by Daisy Jasmine, Staff Bard
A few weeks ago, I spent my Friday evening as one does: on the deck of a flying pirate ship, making bad decisions. Getting there to begin with took some effort, and several of my companions fell off of a cliff in the process, but eventually I negotiated my way on board. Once there, I proceeded to wear a few costumes, drop cannonballs on people’s feet, and slam a door in a ghost’s face. Eventually, I declared the whole thing a wash, set the ship on a collision course with the ground below, and escaped by the skin of my teeth.
You may be wondering how I found myself in such a fantastical scenario. Could it have been a bad fever dream? A particularly engaging novel? A huge misunderstanding at a perfectly mundane harbor full of perfectly mundane fishermen, who wanted nothing more than to be left alone by this madcap young woman? However, it was none of the above—I had simply been introduced to the limitless possibilities of Dungeons and Dragons.
Even with the rise in popularity of “nerd culture” during the past decade or so, the tabletop role-playing game has remained in relative obscurity from the mainstream. The archetypal image of a small group of people huddled around a table laden with strange-looking dice, nervously listening as a storyteller cackles intimidatingly behind a propped-up binder, has been television shorthand for “these people are very nerdy” since long before “nerdy” ceased to be an insult.
It’s only very recently, with an insurgence of nostalgia for the 80s which has been intensified by popular media such as Stranger Things, that the public has begun to look on this pastime with a more open-minded curiosity. And they should—the game is every bit as valid of a hobby as things like fantasy football and video games. In fact, in the short amount of time I’ve spent learning the ins and outs of the game, I’ve come to realize it may be one of the best hobbies a business student could have.
So, why should business students play Dungeons and Dragons?
It Builds Trust
Dungeons and Dragons is a distinctly multiplayer activity. At a minimum, you need one person to run the game and one to play, and it becomes far more fun with a few more players to spur on some banter and get into character. When I was invited into a group to play the game for the first time, I only knew two people there. One was a fellow player, and the other was the Game Master (GM)—the one who spins the adventure while the players are along for the ride. The rest of my “team” were total strangers to me, and they had already established a rapport amongst themselves.
However, very little time was wasted with small talk and introductions, and we quickly fell into the roles of our respective characters. As the game unfolded, how each person reacted to each new event demonstrated their sense of humor, their learning styles, and their strong suits. We showed how our thought processes worked and what sort of choices we would make in a world unfettered by silly things like a lack of magic. Before long, we formed a synergy, drawing conclusions and quickly scheming up complicated plans on the fly based on what we knew of each other. By the end of that first session, I could have completely forgotten that I had barely met the people behind the characters. The non-negotiable collaborative aspect of the game forms connections rapidly, and strengthens those that were already there.
It Teaches Valuable Skills
The benefits of playing Dungeons and Dragons don’t end with the connections you make—the game also gives you an ideal and safe environment to develop many skills that are extremely relevant in a professional setting. If you are inexperienced with group work, you can develop confidence and learn how to make your suggestions heard or gain a better sense of when to let other people take the lead. Additionally, the rapid pacing and unpredictability during some games forces players to quickly develop a knack for adapting to unfamiliar situations. The role-playing aspects can also help you develop your communication skills as you ask questions, get the information you need, and make convincing arguments to avoid fights you can’t win.
The game is also a fantastic way to practice and get more comfortable with taking risks. When every decision you make has a 5% chance of succeeding with flying colors and an equal chance of failing disastrously, the pressure is lifted and you can act without fear of failure—and when you do fail (which you will), the result often just makes for a good story!
Playing as a GM is excellent for developing leadership skills, as well. When planning a campaign, the GM must outline not just one linear story, but they must also consider what they know about the players and plan accordingly to account for the unavoidable times that the players get distracted and lead the story away from the original design. The planning process also requires a great deal of research, consulting the multiple reference books to find the statistics and abilities for each monster. A GM quickly becomes a master of indirect communication, enticing the players with colorful details and dropping careful clues about what to do without robbing them of their sense of freedom. All of these skills are sure to be applied in many corporate settings, such as when directing a creative team.
While it teaches useful skills, the most important factor of Dungeons and Dragons is that it is extremely fun. When working in a stressful environment, it’s vital to have a way to unwind and do something completely different. When you play Dungeons and Dragons, you get that opportunity and then some. You can play as your ideal self, as powerful or charismatic as you could possibly hope to be—or you can take a break from yourself and step into the shoes of somebody with a completely different personality, seeing how far you can take the act.
For a few hours you’ll lose sight of the problems of the real world and get swept up in the rush of accomplishment when you slay your first dragon, the sense of pride when you charm your way out of an awkward situation, the empathetic groans and hilarity when you roll a 1 and the hoots of celebration when you roll a 20. The game combines all of the grown-up satisfaction of solving a complicated problem with the unfettered, childlike joy of playing make-believe, as you sit down with a few good friends and write the ultimate story starring yourselves. So, what are you waiting for? There’s no time like the present to take the Initiative and give it a try!