gamesvirtual children by Scott Warnock

Your kid should play D&D

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I’m sure you know this already, but Dungeons & Dragons is coming out soon in its 5th edition, or 5.0 or D&D Next. And you probably already know that your kid should play D&D. I just wanted to take a moment to remind you why.

D&D is not just a dice-rolling, pizza gorge-down, although it is that too. Let me start by clearing any Satan stuff out of the way. D&D will not make your kids devil worshippers. I always thought this an odd perspective on the game, as 99% of the time adventurers are out to kill devils (and demons, liches, and the occasional rampaging shadow mastiff). They are good characters defending the world from evil things that want to hurt nice people like tavern owners, fletchers, and farmers. Those 1%-ers who want to play evil characters quickly find themselves getting whipped up on not only by the DM (more on that person in a moment) but by other players. It’s social norming in the holiest of ways: Smite evildoers.

Your kid will learn all kinds of similar lessons. For instance, your kids should play D&D because of math. Instead of being spoon-fed numbers through video games, D&D players are constantly working through mathematical problems, calculating long equations and complex probabilities. Say your kid’s fifth-level rogue flanks a smelly bugbear and critical hits with his +1 shortspear. He rolls a 5 for damage, so it’s (5 + 1) x 2. Then you have to add three six-sided dice for the rogue’s sneak attack. Basic math facts are foundational in D&D.

Your kids should play D&D because of science. D&D takes place in fantastical worlds, but they’re still bound by physical laws. If your kid’s bard is levitating 150 feet off the ground and is hit by Dispel Magic by a beholder, how long before he hits the ground? You need physics. Your kid will also need to want to know things like how an ecosystem can support a tribe of voracious trolls.

Beholder.

Your kids should play D&D because of language arts. For linguistic development and vocabulary building, the game has no rivals. Even young D&Ders know how to parley or melee. They know what charisma and dexterity are. They know what abjure and evocation mean. They know the difference between malevolent and benign. They know what is meant by “cloying miasma.”  (A couple guys on McSweeney’s have this language-building aspect down). Sure, pronunciation might suffer. How do you pronounce the trash-eating monster otyugh? We have always said, “OY-tough.” Why? Who knows? But the words themselves never go away.

Your kid should play D&D because of philosophy. The game spurs philosophical inquiry. If your kid’s wizard is invisible yet still gets stuck by a poisoned dart thrown by that drow monk, can everyone see the dart? How about the poison now coursing through her veins? The real questions are deep: What are the limits of self? What is us and what is outside us? Hours have been spent at the gaming table on such ontological debates. Your kid may have to turn to her Kierkegaard for resolution.

Your kid should play D&D because of sociology. The game evokes conversation about community. Since most D&D is “party” driven, it’s about building camaraderie while divvying up limited resources, okay, in this case, often fantastical magic items. Who gets the +4 ring of protection? The fighter who waded in to fight the frost giants with his axe, the sorcerer who confused half of them and caused them to attack one another, or the cleric who healed everyone just when defeat seemed inevitable? How does your kid determine who among the community is worthy of that juicy item? Complex negotiations and politicking are part of the game.

Your kid should play D&D because, well, at some point, your kid will get to be the DM, or Dungeon Master. He will get to understand how to create, with words and a few plastic/metal figures (not figurines!), a story, and he will learn how a group of people can collaboratively develop a complicated, multilevel narrative. Why are carnivorous plants growing in a tundra? Ah, they’ll find out when they reach the druid’s stronghold. It will all make sense. And it will be their story, not Hollywood’s, not PlayStation’s. Theirs. (Okay, DMs also learn useful lessons about the pleasures and problems of unlimited power….)

Finally, D&D may teach your kid to have enough sense of self to be who she is and stand up for what she enjoys. Maybe being a D&D player will never be first-date kind of information, but kids in the pressure cooker of the tween and teen years may realize through their love of the game that stigmas and being “cool” are simply social constructs. D&D may teach kids to be individualists. They may do drugs less. They may bully less. They may resist if the fascists come.

