Fantasy meets reality: a seriously fun education in Gzira

Gzira 7 December 2023
In educational settings, role-playing games (RPGs) provide an instructional method

Since time immemorial, the act of playing has influenced arts, cultures and learning. Through games, a person can step from real life into a temporary state where different rules apply, entering what experts named the ‘magic circle’: a clear defining limit of the spatial, physical and psychological border between the state of play and non-play.

Recent research has highlighted several features of role-playing games (RPGs) for education. RPGs involve players collaboratively creating narratives, guided by a game master, where each participant embodies a character in a fictional world.

In educational settings, RPGs provide an instructional method where learners take on the responsibility of representing different character roles within predefined scenarios that facilitates a variety of learning objectives – with the all benefits of fun and play. Each team identified a framework for effective, impactful, public engagement, focusing on elements like people, purpose, process, and evaluation.

Mohamed Soliman Daoud (University of Malta) facilitating one of the teams during the game. Photo: Esplora Interactive Science Museum

Inspired by the most-renowned tabletop RPG, Dungeons and Dragons, a team from the Department of Mathematics and Science Education, Faculty of Education at the University of Malta, have crafted a role-play version of the SciCultureD’s Course Kit. This innovative toolkit is designed to tackle the challenges of science communication in today’s world. Now more than ever, engaging communities in science is critical for institutions such as universities and museums. They need to acknowledge the genuine stake of citizens in research and to open two-way conversations about scientific research to build trust and enhance transparency.

With an engaging twist provided by the RPG settings, the workshop, hosted at Esplora Interactive Science Centre on October 19, saw participants immerse themselves into five fictional characters set in a future Malta, with food scarcity on the rise because of climate change. The group needed to come together and find common grounds for social and ecological justice – as inspired by the JUSTNature project, one of the University of Malta’s European-funded (Horizon 2020) projects that seeks to drive a just transition toward low-carbon cities.

In this fictional realm, participants navigated people-centred methods, using empathy and dialogue to explore diverse communities critically and openly. Each team identified a framework for effective, impactful, public engagement, focusing on elements like people, purpose, process, and evaluation.

In 2024, the team will further refine the game to develop a transdisciplinary experience targeting international science communicators.

The workshop was designed by Mohamed Soliman Daoud, Valentina Delconte and Edward Duca from the University of Malta with the contribution of Dungeons and Dragons expert Zachary Bennetti.

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