How to Teach SEL Using LARP

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is an important aspect of personal development that can be taught using a variety of methods, including Live Action Role-Playing (LARP). LARPing allows participants to physically embody a character and interact with others in a live setting, which can provide a unique and immersive experience for teaching SEL. LARP allows for a limitless range of scenarios and themes such as Real World, Fantasy, Historical, Sci-Fi, Superhero, and more.

SEL can be taught using LARP through the creation of characters and scenarios that involve social and emotional challenges. For example, a real world LARP could be set in a high school where characters have to navigate social hierarchies, form relationships, and deal with difficult emotions such as jealousy, betrayal, and anxiety. Because of the “pretend” nature of LARP, participants can choose to be characters who conduct themselves in a manner that the participant would like to explore… such as a character who is more courageous, honorable, or assertive than the person would actually feel in life outside of the LARP. If the participant makes a mistake or their decisions don’t feel right, they can always “blame” it on the character and try something different.

SEL can also be taught through the use of non-player characters (NPCs) who can serve as role models or antagonists. NPCs are typically played by staff or teachers and are intended to move the exercise forward for the participants. NPCs can be used to model positive social and emotional behaviors, such as empathy, kindness, and assertiveness, or to challenge players to practice dealing with difficult emotions and situations.

As well, SEL can be taught through the active practice of nonviolent communication in dynamic scenarios involving Improv and basic character guidelines.  This can include negotiation skills as well as learning how to express feelings in a manner that is not aggressive or accusatory.

It’s also important to debrief and reflect on the LARP event as a way to evaluate the learning experience and to integrate the SEL lessons learned into everyday life. This can be done through group discussions, written reflections, or even creating an action plan to apply the learned skills into real-life scenarios.

In addition, it’s important to have clear safety protocols in place and to train staff and participants on safety rules before the start of the LARP event. This includes the use of foam weapons or props as well as guidelines for physical contact. It’s also important to have a plan in place in case of an emergency.

LARP can certainly be enjoyed for just being “fun”. But it should never be overlooked as a powerful tool for personal and even professional development. By embodying characters and experiencing immersive scenarios firsthand, participants can learn about and practice different social and emotional skills in a safe and controlled environment.  And when debriefing is provided, they can transfer those new skills outside of the LARP environment and into real life.


About:  Guardian Adventures provides free and licensed educational games, adventures, and LARP systems for summer camps, schools, and recreation organizations.

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