There was a time when playing Dungeons & Dragons was frowned upon. Whether it was being accused of promoting devil worship and murder or just the stigma of being too nerdy for anyone cool to play, it was on the edges of popular culture. Those who played it kept it secret or at least didn’t talk about outside of their group of friends who played with them. It wasn’t cool (OK it was always cool, it’s an awesome game, but I mean to others who didn’t understand it). Twenty or thirty years ago being a member of the nerd community was frowned upon. You were meant to be into sports to be cool. Being into comics and D&D and collecting Star Wars or Batman trading cards was a sign that you should be ridiculed. Add to that a speech impediment and you were an easy target.
The Satanic Panic of the 80s didn’t help matters. Parents accusing a harmless game based on fantasy and imagination of being the root cause of devil worship and murder was a bit of a leap. Over protective parents were sheltering their kids from this game because of their over zealous religious beliefs and refusal to learn what it was actually all about. Tom Hanks was even in a made for TV movie about how evil it was.
The thing is though, it’s a fantastic game for kids to play. And with some tweaking and disregard for some of the crunchier rules it can be played but children of almost any age. There are lessons to be learned from playing Dungeons & Dragons or any RPG really (save for some of those with much darker themes), and they are lessons kids will need to learn during their life anyway so why not make it fun.
I regularly try to get my kids to play with me. Even if it’s only for an hour or so. My youngest is 5 and her attention span can’t handle sitting for a 3-4 hour session, but letting her play an hour as a “dragonpuppy” (a character race she came up with herself. Currently there are no stats for it yet, let’s get on that WotC) is perfect.
Here are some of the ways playing D&D and other RPGs like it are beneficial for kids.
I’ve often heard “get your kids into sports, it’ll teach them teamwork”. Well yes it will but it isn’t the only thing that can teach teamwork. I suspect that this insistence on getting kids to play sports has more to do with the parents than the kids. Now if you say “get your kids into sports so they get some activity and exercise and away from the screen” then I will wholeheartedly agree. It’s important for kids to be active, I will never deny that.
That being said teamwork can be learned from many avenues. D&D and RPGs lend themselves well to teaching children this lesson. Puzzles encountered by the players sometime require teamwork to overcome, during a combat encounter just hacking at the enemy won’t always work. Sometimes the group will need to use each characters individual assets and work together to defeat them. Usually kids will pick up on this very quickly and work as a team without even thinking about it. They don’t realize that they are using teamwork, not the same way adults do. It comes to them more naturally since they don’t carry the same selfish baggage that many adults do.
This could be lumped together with social skills. The players need to communicate their plans to each other in order to succeed at any given task. This will go hand in hand with teamwork as well. But aside from needing to talk to each other about what they need to do and plan their next move, very often they will need to talk to NPCs (non player characters run by the Dungeon Master) to attain information or a quest or even barter for equipment. This requires the players to step outside of their shyness or social timidity to make things happen.
Effectively communicating is an essential skill in day to day life. Whether it be for work or in a relationship the ability to get your point across clearly and be heard is something that you’re never too young to learn. It is a necessary part of being a functioning human being. And the sooner they learn that, the better.
The social interaction part of this is also important. I was always shy. I still am. I have a hard time approaching people I don’t know, or really conversing with new people. If I had played D&D when I was younger things may be different. But as kids travel through the adventure pretending to be someone else they have a confidence they normally wouldn’t. After all they aren’t themselves, they are someone heroic, but they gain the confidence from playing that will carry over into daily life whether they realize it or not.
This one is pretty obvious. You roll a die, add any bonuses your character may get and voila, that’s your roll. The character sheet for Dungeons & Dragons and usually any other RPG are littered with pluses and minuses to your original roll. Everything you do, every skill you use, usually has a number associated to it that will affect the original roll of the 20 sided dice or other polyhedral dice if you’re rolling damage. But we aren’t getting into mechanics right now.
Afford the kids the time to make their own calculations and eventually they will begin doing it with little or no help. Almost everything in the game has some kind of basic math associated to it. If your character can move 30 feet per round and each space is 5 feet and your enemy is 3 spaces away, how many feet/spaces of movement do you have left. If a spell you cast lasts for 1 minute and every round of combat is considered to be six seconds how many rounds will your spell last? It’s very simple math but the most commonly used every day.
To me this is one of the more important ones. When I was a kid my life was fueled by my imagination. I very often played on my own and because of this I would build imaginary worlds, whether it be with my action figures, Lego, or just wearing my underwear outside of my pants and pretending I was a super hero (an activity that mortified my older brother because it would seem I insisted on going to the grocery store dressed like that). The point is that though my childhood was built around my imagination, now there is so many video games, and Twitch and YouTube streams that it becomes almost unnecessary for kids to use their imaginations. The Marvel movies (bear with me here, I’m not knocking them) didn’t exist back then. We had Richard Donner’s Superman, and in 1989 we had Batman but if we wanted stories about super heroes we had to largely read comic books, or watch the 60s Spider-Man show or other cartoons. Or when those weren’t available, play with toys. Now it’s a virtually foreign concept to a lot of kids.
If you sit them down around a table and begin to tell them about the town they are in, about the water dripping down the dungeon walls as their steps echo down the halls, about the smell of the goblin’s breath as they fight nose to nose, their imaginations start running wild. They begin to get immersed in this world you’ve created for them. And you will find that when faced with a problem they will come up with a solution that you never would have thought of (this is generally a skill of any group of players hell bent of making the DM’s carefully constructed story go sideways). The more they play, the more they will want to play and the more it will fuel their imagination.
Put down the phone, tablet or Apple TV remote and sit around the table together, as a family and/or with friends and spend time together. We lead such busy lives now and spend so much time on our phones and social media that the real people we care about get neglected. It’s important to make that time for each other and creating a story together and having that shared experience is a great way to do it. When you sit around the table rolling dice and slaying monsters there is a connection that happens that is hard to match when everyone is staring at a screen.
The lack of spending quality time together leads us to seeing our kids grow up and realizing that we don’t have many memories of doing things with them. Sure there are probably trips or days out but how many real memories will there be? How great would it be if my son came to me when he’s twenty and says “Remember when we fought that zombie ogre and I stabbed him in the eye and we got all that treasure? Let’s do that again”?
I can guarantee that memories will be made even if it’s only one game for family game night. There will be laughs and adventure and in the end isn’t that what life is all about? My son is 10 now, I don’t want to look back and think “I should have done more with him”. I want to share what he likes with him as much as I want to share my interests. I hope that it would bring us closer and give us things to look back at and think “that was awesome”.
There are myriad of reason to play not just D&D but any game with your kids. I’ve only touched on a few here and by no means is this a definitive list. I could go on forever but I though I would just share a few that I think are important.
There are more kid friendly RPG games out there like Hero Kids. I’ve played this with my son and his friends and it’s very easy to learn and set up and only requires a couple of 6 sided dice. The rules are simple and gives them an introduction to role-playing games. My son has even asked if he can DM using Hero Kids for his friends, that’s how simple the mechanics are. It can be purchased here and the Dungeons & Dragons starter set can be purchased here with everything you need to start a game.
Do you have any games you like to play with your kids? Let me know in the comments.
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