Ever had a work-related role play? I’ve had three. None of them went well.
#1 was during an interview for a children’s program at a zoo. The interviewers were all women in their late 30s, early 40s. I, a male of 20 years, had to demonstrate my classroom management skills: I was the adult, they were young children. Like, four and five years old. Role playing with someone you JUST met is strange for sure. But USUALLY they aren’t cooing and babbling and crying the whole time. I clench just thinking about it.
#2 was for training at a summer day camp. My boss and her associates also decided to role play children. Except they secretly assigned a “naughty” child among them just to see how their employees would “handle the pressure.” Basically, it was just a fun excuse for them to let loose, swear a bit, and run off into the woods. Nope, nothing wrong with them. Not at all. Another “clencher” for sure.
#3 happened last month. As part of student teaching, we were doing an “angry parent” role play. When it was my turn, I, the teacher in the scenario, was given this situation: “this parent doesn’t know that her child has been involved in an incident on social media that’s made its way into the classroom. You have to bring it up to her.”
“Okay,” I said. “Any specifics on what happened?”
“No, you get to make that up.”
“Huh.” Not a huge fan, but okay. I wanted information so I could make an informed choice about my approach and receive the appropriate impact for that choice (ahem).
So I made up a story about how there were some pictures of partying involving the parent’s child that were circulating at school. “It happened Thursday,” I said.
“Last Thursday?!” the parent said. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner? It’s been over a week!”
That’s when I caught myself: Wait. Are we playing out a scenario? Or improvising a scene?
In one, there’s a problem to be solved. In the other, it’s purely for entertainment. If we’re allowed to establish any details we want, then there’s not really a problem to be solved. What if I just said “I did tell you. I called you on the phone but you didn’t pick up”? Now it’s just a theater game, not really something educational.
To me, this level of authority for players really messes with play. “Anything goes, make it up” isn’t a great rule for players, as it often just paralyzes them into a nebulous infinity of decisions.
The rules of the game were muddled, for sure. At least with those other two scenarios, I knew the situation. The only things that had to be established was the physical space, the role of each player, and the game’s scenario and objective.
So what’s the lesson? It’s come up a lot for me recently but it bears repeating: information is king. To repeat myself: the facilitator of role play #3 didn’t give me the information I wanted so I could make an informed choice about my approach to the scenario. Because that was, in fact, the point of the exercise: how do you approach the problem of an angry parent?
Give more information.
If your games lean towards the storygame-style, you can get away with this. Just be mindful how weird it can be in the position of the players.
Man is it easier to make a decision when you know what your role is, what you’re allowed to do, what’s going on, and what the objective is.
Also, role play with people you know… Unless you want to permanently associate your interviewer, your boss, or the dean of a local school with a toddler, child, or angry parent, respectively.
Any fun “role play outside of gaming” stories?
Further reading: “Description-on-demand”