D&D is, my friends, the greatest game ever. And your kid should play.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.
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10 Responses to “Your kid should play D&D”

  1. Wow, I didn’t know all that stuff about D&D. Perhaps I should have figured some of it out though, because I took a class with poet Ethan Gilsdorf when I was on sabbatical in Boston and Gilsdorf was a big D&D player when he was a kid. He’s also the author of a really fascinating book called Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks that looks not only at D&D but other sorts of fantasy games such as “live-action role playing.” I’ve never done any of that stuff, but I LOVE the idea of it. We all need more fantasy! A little fantasy can be very healthy. It’s like yoga for the imagination.

  2. Amen! Vocabulary expansion, philosophical discussions (in and out of the game), and continual use of mid to high level math is only the surface. The personal and social bonds I’ve gain and maintained at least partially through D&D cannot be underestimated.

    Any game that spurs me to dig up my college physics book to calculate the effects of a situation must be great…which has actually happened a handful of times in my long and storied D&D career.

    I cannot agree more with this article. And am happy to say that my sons and their friend have started playing. Here’s hoping they play for decades to come.

  3. Hey Scott(The Man),

    I really enjoyed that. Through all the years that you talked about D&D I had no idea what the game actually entailed.

    Thanks for the money.

  4. This is awesome. But also a little sad.

    I was happy thinking of you people as pimply, devil-worshipping nerds holed up in a basement, left behind by the world.

    Plus now I realize that my inability to “get” D&D as a kid wasn’t because of innate social superiority and love of daylight, but because I was dumb and lacked intellectual ambition.

  5. I didn’t know that!!! I thought the devil arrived when you received that Game…you, Peter, Blair,etc were soooo into it..a ..Cult in the making. thought I!!!! As one should not judge a book it’s cover….nor should a game by it’s name. STOCK IN THAT COMPANY WILL PROBABLY SOAR….

  6. The childhood hours I spent drawing maps of dungeons on graph paper, looking up monsters, planning traps for players, thinking through plot complications…

  7. Word up. One step further, I now realize that day to day life after age 35 really is nothing other than a D&D module for grown ups. Everyone I encounter has their own particular alignment. Each transaction comes with varying chances of success. Sometimes you find lots of treasure, sometimes the chest is fixed with a trap. Viewing daily life through a D&D prism makes everyday a surprising, pleasing adventure (until a half-orc assasin shanks you with a plus 4 dagger.)

  8. Don’t forget classical mythology. D&D was always my brother’s domain, but I a flipped through Deities & Demigods enough to give me a leg up in high school Latin. We were always translating something sordid about Roman gods.

  9. I like to smite evildoers.

  10. Not to discredit your overall thesis, as I believe all of your points as to the benefits of D&D are accurate, but are only 1% of player parties evildoers? There’s no way I was the only one responsible for the bar fights, the murders of peasants and eventually the massive fires that reigned upon the strongholds of kings (regardless of alignment!). And when I DM’ed, I think I more than enabled the excitement of strange acts of mutiny or betrayal. In retrospect, though, I think you’d have to blame the dice. My ablist tendencies may have been more a consequence of chance than any intentional faults on the part of the players.

    Ultimately, I think board-based role playing games played a fundamental part of deconstructing my notions of good/evil as a child, raising some very haunting questions. In fact, in more recent years, I played a game designed by my friend and based on D&D that we called “Z&D”, for “Zombies and Dragons”, though no dragons were to be found in this post-apocalyptic, zombie setting. The last session I remember playing, I spent the last two hours arguing about survival tactics and the morality behind our party’s risky attempts to kill another group of surviving humans as we raced along, captive in a train-car in the American Midwest. To this day, my friends and I still talk about the ethics of survival, self sacrifice and the division of resources in heated remembrance of our simulated, very existential zombie-survival simulation.

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