Normally blogs praising tabletop role-playing games start out with dispelling the stereotype of Dungeons and Dragons (or whatever RPG of your choice) as a game not just for sun-deprived, overweight, acne-ridden neckbeards. Because of the recent geek culture boom however, that stereotype has largely faded and is now recognized as a pastime for people of all walks of life. Tabletop RPGs may be thought of as just a fun hobby, a chaotic-and-murderous-in-a-socially-acceptable-way fun hobby. However, there are benefits to these games you might not have realized. Yes, committing Orc genocide in your fantasy life has positive applications in your real life.
An Ancient Black Dragon has descended upon your city, what do you do?
Role-playing games are, at their core, about problem solving. There is a monster to be slayed, a treasure to be found, a tyrannical despot to be overthrown. Unlike (most) video games however, tabletop games provide the flexibility to approach these problems in many different ways. Under a good dungeon master, combat will not always be the solution, so players must utilize their characters’ skills in ways unrelated to immolating goblins. Non-player characters (NPCs) must be persuaded or intimidated into cooperation, or at the very least distracted while the party’s rogue robs them blind.
The d20 system utilized by Dungeons and Dragons and its offshoots in particular represents a wildcard element that often forces players to rethink their strategies on the fly. Players’ actions are based on a role of a twenty-sided die, and a low roll can completely derail a plan of action. An attempt to sneak up on an enemy can instead result in exposure. The team can come across deadly trolls when they expected mostly-harmless kobolds. Many a tabletop player can recount a wild story when their party came across an impossible situation only for their party to escape by the most ludicrous means possible.
A fun example of that I’d like to share involved a campaign I played recently where my party was tasked to investigate a seedy town to break up a criminal enterprise who specialized in enslaving elves. While my teammates distracted the bar patrons songs and arm wrestling contests, my character attempted to stealthily look for incriminating evidence. A bad sneak roll left me exposed, and suddenly our party of six was facing over twenty hostile mercenaries. We responded to this by breaking bottles of liquor and creating a fire that burned the tavern down. Oops.
That of course ties into the next point: RPGs teach teamwork. A balanced party will feature a variety of different characters, each with their own specialties and skills. A particular character’s backstory or race can allow them entrance into places or audiences with characters the others would not. Players must explore their own unique attributes and determine who is best to accomplish the objectives at hand. It’s not unlike the drab, boring real world when a business creates a new project or product and the team must decide how to use their personnel’s individual skills and resources to achieve success. There are many keys to success, improvisation and cooperation are crucial components.
It’s all too easy to slip into the moment and treat your game sessions not only as an intellectual challenge and enjoyable escape, but as a performance. It’s often beneficial to slip into the guise of the character and deliver your characters’ actions and dialogue with stone cold conviction, no matter how ridiculous or outlandish their actions may be. This has a twofold benefit: These character performances build the player’s charisma (not referring to the in-game stat), promote development of social skills, and stimulate the brain in multiple, positive ways.
Character acting delivered without shame or inhibition helps a person develop a natural presence in their social interactions with the world around them. When you can deliver a rousing speech about your druid’s pride and affinity for forests and their animal friends, confidence in your real life self comes much easier. That personal pride in turn makes you a more engaging, entertaining person to interact with. With that comes deeper relationships with friends, stronger job interviews, and a more attractive persona for potential love interests. What’s not to love?
There is no denying that the fantasy and sci-fi worlds of RPGs tend to attract individuals who have underdeveloped social skills or social anxiety. However, within the fantasy world, players can find a safe space to come out of their shells and express themselves. In turn this can help build real life social skills by teaching how to connect on a personal level. New and lasting friendships are built from these adventures, and the memories you’ll share are no less valid than real life ventures.
Finally, the act of storytelling (a core component of an RPG session) is an incredible mental stimulation, for both the storyteller and the audience. According to a New York Times article detailing the results of various cognitive studies, reading or listening to fiction stimulates several areas in the brain, often in unison. Descriptions of sights, sounds, or smells stimulate the sensory cortex, while descriptions of action or movement stimulate the motor cortex. Additionally, regular consumers of fiction seem to be better able to understand and empathize with others, an effect that persists even after they are done reading or listening. To be the one telling the story invokes the same brain functions and in turn shares the same benefits, creating a cooperative experience for all involved.
If you’re feeling curious about the benefits of a tabletop RPG, now is the perfect time to start. Search out your local gaming store and ask for information on groups. Typically, several games will be played at a given store each week, and you can be pointed to one you can jump into. Start soaking in the benefits of this great hobby today, or if you already play, think about your games in a new light. Start a fantasy life, improve your real life, and pray you don’t roll a 1.