The Importance of Live Action Role-Play (LARP) – aka Pretend
Almost all children role-play as youngsters. Whether it’s pretending to be a cat, a superhero, or a mummy or daddy, imaginative play in which a young child spontaneously and deliberately inhabits another character is seen as an important part of social development. According to Doris Bergen, a professor of educational psychology at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, “Although play has been a well-established curriculum component in early childhood education, the increasing emphasis on accountability appears to have led to a corresponding decline in the general understanding of the important contribution that high-quality play—especially pretend play—can make to children’s cognitive development in the early years.”
LARP is the immersive role-play version of pretend
As they move into adolescence, many young people in this technological day and age continue, and expand, this natural inclination towards roleplaying by engaging in video games. Many of these games require players to create a custom avatar, build online communities, and achieve specific objectives in wholly imaginative lands. ‘World of Warcraft’ is the globally dominate example that has seen countless teenagers living complex, deeply immersed virtual lives parallel to their ‘real’ lives – although for many World of Warcraft devotees, their ‘real’, physical lives rank more as a secondary, annoying distraction to their virtual lives! And these immersive games of role-play are not the realms of the solitary classroom computer geek as they once were – the creators of World of Warcraft report that over 100 MILLION accounts have been created since its inception!
Immersive role-play i.e. acting out a character other than one’s own… (which is the definition of drama), is something that young people are instinctively drawn to engage in, and one Danish school is using this natural engagement to their advantage. Instead of learning about history or politics exclusively from textbooks or other passive mediums, students become historical or political figures – complete with school provided costumes and props.
Role-play in Education
As American researcher and recreation therapist Hawke Robinson explains, ‘So if you want them to know about the European Union, they [the students] actually role-play foreign ministers having a meeting, or they have an environmental conference where they try to solve the world’s problems.’
At Østerskov Efterskole, a boarding school in Hobro, Denmark, ‘LARP’, or ‘Live Action Role-Play’ is fully integrated into the curriculum. Although considered fairly experimental even by Danish standards, the school has shown many positive results, especially for those students with significant barriers to traditional teaching methods, such as autism and major ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Given that the focus is taken away from written book learning to experiential understanding, children with other learning difficulties such as dyslexia also benefit greatly.
The school was founded by Mads Lunau, who is also the school’s principal. He founded the school in part because he “observed a lot of young people absorbing a lot of knowledge in order to play the games (such as the complex role-play board game ‘Dungeons and Dragons’). Thick books in foreign languages containing complex descriptions of processes, rules and environments, or large quantities of different fiction—or historically based literature,” and came to the same conclusion that games companies have been making millions off for years – Young people will happily, even compulsively ‘study’, if they are invested in the ‘game’. In this case, Lunau merely took the extra step of integrating the ‘game’ into an officially acknowledged academic curriculum. No cajoling or threat of detention required! These students WANT to learn!
How to improve and perfect your role-play skills
If you’re interesting in finding out more about LARP, in particular the benefits it has had for one student with Asperger’s Syndrome, here is a fascinating short documentary ‘LARPing Saved My Life’ available to watch online.
Here at Drama Works Academy, we see over and over and over again how engaging in dramatic role-play can be life changing for young people. While we’re yet to get to the complete immersion the Danish have welcomed, we offer multiple opportunities each week for your child to experience the adventure and learning inherent in becoming a different character in a different world! Click here to find the option that’s best for your child.
Image source: Cristian Newman