What I learned from Dungeons and Dragons: academically speaking
As an avid D&D player from middle school through college, my education was enhanced through the game’s complex rules, worlds and math systems. Playing D&D sparked an interest in mythology, mathematics, history, art and, most importantly, it sparked an interest in language and words.
Mythology – D&D is built in the fantasy time of the imagination. While anything can and does exist, it has also taken the gods of several mythologies in Deities and Demigods and quantified who they are, what their powers and realms of control were, and their histories. There may be other comparative mythology books out there, but none are as much fun or as relevant as the D&D version. It allows someone who is already invested in the game to pick up just enough information to want to learn more about the mythologies of the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Norse and several other cultures.
Mathematics – Without math, D&D could not exist as a game that includes random chance. The dice go from 4 sides to 100 sides and the shapes include a dodecahedron, where else would someone learn what that word means. (It’s a 12-sided die in the game.) Experience points, hit points, damage dealt, armor class, what it takes to hit something or perform a task… There are so many mathematical functions that players and DMs need to do I order for the game to go the way it was written, there should be no wonder that it is a game for geeks. Those who get involved in the game become really good at estimating outcomes, adding and subtracting quickly, and being comfortable with numbers. Math is easy when it is used for fun.
History – The weapons used in D&D come from different parts of history. D&D inspires questions like “why is there a difference between a long bow and a short bow?” and “what is a trebuchet?” If a group has to siege a castle, someone has to do the research on how best to do that. The DM runs the game, and so will probably already know the best ways, but the players also have to figure it out. Even though the worlds of D&D are imaginary, they have a basis in the real world. Nothing brings a medieval museum to life like a good D&D game. Stories about wars from long ago come to life when a person has already imagined the weapons and, through the imagination, lived the experience in some way.
Art and Architecture – Drawing is the second form of creativity that children learn. When adults grow up, they insist that they cannot draw. Fortunately for people who play D&D, drawing is not something that is scary or has to be done in a certain way to be desirable. The most basic of drawings can get the idea of what a player wants his or her character to be, and that is something everyone can appreciate. Much like Napoleon Dynamite’s Liger, the drawing doesn’t have to be realistic to be great.
At some point in a character’s growth, the player will want to construct a dwelling for the character. That means figuring out what type of dwelling, how it will be protected and what it looks like. Real world castle architecture becomes a blue print for the character’s home. Crenellations, draw bridges, murder holes, secret exits, cisterns – these words and ideas become more relevant to someone who has to learn them to have fun. Visiting a European castle ruins becomes so much more enjoyable when the person already knows what these things are and what they would look like.
Language – There is no way to play a game based on imagination without words. The DM must convey the world, the way it looks, the way it feels and tastes, the way it smells, to the players who must then accurately describe their actions. In order for things to come to life in a shared environment, everyone must have a vocabulary that describes what is in the environment, and the words must mean approximately the same thing to everyone else. A character could pick up a sword, but in D&D unless the players know what kind of sword, its attributes remain a mystery. Is it a short sword, a long sword, an epee, a falchion, a bastard sword… The list is long, and the more detail that everyone can bring to the gaming table, the more lively the game becomes.
Education doesn’t just come from the classroom. It isn’t just about learning facts. The best education comes from what a person is interested in and the ability to apply that interest to a real life situation – even if that real life situation is only in the imagination of the person. When Michael Jordan spent time on imagining the outcome of free throw after free throw, he was actually improving his free throw success rate. When players and DMs spend time on creating worlds and absorbing the facts of those worlds, they are learning important information about the world outside of the game as well and improving their success rate in the classroom.
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