Perspective-taking is the practice of imagining what the world looks like through another person’s eyes, and it is an incredibly important life skill because it helps us know how to relate to other people. When we have the ability to take the perspectives of other people, we can predict, understand, and appropriately respond to other people’s behaviors, as well as choose our own behaviors with an understanding of how it will be interpreted. Perspective-taking allows us to understand non-verbal communication and to become more self-aware.
Perspective-taking is built on the concept of “theory of mind,” which is the developmental milestone in childhood in which we realize that our thoughts, feelings, and judgments are distinctly different than the thoughts, feelings, and judgments of others. Before children develop theory of mind, they assume that others know what they are thinking and how they are feeling. Over time, theory of mind and perspective-taking skills improve, though even neuro-typical adults struggle to remember not to take things personally when a cashier is rude or someone cuts us off in traffic. Don’t they know we have somewhere important to be!?
Luckily for us, perspective-taking is built into most role-playing games. Each player is playing a character with a different background and set of life experiences than themselves, which means that the character also has a different set of thoughts, feelings, and judgments. Every choice the player makes in the game is based on their character’s perspective, and requires the player to act from that perspective. Players also witness others at the table modeling perspective-taking: Lucy is not actually Thora the Brave, but her actions and expressions represent those of her character.
An example from a Wheelhouse Workshop group:
Two players, named here as Lucy and Jay, are playing Dungeons and Dragons with a Wheelhouse Workshop game master. Their characters are exploring an underground tunnel looking for signs of a missing king.
Game Master: You are both walking down a dark tunnel underground looking for any sign of the king’s whereabouts. Your torch is barely lighting the winding stone path. Roll your 20-sided die and add your perception skill to see if you hear anything in the tunnel with you.
Lucy: My total was 5.
Game Master: You hear nothing.
Lucy: I turn around to prepare myself for the monster attack!
Game Master: Lucy, your character didn’t hear anything, so your character will probably keep walking down the path.
Jay: I rolled a 15.
Game Master: You hear the sound of lumbering footsteps behind you.
Lucy: Now I want to turn around to face the monster!
Game Master: Lucy, your character still doesn’t know about any sounds, much less the presence of a monster.
Jay: I’ll tell her about the sounds!
Game Master: Lucy, do you—
Lucy: I turn around!
Game Master: I thought you might! When you do, you see the a large mummy step into the torchlight. What do you do next?
This example became a reference point for our conversations about assuming other people’s knowledge and intentions. Lucy’s character can’t turn around and respond to the monster if she doesn’t know it is there, and we can’t blame her for not responding if we don’t let her know about the monster!