C.J. Gordon—Say the words “Dungeons & Dragons,” and what springs to mind? Unless you’re a player yourself, you probably have some pretty stereotypical ideas of what the game is all about. Was the first image to pop into your head a group of pale teenage boys sitting in a dark room and doing complicated math to determine the damage their imaginary sword or magic missile just did? If so, you’re not alone. D&D has gotten a bad rap over the years, from the hilariously fundamentalist 1984 Jack Chick tract about the dangers of D&D and Satanism, to the hit TV show The Big Bang Theory and its treatment of the game.
But in reality, D&D—and all of the many, many tabletop role-playing games that have grown out of it —has much more to offer than a life trapped in a basement, deprived of sunlight and pretending to be an elf. There’s a reason why role-playing games (RPGs) have grown so popular, and D&D is still the king of role-playing games.
You Get to Be Someone Else for a While
Everyone accepts that play is essential for a child’s development, but little is said about play for adults. Most adult “play” is confined to sports, if adults play at all. While physical activity is important, not everyone is cut out for team sports, and physical sports don’t particularly exercise the imagination. Role-playing games like D&D are all about play: fantasy, escape, and being someone else. After all, unless you’re the president or a mountaineer or a Hollywood celebrity, life isn’t always all that interesting. Role-playing games give ordinary people a chance to be extraordinary or even to be fantastic beings, like elves, orcs, shapeshifters, or fairies. The need to feed and exercise the imagination does not go away with adulthood.
They Engage and Exercise Your Mind
Role-playing games engage the brain in a way television, movies, and even books do not: by involving the individual in the story and giving them agency. At various points in a campaign, a player must make key decisions, take action, fight, bargain, sneak, cast spells, and otherwise act within the context of the fantasy world. Watching TV and movies gives most adults a window into worlds they do not or cannot inhabit, but it doesn’t give them a chance to act within those worlds. When was the last time you yelled at a screen when characters did something stupid? With RPGs, you can be part of the action and part of shaping how the story goes.
You Learn More About Your Friends, and How to Make More
The particular kind of social interaction that comes from playing D&D and other RPGs can deepen friendships, test out dynamics that exist between players in a safe way, and help shy or socially awkward people learn to interact in other ways. Having a character to play can help players exercise parts of their personalities that are dormant and navigate in-game social situations in a way that models real-life.
In short, D&D is a lot of fun, but it is also great exercise for the creative mind and a workshop for real-life situations. Enjoy. I promise, it won’t make you a geek (unless you want to be).
This article was contributed by CJ Gordon, computer science graduate and strategy game lover. If you’re also a strategy game lover or simply a collectible card enthusiast, CJ recommends checking out Card Kingdom.