The Benefits of Role-Playing Games

Perhaps you have heard about the benefits of role-playing games before. If you’re a fan of this blog or others like it, you may have espoused them yourself. But, are there really benefits, or are we just recycling pseudo-scientific hogwash no different than the dangerous health remedies made popular via so-called Mommy Blogs? I wanted to take some time, talk about the positive effects of RPGs, share some information I’ve found, and even get your thoughts and feedback on the subject.

But first, what sparked this topic? Sorry, I don’t do the monthly RPG a day questions or similar, but I do write about things I find interesting in the hopes that you will also find them interesting and—surprise, surprise—they are typically spurned on by something going on in my personal life.

I had to step away from blogging—and gaming—for a little while. Real life demanded my attention. In fact, it demanded too much attention. Meanwhile, Mark has been doing a stellar job of keeping the blog going. Here’s a not-so-little secret, though: Mark is only one man. While he loves gaming and enjoys his blog, he also has real life adventures and trials to contend with. Frankly, friends, give Mark a hand, because he does a better job than I when it comes to such things.

For the past three weeks or so, I have been plotting my return to the blogging and gaming scene. I wanted to make sure I could do it right, though, and not half ass it. So, here we are. This past weekend, I spent some additional time reading what Mark has written as of late and I have some comments to make regarding some of those things, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, it wasn’t hard to convince my wife and myself that I needed to make some time to come to back to the blog and to gaming in general. For her, it was easy. “It’s something you enjoy,” she said to me. There needed be no other explanation for her. It really was that simple. However, it took a little more cajoling on my behalf. I’m busy. I don’t have time to enjoy myself. I said…like an idiot. Now, here I am. And, it is going to make a difference, but why? Hang on tight, folks, because I actually did a bit of soul searching as well as research on this one.

Role-Playing Games Expand the Mind

I know a number of people who can and will support this with their own anecdotal experience. The founder of this blog is one of them. So am I. Our stories and results are different and I’ll let him tell his own if he so chooses. However, I’ll tell you mine for sure. I was a late bloomer when it came to reading. In fact, my family was admittedly beginning to wonder if I was flat out dumb. We had a ton of those Little Golden Books when I was a kid, but it seemed I couldn’t grasp the concept of sounding out words. I couldn’t read along with my parents or grandparents. Being a parent now, I can understand how frustrating this must have been for them. This couldn’t have been more true for anyone than my father who was a voracious reader. He was such a speed reader that he actually broke a machine a school back in his day to test reading speed because it couldn’t keep up with him. He also had a eidetic memory, so he remembered everything he read—word for word. While I haven’t managed to accomplish what my father did, I did finally start reading.

One day, my father let me pick out a comic book at his local comic book shop. It was a Superman or Action Comics Annual. Santa Claus—or at least his sleigh—was on the front cover along with our favorite Last Son of Krypton. I went to my grandparents’ that night as I did every Saturday. Then, I started reading the comic. My grandmother mentioned something about how I couldn’t be reading it, I was just looking at the pictures. So, to prove her wrong, I started reading it aloud, word for word. Both my grandparents were stunned. My mom and dad came over and I read for them. I didn’t understand the big deal. As I recall, I could read for quite some time, but the story of the The Little Engine that Could or the Three Little Pigs simply did not interest me. This story about and man in blue tights and a red cape saving Christmas—that I found interesting, so I read it.

Fast forward a few years. I didn’t get into Dungeons & Dragons when it first came out. I was born in 79, after all. But, as I entered Junior High—that was 7th grade here—kids were starting to discover role-playing games. My first one was T.M.N.T. and Other Strangeness. It was relatively cheap entryway and a perfect gateway for me. I hadn’t seen the original comics yet, but me and my buddies all knew the colorful cartoon at the time. It wasn’t long after someone got a copy of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition. Man, there were a lot of words there. You had to have your own book to try and study this before a game. My father chuckled and told me I’d have to get my mother to agree and “good luck.” I didn’t understand what he meant when he explained, “Well, she’s Catholic.” I asked my mom who wanted to know why my dad made me ask her and, when she heard why, she drove me straight to the store and bought the book. I don’t think they understood what they would be starting.

For her, she thought it would be a great idea. I was always reading and writing my own short stories at the time. She figured it would be good for me. It wasn’t until years later that I learned of the Satanic Scare associated with role-playing games back in the day and why my father made mention of my mother being a Catholic.

Anyhow, point is: I loved reading, but only what I enjoyed reading. Those books were not written for the neonate of the English language, either. In fact, it was those books that got me to ask for my own dictionary at Christmas. My friends and I had a blast and I was learning without realizing it. My language skills were improving. This would serve me well later in life. Even now, my math skills are a bit weak, but I have friends who are awesome at it and they are also gamers; so, they use gaming mechanics to explain more in-depth concepts to me.

When I sat down to write this piece, I knew I wanted more that just my own experiences to write about, so I did some research. I see this theme coming up over and over again—how role-playing games expanded people’s language and math skills-but, is there any substance to it?

