Within an industry as vast and as old as Tabletop Role-Playing Games (TTRPG), it is inarguable that there are few as famous or as popular as Dungeons & Dragons (D&D).
It really is impossible to understate the impact that D&D has had on the world, with its notoriety in the 1980s for a perceived promotion of satanism, to the release of Vox Machina in 2022 based on the massively popular show Critical Role, and with untold hundreds of D&D podcasts that all serve as a testament to the enduring popularity of the game.
Over the years it has appeared in dozens of TV series, including Freaks and Geeks, and The IT Crowd, as more recently appearing as a pivotal narrative device in the Netflix powerhouse Stranger Things.
Franchises like D&D have grown beyond mere entertainment, but are now part of a cultural zeitgeist, and have left a genuine impact on many players’ lives.
Tabletop Role-Playing Games are known for allowing (and even encouraging) players to think like their character would, which directly supports the emotional development of the players.
Some of the benefits linked with TTRPGs are:
- Improved social skills with peers
- Increased self-esteem and self-confidence
- Improved impulse control and practice with turn-taking
- Stronger creative thinking and problem-solving skills
Dr. Raffael Boccamazzo, the Clinical Director of Take This, uses D&D in a therapeutic manner to help teenagers who are struggling to adapt their solid social skills. This helps them to learn appropriate communication, forming friendships, empathy, and other social nuances.
Similarly, psychologist Megan A. Connell runs groups where D&D is used as a therapy tool, providing a safe environment for people to practise skills such as assertiveness.
The charity group Clearly Speaking runs a D&D club in order to support young people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) during a time when government funding is scarce.
A study from 2016 examined the levels of empathy of individuals who regularly play role-playing games: For this study, 127 participants completed the interpersonal reactivity index (IRI), with results demonstrating that those who play fantasy role-playing games scored significantly higher than the comparison group on the IRI scale of empathy.
For a more recent example in the D&D game Baldur’s Gate 3, players can select the dark urge origin path option, choosing to play as a character who has lost their memory and feels an unmistakable thirst for blood and violence.
Mike Drucker from The Gamer has written about this, saying, “My entire character is based around having literal dark urges but when it’s time to click on those choices, my mouse finger is hesitating.”
Baldur’s Gate has been a series renowned for these sorts of experiences over the last decades. The original title was released in August 1998 and follows the 2nd Edition rule set. Two sequels were later released, including BG3 which was released in 2023 and follows the 5th Edition rule set.
As a series that has spanned 25 years, it goes without saying that this is far more than ‘just’ a gaming series: Even many fans are unaware that it was popular enough to spawn an ARPG spin-off and to actually influence the creation of the Descent Into Avernus adventure module for D&D 5e.
Beyond the game series, D&D is a pioneering franchise for diversity and inclusion. Regardless of your characters’ race/species/background, everyone has the potential to become more than they started as, and your party can work together to overcome even the most monumental of adversities.
TTRPGs encourage teamwork and support, with many D&D-inspired video games such as Pathfinder, Planescape, Divinity, Dragon Age, Neverwinter Nights, Icewind Dale, etc... (even sci-fi titles like Mass Effect) all featuring a diverse range of companions (be they other players or non-playable characters, or NPCs) who have their own motivations and goals that you may come to learn about as camaraderie is built. When you come to face monstrous threats, you will do so together, and you will triumph jointly against incalculable odds.
Yet for me, working together in combat is ultimately not the biggest draw to these companions: With these companions, you will experience highs and lows, forging a legitimate bond with them, and I most appreciated the introspective dialogue that we shared, often by a campfire as the sun is setting.
The TTRPG community is known to bring people together from all walks of life, creating spaces where players can find solace and support in one another. For those struggling with loneliness and isolation, such as during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is a balm for the heart, to be able to converse with people/characters and to form a connection with them.
Inevitably there will be an eclectic mix of personalities, ranging from Rogues with razor-sharp wit, to noble do-gooder Knights, or even to clockwork machinations with aspirations of humanity.
During the pandemic, this was some of the only consistent socialising that I got to experience: Every Sunday, myself and five others would get to catch up during wildly imaginative encounters.
Ever since I took up D&D as a pastime, I have been sleeping far better and my anxiety has been heavily mitigated, with experiences that resonate with me just as I’m sure it does with others.
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