Why Should Everyone Play Dungeons and Dragons?
A Time Magazine article from earlier this year cited that 34% of adults suffer from serious loneliness. They also cite that the solution to combat loneliness is by fostering community. And what better solution for fostering a community than gathering with your local group of nerds to slay fake dragons? From popular TV shows like Stranger Things and even the release of the movie Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Amongst Thieves earlier this year, Dungeons & Dragons has seen a huge rise in popularity over the last decade. But what is it, and how can it be employed in local communities?
Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) where groups of players (parties) create their own character and work collaboratively to solve problems created by the Dungeon Master (DM), who moderates the game. Created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the first edition served as a “wargame,” but it has since evolved, 4 editions later, to place more emphasis on the roleplaying and character creation aspects of the game.
D&D presents itself as a unique medium for individuals to create community through two main avenues: escapism and collaboration among party members. These traits honed during a campaign can then be transferred to a wider range of scenarios in everyday life, and ultimately lead to more connected communities.
A 2021 article published in the academic journal Performance Research surveyed individuals who played Dungeons & Dragons about their reasons for playing. The overwhelming response was that engaging in Dungeons & Dragons offered a realm of escape where the constraints of normal society were lifted, and they could respond to scenarios any way they pleased. By engaging in campaigns, players could usurp traditional structures of power and privilege present in their everyday life, empowering themselves to make decisions they may not be able to make in the real world. Escapism ultimately provides players with the agency to make their own decisions, both inside and outside the game.
The other facet of community creation present in D&D is collaborative problem-solving. During a campaign, players routinely encounter a monster to fight or a puzzle to solve. When this happens, it triggers an “encounter” mechanism, where players take turns completing an action of their choosing. This action can be as simple as choosing to swing a sword or as complex as using your party member as a grappling hook. During this process, players are constantly communicating about their various strengths, weaknesses, weapons, and skills. The encounter process breeds collaborative problem-solving, and collaboration breeds community.
While real-life communities don’t encounter dragons that need slaying, they do encounter problems that require solutions. By engaging in Dungeons & Dragons, community members are provided with a realm for escape and an opportunity to problem-solve in a low-stakes environment, fostering stronger relationships and preparing them to make a positive difference. All of these are key elements of community creation, and as Dungeons & Dragons grows in popularity, I urge everyone to “take a stab” at playing.