Personal Growth through Role-Playing Games

First of all, what's a role-playing game?

It’s a collaborative story-telling experience in which players take on the roles of fictional characters in a fictional world. It’s like being an actor, playing a part in a larger play or movie, except that there isn’t a script. You improvise what happens next, within the boundaries of the setting, based on the character you’re playing. A “Game Master” typically describes the world, presents the challenges the characters face, and portrays all the characters not controlled by a player. Many role-playing games involve rolling dice, but that usually isn’t the focus. The focus is more on the fun of collaborating with others to tell a good story. 

That sounds like I’ll have to be local to take part.

Not at all! While a lot of role-playing games are played in-person around a table, video conferencing services allow for players to connect across vast geographic distances. If you have a reliable internet connection and a computer with a microphone and camera, you’ll be able to participate. 

What’s the story about?

A group can collaborate to tell any sort of story. Most role-playing games have some element of adventure and conflict to them, but the setting can be anything from medieval fantasy to far future science-fiction to modern day horror to historical fiction. It's really about what will be most engaging and inspiring to the players. The story is ultimately about the fictional characters you create and how they engage in the fictional world around them. 

How long does one of these last?

A typical session is four hours, with some groups agreeing on shorter or longer play times. Sometimes a story is designed to be wrapped up in a single session. Often, stories take shape over multiple sessions, with some ongoing narratives taking a year or more. We aim for a six-session narrative arc, because this gives ample opportunity to get accustomed to the fictional character you create and tell an exciting story. 

It’s just playing a game?

As a baseline, we want everyone to enjoy themselves, so fun is an important component. Since we’re using the experience as a tool for personal growth, however, we approach certain parts of the game with a focused intention. When you create your character, you’ll be mindful of the specific personal goals you want to address. If you want to develop empathy, for instance, you might intentionally choose to create a character who isn't socially accepted, and the narrative arc of the story will also be purposefully designed to give you an opportunity to wrestle with that marginalized identity. It’s still a fictional character in a fictional world, and you can walk away from the game and go back to real life. But the experience of working on personal goals in a fictional setting allows you to develop some tools or skills to use in the real world. 

What if I don’t want to work on empathy?

The framework of a role-playing game is flexible enough to allow players to focus on any number of personal goals. Every player in a story can focus on different personal goals. At the same time, connecting with and cooperating with other players is an important element of every role-playing game. Developing collaborative skills will be an intrinsic benefit regardless of any other personal focus.


Players might also want to work on trust issues, leadership skills, setting boundaries, working through anger issues, or confronting any number of old habits they find limiting. In one current small group, players are working on developing their personal guiding principles as the new gods of a fallen world, which helps them clarify their personal guiding principles as human beings in the real world.  

So we just play a story-telling game?

We build a little more into the small groups than the game itself. In addition to coaching players to be intentional about how they create and develop their characters, our small group format also allows for a short reflection to help players identify (1) strengths and challenges with their collaboration, (2) what they’ve learned about themselves through playing their fictional character, and (3) how to translate that awareness into real-life situations. And players usually comment on what they enjoyed about the scenario or appreciate about other players or characters too. Basically, we want the adventure to be as beneficial as possible, so we create space for players to talk through their experience. 

That sounds pretty amazing!

Yeah, we thought you’d be delighted.

OK, what do I need to do next?

You can get on the list for an upcoming small group by emailing minister@cosmicindifference.org or clicking the link below. Our small groups are capped at six participants, but we’ll have new groups starting soon. Each six-session group is $65 per participant. You may also be responsible for purchasing some additional materials, but this varies by setting. Often, a set of dice is the only extra thing you’ll need. I look forward to seeing you in one of our groups soon!