Role playing games, or RPGs, are great as a family activity. This may seem foreign to quite a few people, and that is not surprising. I myself wasn’t aware of the fun of these kinds of games until a few years ago. Over the last five years, RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons have seen a massive rise in popularity; and not just within “nerd culture”. While games such as D&D have generated many preconceived notions over the decades since its original release, streaming shows such as Critical Role and celebrities like Joe Manganiello, Deborah Ann Woll, Vin Diesel, and Stephen Colbert have brought Dungeons and Dragons out of the dungeon and into popular culture.
How do role playing games work?
The way these games work is a group of players take on the roles of adventurers traveling through a fantasy world. This world is managed by the “Game Master” or “Dungeon Master” or DM for short. The DM determines the results of actions as well as controls all the people and creatures the players meet. On this adventure, the only limit to what you can attempt is your imagination! When a player wants to try something, the DM will have the player roll some dice and add (or subtract!) a number based on the character’s skill in the particular activity and then determine the results. If you ask the DM if you can do something, the answer is almost never “no”, but often it isn’t “yes” either: more often than not you will usually hear “you can try!”
As the adventure moves along, you encounter several obstacles that require you to use problem-solving skills. In some cases the problem-solving is fairly straight forward although some situations may be a bit more complex. No matter the situation, you can always use creative thinking to come up with a unique solution to any problem that may arise.
Problem solving in action
When it comes to ways to solve encountered problems during a game session the list is pretty much endless. The only limit to what you can attempt is your own imagination. A great example comes from Ryan. In a campaign he is currently playing, his party came across an ogre guarding the fortress they were trying to get into. This creates an obvious problem: how do we get past the guard?
There were a number of options such as charging in for a straight fight or even trying to sneak past him to infiltrate the fortress. They opted for neither and decided to go another way. They rigged up a falling log trap in the surrounding forest. Ryan’s character, Ardrick, then jumped out into the open and taunted the ogre into charging at him. During which the ogre ran straight into the trap burying him under a pile of timber! Ardrick and the rest of the party were now free to walk in the front door ready to meet their next challenge.
Role playing games and group cooperation
One of the many things that make these kinds of games fantastic as a family activity is the need for group cooperation. According to the University of Illinois Extension, families who work together balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses; bringing the family closer together. As a result, working together helps to strengthen the bonds between family members, builds trust, opens lines of communication, and helps each person be accountable for each other.
Working together is the basis of going through these adventures. As a team, you navigate conversations with non-player characters and work together to reach a common goal.
At their core, role playing games like D&D are one big social experience! You gather all the players at the table and work together utilizing complimentary skill sets to achieve a common goal. But this is not the only way social skills come into play.
There are a number of general social skills that are necessary for game play such as taking turns and picking up on non verbal and social cues. The thing that makes these games great is that there is no real life consequences for missing those non verbal and social cues which makes it a great way to practice taking risks! That is something every one can work on. Risks are scary, so why not practice the confidence necessary in taking risks in an environment that offers a safe place to do so?
Something great happens, we get excited! Something bad happens, we get frustrated and angry! Emotions are a normal experience for all people; it’s part of how we interact with the world. Regulating those emotions can be difficult sometimes, especially the younger you are. Role playing allows you to explore empathy as a character and make decisions based off of what your character would do.
There are times though that the feelings are not role play. Maybe you as a player are upset about the decision of another player. The game structure offers you a way to express personal feelings in a safe space for all players allowing them to be heard. By agreeing to play the game, you get practice in ways that your character might be able to forgive another allowing them to continue playing in the same party. This gives you practice on being able to heal and repair relationships in real life (amazing right!)
So what about frustration? That is an emotional state that can be very hard to overcome. Well role playing games like D&D provide a great space to work on dealing with frustration. To a certain extent, these games work as a game of chance; many situations depend on what you roll. Maybe you are attempting an attack roll with a new weapon you have been excited to use, but you fail. That would be frustrating, but all is not lost! That is the beauty of these games, because you are working together with others, one fumble does not spell doom for the whole team. Getting past the frustration and moving on to a new challenge is necessary for the game to continue.
Subsequently, while building a tolerance to frustration, you are also building and improving upon personal resilience and perseverance. Because these games make a safe space for risk taking and making mistakes, it gives you many opportunities to continue even when the risk of failure is present. Allowing you an opportunity to enter challenging situations instead of avoiding them or running away gives you confidence that you can take with you for use in every day life.
Theory of Mind
We live in a diverse world, full of unique people who all have a different perspective of life and what goes on in the world. The fantasy world built by the DM is no different. Just like in your everyday life, you will run into characters that may not align with your own beliefs and values. While that can be frustrating, it is important to realize that different beliefs, values, and desires are just as important as your own.
Playing these games offers opportunities to practice not only seeing the world through someone else’s eyes; it offers a chance to engage with many different types of personal beliefs and values. We develop what is known as the Theory of Mind, the understanding that different people have different beliefs, values, desires, morality, etc., as we grow up. These games serve as a nice reminder that we need to be able to navigate differences, in the game as well as real life, with others.
Imagination: Most important skill in role playing games
It has been said time and again in this post that the only limits to what you can do is what your own imagination can come up with. In role playing games imagination is not just important, it is essential. From developing your character before the adventure even begins to the ins and outs of the game play, your imagination is the driving force that propels the adventure forward.
Before the adventure begins the first thing you must do is create a character. Character building is loads of fun and at times can be challenging due to the endless options open to you! Once you have developed your character it is time to play. Whether you are playing an adventure that came out of a book or one that you invent yourself, it is up to the DM to make the world come to life, and it is the players’ job to live in and interact with that world that exists within the shared imagination.
How role playing games have impacted peoples lives
The benefits provided by playing these kinds of games extend far beyond just building life skills. The nature of the game allows you to immerse yourself into another persons shoes! It truly lets you experience life from a position outside of your own. Another impact these games have had on people is giving them an outlet to deal with personal issues they have to work through. Role playing is a tool utilized by therapists to aid in working through issues such as PTSD, anxiety disorders, and even autism; and these barely scratch the surface.
We all deal with difficulties in our lives and those difficulties can make major impacts on who we become. Maybe you dealt with childhood bullying or an abusive situation that has left you feeling weak and vulnerable. Who wants to confront those situations? I know I don’t like to feel that way. However, by playing as a character in an imaginary environment, you are empowered to take charge of your own destiny. This is done by utilizing rational and emotional states of mind which can be taken out of the game and translated into real world issues.
In Defeat Your Demons with Dungeons & Dragons, a documentary by Fandom Uncovered, you are taken deep into the world of D&D and explore the true nature of what these kinds of games offer for people from all walks of life. You learn a little about the history of the game and how it originated, the basics of the game play, as well as personal stories from players lives from humorous anecdotes to defeating personal demons.
Playing role playing games like D&D as a family offers many benefits to all involved as well as making many fun memories for years to come!
Darvasi, Paul. “How Dungeons & Dragons Can Help Kids Develop Social-Emotional Learning Skills.” KQED, 13 May 2019, http://www.kqed.org/mindshift/51784/how-dungeons-dragons-can-help-kids-develop-social-emotional-learning-skills.
Stamman, Julia. “Benefits of Role-Playing Games like Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).” Welcome Geeks, Gamers, and Misfits! – to Heart of the Realm, 13 Jan. 2020, juliastamman.com/2019/03/01/dungeons-and-dragons-benefits/.