In 1974 a series of small, booklet-size rule-books began to appear at gaming conventions, student lounges, and in the basements of concerned mothers everywhere. These rules were for a game known as Dungeons & Dragons or D&D. The game combined rules of large-scale war-gaming with elements of fantasy literature.
The game of D&D is directed by one player who plays the storytelling “Dungeon Master” or “DM”, while others adopt the roles of fantasy characters like elves and wizards. Dice and role-playing decide the outcome of events in an imagined setting narrated by the DM.
The game of D&D has waxed on and off in popularity during its nearly half a century of game-play. D&D experienced a particular low-point during the “satanic panic” of the 1980’s, prompting the publishers in 1989 to self-regulate, and create a more family friendly version of the game, free of objectionable material.
D&D has come a long way since its social pariah days; a game whose artwork once caused a moral dilemma in parents is now played by grandparents with their grandchildren. In a time where tech and video-games are king, 2018 saw D&D experience record breaking sales thanks to depictions of the game in popular television shows like Stranger Things and The Big Bang Theory. In 2020, millions of players turned to online “virtual table-tops” like Roll20 and Fantasy Groundsto facilitate their once in-person game-play.
MORE THAN A GAME
2020 is proving challenging to parents seeking ways to entertain their children safely that are above and beyond the experiences that the “electronic nannies” of television and video-games provide. Parents who once played D&D as children are now pulling boxes of old D&D game books out of attics, basements, and garages everywhere and playing with their own children. Besides the obvious fun element and family time that any board game can provide, decades of D&D game-play has provided researchers with evidence that playing D&D has other positive benefits, aside from being amusing, and how playing D&D makes you smarter.
ONLY NERDS PLAY D&D
The mentality “only nerds play D&D” may have be an outdated stereotype rooted in bullying, but what if one were to rephrase it as “Kids who play Dungeon & Dragons perform better in school.” ?
David Simkins, PhD, and assistant professor in the School of Interactive Games and Media at the Rochester Institute of Technology, focuses on the use of role play as a tool for use in the classroom. Simikns states:
“Dungeons & Dragons, and other narrative role playing games of its kind, provide many opportunities for learning, participation in narrative role play can open up interests in topics such as mathematics, science, history, culture, ethics, critical reading, and media production.”
PLAYING D&D MAKES YOUR SMARTER
A teacher in Texas and founder of Teaching with DnD has made bold statements that “Playing D&D makes you smarter.” which is hard to dispute based on the fact that of the nine students who scored the highest on a state-wide test, all played D&D with one another.
What is it about a “game of pretend” that lends itself to the scholarly pursuits of education?
- Mathematics: D&D is full of numeric tables and charts encouraging players to conceptualize percentages, ratios, and probability.
- Reading: There are countless editions, volumes and reprints of D&D. Reading is at the heart of playing D&D. Glossaries at the end of the books are crammed full of new vocabulary words.
- Literature: D&D is inspired by the great works of Shakespeare, Shelley, Tolkien, Lovecraft, Poe and can inspire students to engage in deeper reading.
- Writing: D&D encourages creative writing, prompting players to write fictional character biographies or create entire worlds of their own making.
- History: D&D’s game setting can cover Stone Age eras, to the Bronze Age, to the Dark and Middle-Ages up to the Renaissance. D&D will inspire multi-cultural learning into the Ancient peoples from neanderthals, to Aztecs, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans.
- Geography: Players of D&D are encouraged to reference real-world maps when creating their own fantasy setting.
- Art: D&D encourages players to draw character portraits, which with modern technology can later become digital, or animated artwork.
IMPROVED SOCIALIZATION & SELF-IMAGE
Benefits of the game do not end at school and extend into other fields such as therapy.
Therapists have long known the benefits of role-playing, allowing patients who may have suffered from abuse to “act-out” imagined responses to an abuser, thereby freeing the victim from the burden of self-guilt over past inaction. Some therapists see D&D as more of a preventative measure. Megan A. Connell, a board certified licensed clinical psychologist, runs a variety of D&D groups that encourages self-determination and self-respect in girls, while another group of both boys & girls focuses on socialization and team-work.
The popularity of Dungeons & Dragons and the amount of fun one can have while playing the game should certainly not be dismissed, but neither should the numerous benefits the game provides students by way of improved performance in school and improved socialization skills.
Does Playing D&D make you smarter? There is ample evidence that playing D&D makes you smarter, and you may even have an adventure along the way.