It is night in the windy desert, the normally desolate landscape is filled with the three fleeing refugees and the corpse of the creature they had just slain. It is a massive bug, resembling in many ways a cockroach. The three heroes have faced near death, even before the great battle which just occurred, but now they take the opportunity to rest for the night before going back to fleeing by sunrise.
This is the sort of description one might expect to see when playing Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, this particular scenario is one which I myself lead with some friends from this school. However, for someone on the outside looking in, this may seem very strange.
Dungeons and Dragons (or D&D for short) is a fantasy role-playing game. It is typically played with around six players, one of whom is considered to be a “game master”. The game master is in charge of leading the players through the game, they set up the story of the game and describe what’s going on as the characters make actions in the fictional world.
Players take the role of a fictional character they create in order to play in the world. When they want to make an action the successfulness of their action is more often than not dependent on a dice roll, usually made with a 20 sided dice. Typically it goes that the higher the number the more successful they are in their attempt.
And that’s basically how the game is played. There are a lot more in depth rules however, the method of play outlined is the very basics of it.
The game has always been an iconic pop-culture symbol, representing the entirety of nerd culture. If a movie wants to establish a group of characters as a “nerdy group” they are more than likely going to be shown seated around a table rolling the dice and playing the role of fictitious characters. One of the first scenes in E.T. is Eliot’s, the main boy, brother playing the game. Likewise, the first season of the Netflix original show Stranger Things opens with the main group of boys in the middle of playing.
While these were both used establish characters as nerds, one very clear use the game also has in pop-culture is to establish a certain group of people as “outcasts”.
This has a reason, mostly stemming from the history of Dungeons and Dragons and how it was viewed. D&D came out for public use in 1974. It had a surge of popularity and shortly, at least for nerds, it became the game. Long before video games hit their stride there was the tabletop role playing experience that was, and still is, Dungeons and Dragons.
However, by the time the eighties came around the game spiked in popularity. Additionally, public perception of the game shifted from perceiving it as some quirky pastime into seeing it as a sign of the occult. Players of the game were called out by many religious groups and concerned parents in regards to the belief that the game promoted devil worship. Dungeons and Dragons started to be linked to many disappearances, suicides, and killings at the time.
The two beliefs were that since players would commit violent actions in-game they would be inclined to commit violent actions in game. Additionally, people connected the overwhelming prevalence of magic and monsters in the game to make it seem like it was a sort of cultist pastime.
While these ideas have left most of the minds of the public there is still some inherent cultural stigma against nerds and distinct nerd activities such as D&D. That’s how we get the film motif regarding nerds being outcast in society–it’s because they legitimately were.
However, that mentality did not hinder the game from growing and by 2004 it was estimated that over 20 million people in the United States were playing the game. That number has projected to have gone up significantly especially now that there are many online outlets in which people can play the game, riding the hassle of having to meet up physically.
It’s been a while since an anti-D&D mindset has been popular, finally allowing for an open consideration about how the game can actually do a lot of good for people. Especially for children and teens the game has many benefits that help with developments.
The game has been shown to help a lot with critical thinking as well as teamwork. As a player you have to be able to solve puzzles with the information presented in front of you. Additionally, you have to be able to work with your fellow players in order to come up with strategies which utilize the individual skills of everyone so that you can be able to defeat monsters, find gold, and save the town.
Unlike most modern video games Dungeons and Dragons is not meant to be an individual quest for glory. Everyone in the group has to play their part, not only to have fun out of game, but also to be effective in-game.
Dungeons and Dragons, along with other role-playing games, has also been shown to help with social development. Unlike the silent, distant world of online gaming D&D is traditionally an in person face to face game. People, especially kids can learn to come out of their shells and be more confident in social situations.
This idea also serves to go against the idea of the typical nerd being socially inept. In reality, playing these games don’t translate to being worse at social situations, but rather the contrary.
The final main benefit of D&D, something which could help any age group, is the boost to creative the game gives. Obviously the game requires one to have a fairly vivid imagination, not only to picture the worlds being described to them but, also to think of how to be a part of the story of the world.
Learning to be more creative by playing a role playing game can be equated to learned how to swim by being thrown into a pool. However, it is very effective. Elijah Olivera, an occasional player of the game mentions how “I haven’t really played all that long but I definitely think that I’ve been more creative. Having to think of every scenario which could occur from my actions is a skill which translates very well in the real world.”
Creative also links together with critical thinking or problem solving skills. Being able to think outside of the box and quickly is a very useful thing in almost every facet of life. In fact most of the skills picked up by playing Dungeons and Dragons are useful in the real world.
While we may not have to deal with slaying evil dragons on a daily basis, almost everyone has to deal with social interactions, problems they have to solve, times when they have to think outside of the box, and moments in which they have to put aside their own self pride and work with other people.
While pop-culture may continue to portray the game as a pastime for social rejects, the evidence shows that despite all connotations society may have on the game, it has the potential for being a very useful learning device.