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As a GeekMom or Dad, you probably already have a soft spot for role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. But did you know that these nerdy relics from your childhood are not only educational, but actually good for your children? Like vitamins? (It’s like finding out that chocolate will increase your IQ!) Now you can bond with your kids over a favorite activity without a trace of guilt.
And what exactly will D&D do to help your junior geek bloom? It seems the more accurate question is, “What WON’T these games do?”
Improves traditional classroom skills
RPGs give your child a chance to practice and improve her math, reading, history, geography, and even meteorology skills. She’ll utilize mental math to track experience points, hit points, attribute points, skill checks, and more, and will learn about probability (with the dice), statistics (advantage & disadvantage), and even budgeting as she plays.
Her reading and vocabulary will improve as she pores over all the rules for creating and maintaining a character, and she’ll learn history and culture as she plays through games based in ancient timeframes. Even geography, meteorology, and economics will come into play if she chooses to create a world as a Dungeon Master (DM), as she’ll need to research the aspects of real locations to make her world as accurate as possible.
Every fantasy game is a wellspring of creativity, as players not only create themselves, but create their world, actions, and reactions as well. Imagination is a necessary skill for success in the adult world, but it is one that television and video games do not foster well.
Players and DMs will improve their creative writing skills as they create their character’s back stories, and evolve and advance their game storylines. You’ll be amazed at the mature vocabulary that pops out of your young player’s mouth, like “constitution” and “dexterity.”
Teaches strategy and planning proficiency
Players must think several steps ahead to protect themselves from peril. D&D games help children practice their planning and strategy skills, resource management, and even budgeting. They learn to think outside the box as they practice problem-solving and critical thinking, and learn to see issues from multiple perspectives. Players also learn to think quickly on their feet, and understand consequences.
Develops social skills
Despite D&D‘s reputation as a game for pale misfits who play in basements with other social outcasts, it is in fact a very social game that helps players learn to improve their interaction skills. Characters must not only communicate well with each other, but figure out how to work together. The shy child can practice communicating with others while protected by her game persona — she can try out personalities that she might be embarrassed to try in public.
In addition, players learn on their feet about cooperation, bargaining, compromise, and even dealing with jerks, skills that will serve them well in later life. Politics even come into play, as players learn firsthand about ethics, espionage, backstabbing, and dirty deals. Not that we want them to EMPLOY these skills, but it pays to be AWARE of their existence so they can protect themselves from unsavory characters in real life.
Of course, the most obvious social benefit is bonding with friends and family over a shared passion! Playing RPGs allows kids to actually play WITH their peers, not just NEXT TO them, as they would with video games.
Cultivates intellect and charisma
A recent study suggested that storytelling helps make the “tellers” more charismatic. Whether or not this is true, the activity certainly helps develop performance and public speaking skills, as well as logical thought processes and debate skills.
Another recent study found that repeated use of one’s imagination strengthens right brain activity, which helps players communicate with their peers more easily. D&D actually requires the use of both sides of the brain, so it improves rational thought as well!
Creates opportunity to become someone new
Not only can RPG players try on different personalities as they grow and ask themselves who they really are and who they want to become, they can also actually become someone new when the game sparks an interest in a real-life skill that they then decide to pursue. For example, a player might be introduced to sailing when a character travels in a game, then decide to take sailing lessons in real life, thus becoming a “sailing kid,” a brand-new identity. Or perhaps a player might spark an interest in computer programming when she looks into the best way to calculate statistics for the characters.
Inspires big dreams
The fantasy role-player can imagine himself as any kind of person, in any kind of setting. Being able to actually play through realistic scenarios as a brave person, or a healer, or a fantastically wise person, can help kids feel confident that they can actually be that kind of person in real life. It’s hard to make a leap into the unknown, but a practice run sure helps.
It’s been said that video games are about figuring out the algorithm, while role-playing games are about possibility. The bottom line is that while RPGs provide a fantastic way to bond with your children and have fun, they really do provide a solid base of skills for them to use as they grow into confident, successful, and ambitious adults.