There are people like William Hawkes-Robinson who honestly studies this stuff as both a student and professor wrote this paper on role-playing games. Admittedly, it’s a decade old, but I believe his statements still hold true. He actually cites the work of other researchers who seem to unanimously agree that RPGs expand one’s understanding of language, mathematics, creativity and cooperation. Jon Michaud of the New Yorker cites his own experiences and those around him—not true research, but perhaps respected anecdotal experiences of the same benefits of role-playing games in this article.

Skills enhanced via RPGs:

  • Linguistics
  • Mathematics
  • Creativity
  • Problem Solving

Role-Playing Games Heal the Mind

While few can argue with the possible positive learning aspect of role-playing games, the psychological effects of role-playing games has been debated in the past and even today. Remember earlier I mentioned the Satanic Scare associated with Dungeons & Dragons, World of Darkness, and role-playing games in general? Somehow, these games were causing people to commit suicide, attempt to summon demons and practice dark magic, as well as kill and rape? Yeahhhhhh…..well, I call bullshit.

Again, from an anecdotal view, I’ll provide what I hope are some useful examples.

I did, in fact, have a friend back during those early days of my RPG experience that had to stop playing. He was taking the games a little too far. They were messing with his head. It was, in fact, my first experience with mental illness. It turns out nothing was wrong with the game, but there was something wrong with how his brain perceived reality.

I shared a picture of a warning here from Palladium Games. Yes, while you may not have known anyone this applied to, I did. It was (and is) a real thing. That’s nothing wrong with the games. Think about it. There are people who believe they are Abraham Lincoln, Jesus Christ, or Captain Ahab. Do we ban history books, bibles, and classic literature? No. We get those people help.

On the flipside, I have three children at home. They fight like cats and dogs sometimes. However, through role-playing games, they have learned to negotiate with one another better. They’ve also learned that there is a way to ask the GM certain questions or convince the GM to let them try different ways to solve problems. The GM, of course, is me. However, I have watched as they continue to play, those skills they are learning in game are being applied in the real world. /Proud gamer dad tears./

But again, my stories are just my stories and experiences. What do others have to say about it?

Researcher Aubrie S. Adams says that role-playing games can be used for therapy and to help individuals develop social skills. Hawkes-Robinson has continued his research to use role-playing games in a therapeutic way such as helping autistic individuals use public transit. Dr. Blackmon published an article in how RPGs helped treat depression with his patient.

There is always that picture of the socially awkward nerd playing Dungeons & Dragons with other socially awkward nerds. They’re trying to change the image and normalize it with promos like Vin Diesel playing Dungeons & Dragons. However, the whole team over there at Critical Role does not appear to fit the stereotype others try to reinforce of shows like The Big Bang Theory. It’s like the theory is: “this isn’t your grandpa’s Dungeons & Dragons” anymore is catching on. Meanwhile, the truth is: it IS your grandpa’s Dungeons & Dragons, we’re just trying to make it seem cooler, so you’re interested. Listen folks, video game art and concepts in our pen and paper games aside, the games are what they are. The more people that want to join, the merrier. It’s not any more beneficial now, because it’s newer, or glossier, or even potentially more widely accepted.

Teaching people how to deal with one another in more constructive ways has always been a part of the role-playing game experience. As long as you’re not flipping over tables or losing friendships over a good roll, you’re probably doing it right and improving your psyche along the way. Plus, who knows? You might be saving a life by inviting someone new to your gaming table.

Being More Capable via RPGs:

  • A sense of community/belonging
  • Fulfillment/enjoyment
  • Learning real world skills via gamification
  • Dealing with people in cooperative environment/teamwork

Role-Playing Games can HELP You be Better, but Only Help

Listen, folks, I hate to break it to you. If you’re not a good/nice person, you’re probably going to find difficulty in enjoying role-playing games and reaping some of the benefits of RPGs mentioned above. Let’s face it: if you’re a miserable cuss, not many people are going to want to involved themselves with you in any sort of cooperative gameplay. By the same token, if you’re soft spoken, easily triggered, or seem to run into problems caused by other people everywhere you go, role-playing games aren’t necessarily going to cure that either.

If, on the hand, you’re someone looking to have a good time, meet new people, engage in a creative pursuit, or improve yourself, you CAN reap the benefits of these games. Be sure you’re getting involved with groups who can help you achieve your goals. Sometimes, we just don’t mesh, personalities conflict, etc., and so on. If you’re not enjoying yourself with a group, maybe the game isn’t the problem, but instead the group. Find another group. If someone at your table is ruining the fun for everyone else and can’t be politely reigned in, maybe have them find a different group.

Role-playing games are supposed to be fun, creative endeavors that exercise the mind. If you’re not getting what you need or want from them, you should examine why. Discuss it with your group or even other gamers. Meanwhile, if you are having a good time, look at all the ways role-playing games are benefiting you—and those around you.



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