Classroom to Game Table, Part 1: VARK
A while back I wrote an article about how my day job as an English professor helped me at the game table. For those of you that missed that post (shame on you), I talked about very general ways that teaching improved my DMing. A while later as I was thinking up future posts, I decided I would continue with the theme, but bring actual research and theory to the game table. The first topic I want to talk about in this series is VARK.
What is VARK?
VARK is an acronym that refers to the ways in which people (specifically students), prefer to receive information. VARK stands for: Visual, Aural (hearing), Read/Write, and Kinesthetic (working with your hands). While the ideas have been around in one form or another for years, Neil Fleming was the first to publish on its current form, add the Read/Write dimension, and created the website where students can test themselves by answering a short questionnaire. After the student completes the questionnaire and finds their learning preference the site offers suggestions for ways the student can improve their grades by tailoring their studies to their preferred style of learning. For example, if a student shows an Aural tendency, it would explain why their notes are often incomplete (because they are focusing on what is being said, and not on writing it down), so perhaps they should bring a tape recorder to class in place of trying to take notes.
What does this have to do with gaming?
What the VARK survey shows is that people have different ways they prefer to receive information, and a DM (whose job after all is to entertain) should keep this in mind when planning his/her game.
Why is it that some gamers resist miniatures so fervently in place of old-school “theater of the mind” style descriptions. It is possible that person has an Aural tendency while the player that enjoys 2 and 3D representations of the game probably has Visual tendencies. Every person has different preferences and GM’s should take that into consideration when planning a game, because your players’ tastes may differ from your own.
I am suggesting that you sit your players down and have them complete the questionnaire before starting your campaign? No, the fact that Fizzlebulch the Dwarven Fighter/Cleric has bimodal Aural/Visual tendencies isn’t that important. What is important is understanding that people have different preferences for taking in new material. Most people (according to the data collected by the questionnaire so far) indicates that people favor more than one learning style. So how will this look in my game? The following is a list of suggestions for each learning style:
- Maps (both of the area, but also of the dungeon)
- NPC portraits (Paizo makes some nice portrait cards)
- Background music- fantasy movie soundtracks work great, as do sounds of nature CD’s
- Narration too often players enter a room and we tell them what monsters there are, stop and draw a word picture for your players
- Sound effects- get a sound effect buzzer from the web or Halloween store and during a particularly tense moment push the button under the table and let loose a blood-curdling scream or howl
- Character Bio- Give player a small xp bonus for writing detailed character background or family history
- Letters- write an actual letter, message, etc that the player can read to themselves
- Note-Taker- have the player keep notes for the group, maybe keep track of the group loot
I will be the first to admit this is the most difficult learning style to accommodate, but it can be done
- Puzzles- use a wooden 3d puzzle to serve as a complex lock, If you have a challenge with words or images print them out and cut them up so your tactile players can handle them and turn them in his/her hands
- Mapping- tactile players may want to keep their hands busy by drawing a map of the dungeon on graph paper
- Props- give tactile players a physical object to hold and examine