Benefits of Role-Playing Games like Dungeons and Dragons (D&D)
A lot of folks are studying the effects of playing games like Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). I’ve compiled a list from some great researchers and mental health professionals for your convenience and enjoyment.
Here is a list of 12 inherent benefits of playing a role-play game like D&D:
1. D&D is a fun activity enjoyed with others.
First and foremost, everyone needs a health work/play balance in their lives. Not only can joining together to play D&D provide fun stimulation and a space to be yourself, but you’re doing it with others. Together, your party engages in imaginative play where you co-create adventure stories.
2. Role-playing allows folks to play as someone else.
Folks use their imagination to create a character that fits different archetypes: the strong warrior, the caring healer, or the mysterious rogue for example. Each decision the player makes about the character could meet a real life need- like needing to work on confidence in impromptu speaking. (1)
3. D&D is a shared activity that brings people together.
When a group of friends has a shared activity or common interest they are bonded together. It makes it easier for them to stay connected and develop more long-term relationships. So it’s basically a quick guide to making long-term friendships. (2)
4. D&D allows folks to see through another’s eyes.
If you choose to play a dwarf race, say, the Dungeon Master (DM) could decide that there are stigmas within that world against dwarves. Thus the player might experience what it’s like firsthand to be oppressed. This may translate as a real world skill in allowing us to be more self-aware of how we impact others. (3)
5. Theory of mind is strengthened.
This is the understanding that our thoughts, beliefs, and desires are different from others. Theory of mind usually develops as we grow up, but sometimes we could all use a little practice reminder. Not everyone in the D&D party will have the same alliance (good, evil, neutral) as you. In addition, not all of the characters you interact with in the world will have the same feelings about events taking place. This is good to remember as we navigate real life differences with others- including at work, school, in politics, or just life decisions. (3)
6. Playing D&D improves frustration tolerance.
D&D involves a varying degree of chance depending on how the group agrees to play it. Dice rolls determine successes and failures in various skill checks and combat maneuvers. Sometimes you spend a lot of time preparing a really sweet move with your buffed out magical weapon and then you fail on the roll to hit. Bummer! It’s natural to feel frustrated, disappointed, or helpless at this point. Moving past those emotions and continuing to enter challenges and try is something that has to happen to continue game play. (3)
7. Develop perseverance and resilience.
Related to benefit #6 is the perseverance of continuing to enter challenging situations rather than avoiding them when you know they’ll be tough. To translate this skill of overcoming odds in your personal life can look a number of ways. Think about job interviews, dating, or other events where you have to put yourself out there with a chance of failure. (3)
8. D&D sets you up to use your creative problem solving skills.
You’ve been sent to retrieve the stolen sword from a haunted castle. There are guards at the entrance who will not let you past the main gate. What do you do?
D&D often calls for thinking quickly to find different solutions to a problem that seems unsolvable at first glance. The game can include need for deductive reasoning, strategy, traps, puzzles, and mysteries solved with the group. You’ll find there are other ways to get into the haunted castle- only limited by your creative imagination. So even if you start out doubting your decisions, eventually with practice you will trust yourself in the moment. (3)
9. Cultivate teamwork and collaboration skills.
Each D&D party should be balanced in some way in terms of what classes, abilities, and attacks folks choose. From the get-go this requires a degree of teamwork, compromising, and playing on each other’s strengths to the point where everyone is needed. Then, players collaborate to get through the actual story of the campaign. Collaboration is a step above cooperation in that cooperation only involves working towards a common goal. Collaboration means really building on each other’s creative ideas and strengths. (3)
10. Build knowledge related to the complex rules of the game.
The game has a complex set of rules to follow for character creation, battle order, magic, and other encounters in the world such as traps, etc. Just playing and learning the mechanics builds understanding of rules, resource management, strategy, and basic math skills. (4)
11. Practice emotional expression.
Practicing emotional regulation (modulating one’s emotional state) and emotional expression (how you express your feelings) in a mature way is part of the game. Role playing an upset character takes delving into empathy for what your character might be feeling and how they might respond- like stepping into someone else’s shoes. Sometimes it’s not role play though! Sometimes you as a player become upset at someone’s decision. The structure of D&D allows you to express your emotions or practice listening to others while they are upset. (4)
Side note: all relationships involve a series of ruptures and repairs to maintain. Agreeing to continue to play D&D means folks must practice ways that their character might forgive another character in order to continue to be in the same party. Good practice for making repairs in real life!
12. D&D involves using social skills.
Everything from practicing respectful turn taking to reading other player’s non-verbal communication (gestures, body language, facial expressions) is needed in a D&D campaign. Picking up on social cues and responding appropriately will help you accomplish your goals in the game. The really cool thing about practicing these skills during D&D is that misreading a social cue for a character doesn’t have real world consequences for the player. So it’s a good stage to practice risk taking! (4)
Although these benefits can be cultivated and reflected upon with the help of a mental health professional, you do not need one in order to reap these rewards from playing D&D.
If you’re in the Austin, TX area and are interested in joining a D&D therapy group, please reach out to me here for more information.
References (In Order of Appearance)
(1) –Anthony Bean
(2) –Rachel Kowert
(4) –The Bodhana Group
Julia Stamman, LPC
Hi, I’m Julia! I’m an LPC (licensed professional counselor) practicing in South Austin. I understand the personal importance of a therapist groking my lifestyle, so I started helping others who identify as geeks, gamers, and/or misfits. Over time, I realized that I’m passionate about attachment-related trauma, social anxiety, and neurodiversity. On this blog, I write on topics like the overlap of alternative culture and mental health, and how to find services catered to these lifestyles.