young adults with learning differences such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD. His guest post explains the rationale behind using tabletop role-playing games to teach social skills in CLE Austin’s highly successful programs. An earlier version of this article appeared on the CLE website last year, and we are honored and excited to share it with Alt Ed Austin’s readers.

As a kid of the 80s, video games were a big part of my childhood. I was always interested in having the newest game system and trying out the hottest game. They were a refuge for me after a rough day at school, and a way for me to relieve the frustrations of everyday life. Anyone who has defeated a particularly difficult boss can attest to the senses of accomplishment and pride that accompany this amazing feat. At that point in my life, gaming was a relatively solitary activity that I used to help me cope with the stresses of each day.

There was another side of gaming that I knew about but did not explore in my youth. I had a small group of friends who would talk about playing D&D (Dungeons and Dragons). I thought I would somehow be considered uncool for playing D&D, so I dismissed offers to play the game. As a kid, I was a “closeted geek.” Boy, did I miss out!

Flash forward to my time at CLE. In our Austin center, I have placed great efforts on making our social programming interesting and fun for our students. My approach to teaching is mostly interest-based as I feel that students learn best when they are truly engaged and enjoying their activities. One of my colleagues introduced the idea of tabletop role-playing games (RPGs)—the broader category of games that include D&D and other games requiring participants to take on the roles of characters—as social-teaching tools. I overheard her leading some games in the lounge, witnessed the student engagement, and took note of what great social opportunities these games are.

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