The word of the month for October is “roleplay.” An appropriate word for Halloween!
A roleplay (or simulation) is an opportunity to practice or prepare for something by taking on the role of a character in a specified situation. Experiential courses often use roleplays as a way to demonstrate and practice concepts, techniques, and skills. More generally, roleplays can strengthen capacities around empathy and perspective-taking. Although some professors have questioned the usefulness of roleplays in negotiation pedagogy, roleplays remain common teaching tools in ADR courses and beyond.
Likewise, many ADR professionals use roleplays in practice. As an ombudsperson, for example, I would often meet with someone who was dealing with a workplace conflict involving some other person, and we would sometimes roleplay how that other person might describe what was going on. Or we would imagine that the other person was present, sitting in the room with us, and how might my visitor communicate constructively with them? These kinds of moves are familiar in mediation and conflict coaching as well.
And in the broader world, of course, roleplay has been in the spotlight with the recent re-ascendance of roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons. D&D debuted in 1974 and was, as many of us may remember, ridiculously popular and also somewhat scandalous. Much of that scandal appears to have worn off, but the popularity remains, with 2017 as the high-water mark for total players (12-15 million in North America).
Many possible reasons exist for the renewed interest in D&D (and other live-action roleplays, or LARPs): the Netflix show Stranger Things, the pandemic and lockdown, the increased availability of possible players and campaigns online, and so on.
Additionally, and perhaps counterintuitively, some commentators believe that the popularity of video games may be augmenting people’s desire to play games with less reliance on screens/graphics, fewer structural restrictions, and more human interaction. As Keith Stuart writes in The Guardian:
The human contact element of D&D is also vital. In an era when much of our socialising is mediated through phone screens and social media, role-playing is one thing that gets people in the same room. “With digital games, you can play co-op but it doesn’t quite have the connection of real people at a table,” says Richard Whitters, senior art director for D&D. “This is a thing that humans have always done: gathering around the campfire, telling stories, interacting. And for many players, D&D is an event – one person will say, ‘oh, I’ll bring some casserole’, another brings music. It’s a social occasion.”
I have long thought that ADR and D&D have some natural affinities. At least two of our ADR Center affiliated faculty here at Oregon are expert D&D players, and the other two are at least D&D adjacent. Much of what one does in D&D occurs within or is incidental to dialogue, discussion, and negotiation. And certainly D&D has a strong focus on getting into and getting out of conflict.
For those of you who are D&D fans, consider the possible ADR relevance of the following common D&D phrases:
Do a perception check (importance of being mindful/observant in conflict and negotiation)
Roll initiative (leadership and ADR; making first offers; serving as third party neutral)
Level up (emphasis on skillbuilding and development of new ADR coursework)
Have a random encounter (appreciate the unexpected, listen actively)
“Are you sure?” (this is one of the most common DM phrases) (primacy of self-determination and consent)
Split the party (caucusing, sequencing, other maneuvers for mediators/facilitators)
Perform a saving throw (draw on particular strengths to manage an extraordinarily difficult situation)
Do a grappling attack (take the opportunity to learn more about where your opponent is coming from, rather than just trying to vanquish them)
Roll a pure luck check (don’t forget the role of chance in dispute resolution and conflict)
We could do this all day. One of the practical implications for those of us teaching ADR is that we may see more and more students who have played or play D&D. Who knows what this might mean for the students’ ability to embody roles, consider creative options, and speak to the dynamics of relationship in conflict? Adventures ahead!