Dungeons and Dragons is having a moment. The long-running role-playing game recently took center stage on the popular Netflix series Stranger Things, and its time in the spotlight seems to be attracting new players. In 2017, D&D saw its top selling year in its entire history.
As the game moves from the edges to the mainstream, another truth about D&D emerges from the mists: Educators have discovered students benefit from all those hours of going deep into a story that occurs in a mystical realm. And surprisingly, some educators think playing Dungeons and Dragons has academic benefits, as playing the game can expose students to concepts in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
We’ll explore some of the benefits of this role-playing game, and then create a quick list of things your tween or teen would need to start rolling those multi-sided dice and jump into the game.
What are the STEM benefits of playing Dungeons and Dragons?
First, it helps to understand a bit about how the game is played. A dungeon master oversees the game, narrating and serving as a referee to the action, while the players roll dice and take action to advance the story. The end goal can be many things, from conducting a rescue to searching for treasure. While there are rules to follow, the dungeon master is afforded some flexibility — and games can last anywhere from a few hours to several afternoons. Some even go on for years.
It’s not just about story, plot and character. These are some of the skills that come into play during a session of Dungeons and Dragons:
Mathematics: The game features math aplenty. If your child struggles to see the importance of the subject, they may discover the practical, everyday knowledge applications just from playing Dungeons and Dragons. Players use charts and tables to determine their next action, they make calculations for currency exchanges and experience points. Just do some research online, as there are lots of resources and calculators to help players apply the right math to their game.
Geography: The use of maps can help players use and develop their spatial reasoning skills. Players also use information from the map — especially climate and land features — to inform decisions and outcomes of their game play. As you can imagine, a battle plays out very differently in a forest versus an open plain versus rugged snowy foothills.
Critical thinking: When fighting monsters and creatures, players have to think about battle tactics, armor strength, weather and terrain to plan their fight. There’s also resource management as well as risk management at play — wizards, for example, can cast only so many spells in a day. If you’re on your last spell, will you stay and attack, or is it time to retreat and recharge?
Collaboration: While there are rules to follow, at the core of the game is learning to work in a group of people. As they solve the problem, they may debate solutions, and there may be some negotiating, convincing and cooperating in the mix. While deep friendships are often developed through these campaigns, serious players sometimes end up in a campaign with people they may not even like. But playing in this kind of setting helps them develop people skills that are important on the job and in real life.
To give a real-world example of how Dungeons and Dragons helps with learning, third-grade teacher Alexandar Carter had her students play the game in a way that applied their classroom lessons on math, reading, writing and social studies. The result of using their knowledge in this alternative reality? Carter cites “significant positive outcomes … in many students who struggled in math, reading, writing and social interaction.”
Does your child have game? Here’s how to start your Dungeons and Dragons quest
Dungeon and Dragons can go deep and be complex — which may sound overwhelming for someone who just wants to figure out if this game is for them.
For starters, test drive with the starter pack. There’s no need to invest in pricey dice and stacks of rule books. Starter sets cost little money and will offer everything needed, including rules, characters and backstories, to get their toes wet. If your tween or teen takes an interest, perhaps it’s time to invest in other tools, like the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Naturally, there’s a plethora of online videos and other resources — the internet is super useful for players at any level. TwitchTV, for example, is the go-to for live games.
But another benefit is the number of gaming meetups available to players to help them develop beyond their usual gaming circle. Check out D&D Adventurers Leagues to find sanctioned events in your area. These provide ample opportunity for any player to meet like-minded people and become more skillful players.
Bottom line: If your tween or teen shows an interest in playing a little D&D, let them go for it! Those hours of game play won’t go to waste.