Often, we take for granted our innate ability to communicate verbally. However, we should acknowledge that kids develop oracy skills in varying lengths of time. Some transition from the basic to the intermediate stages fast, some take longer. Over the years, I have realised that the kids who speak best are those who frequently engage in discourse, and who had done so at a young age with proactive parents that give good prompts and guides. It doesn’t have to be of the extremely intellectual sort, but being encouraged to communicate at a young age is frequently the spark that sets off the path of good speaking skills and habits. How then can role-playing games advance these skills?
The Narrative Aspect
One of the most prominent features of RPGs is the narrative aspect. Player characters follow a storyline. There are twists, turns, ups and downs. PCs will meet new NPCs. And thus it continues on.
When I ask my students what some of their favourite moments are, few point out combat situations. That’s not to say they didn’t like the combat; however, meeting interesting NPCs and experiencing shocking plot developments stuck with them more firmly.
How does this factor into the development of their communication skills? To begin with, a lot of the narrative was developed as a result of their actions. How do they do these actions? Why, through communication of course. They would have to express their intents through speech. Improv is also encouraged during conversations with NPCs. The narrative is told through me, true, but they’re the ones who weave it.
The Mechanical Aspect
It’s no secret that one of my favourite games is 13th Age, because not only do the dice tell the story, but they also spin a vivid visualisation of the hard-hitting combat that it’s known for.
Rolling a hit always means “You hit the enemy. Would you like to describe it? There will be bonuses if you do.” Then the player prepares to come up with as fun a description as possible. I would guide the player along by providing more adjectives and expressions. With repetition, those new descriptions would then be internalised as part of their vocab range. It gets even better if it’s a natural 20. Most of the time they’re able to whip something amazing up. It’s a winning situation.
But what about those who are more shy or have difficulty coming up with fun expressions? It doesn’t really matter — struggling with the initial steps is all part of the learning process. I’ve found that even the really shy ones would speak up independently over time when the group chemistry kicked up. And if they still don’t, it can be a good idea to give them a sentence with a blank and get them to verbally fill it in, like “You ____ the sword, cutting the orc guard in the arm for 10 points of damage.” It’s a good start.
Without face-to-face interaction, it raises the difficulty of getting anyone to build verbal communication skills, let alone kids. That’s why I love RPGs. I enjoy the dynamic interactions, the laughter to be had when someone says something funny, etc. There’s something to be said about letting the imagination connect to speech, a task that RPGs really perform well. If you’ve any thoughts on this post, please don’t hesitate to comment below. As usual, happy gaming!