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Dungeons and Dragons: 5 Benefits of Using this RPG for Educational Purposes

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is undisputedly one of the most popular role-playing games (RPGs) of all time. However, since its inception in 1974, it’s garnered a reputation for being a game reserved for teenage nerds or outcasts, which is why we’re here to set the record straight. On the contrary, D&D holds endless educational opportunities for students everywhere, with challenges and quests within the fantasy world that are applicable in classrooms, tutoring sessions, and everyday life.


If you’re unfamiliar with D&D, the first step is character creation, including choosing a backstory and their alignments – for example, their moral compass, character traits, and type of adventurer. Players then go through different modules or quests guided by the Dungeon Master (DM), who is ultimately responsible for keeping the game moving forward. Players then have to role play as their character, guiding all of their actions, including combat, according to the guidelines they’ve set out for themselves. This continues until the module is completed, and they might encounter anything from diplomatic scenarios to puzzle solving to exploration and more. So, now that you understand more about the structure of D&D let’s take a look at 5 benefits of using this RPG for educational purposes.


1. Pique Student Curiosity


One thing that traditional classroom settings often struggle to do is pique student curiosity. However, figuring out how to authentically engage students is critical for information retention and recall, which is where games like D&D come in. But why do these games have such an effect on student learning outcomes? Well, it’s because, unlike workbooks, the problem-solving required for a game has a goal that actually matters to kids. [1] Students become invested in their characters, quests, and storyline and forget that they’re learning complex concepts along the way. Ultimately, when you’re able to pique student curiosity by utilizing games like D&D for learning purposes, they integrate educational concepts more easily into their knowledge patterns and have a better chance of retaining the information long-term.


2. Promotes Collaboration


Although students are taught to ‘play nice with others,’ when it comes to learning, we often think of it as something that needs to be accomplished individually. But, with games like D&D, there is an inherent need for collaboration in order to reach the set goals and finish the quests. A great instance of this is in a D&D module I created that we called OneShot – since it was designed to be completed within a few hours instead of several gaming sessions. In this module, I established a puzzle that required players to work together, using knowledge and skills that were unique to each player. For example, one player was multilingual, another was the strongest, and a third player was the smartest. The first player used their language skills to uncover clues for the group, while the second player unlocked a part of the puzzle that required incredible strength to complete, and finally, the third player used their intelligence to fill in the final missing pieces of the puzzle. Without collaboration, the students would have been unable to reach their end goal and complete the quest.


3. Enhance Socio-Emotional Skills


Along with promoting collaboration, games like D&D actually enhance students’ socio-emotional skills that can be translated into the real world. For example, one professional DM, Todd Carlstrom, recalls: I had a student character who decided to arbitrarily throw his hot stew in the face of an innkeeper yesterday. He was held down until the town guard got there, after which he was put in jail for assault. As a result, the party has started to receive colder welcomes in the town, and already it’s clear that they blame the player’s rash actions. He’ll think twice before he does that again. [2] These types of instances help players learn from their mistakes in a low-stakes environment (in other words, there would have been more serious ramifications if he threw hot stew in someone’s face in real life) while also learning to utilize effective communication skills rather than rely on rash emotional-based responses.





4. Bolster Motivation to Learn


As I mentioned, sometimes the traditional classroom setting where you sit at a desk and take notes just doesn’t work for students. Integrating D&D for learning purposes helps students bolster their motivation to learn because they enjoy the delivery versus feeling like information is being thrown at them haphazardly. This is especially true for topics that might be difficult, touchy, or complex to explore. For example, environmentalism is often thought of as a dry topic; however, it was the most successful element of a recent module I helped facilitate for a graduate-level course. In this quest, there was an overarching narrative that something strange was occurring in the environment, and it was up to the players to investigate several small towns and compile clues along the way. The clues provided information about what was happening in the environment and how they could prevent the issue from worsening. Ultimately, being able to take unexciting concepts and turn them into an adventure in games like D&D helps increase student motivation and information retention.


5. Solidifies STEAM Education


D&D is the perfect example of how an RPG can solidify STEAM education for students. STEAM education stands for science, technology, engineering, art, and math, and every one of these aspects can be found within D&D. For example, Paul Darvasi explains that with a little ingenuity, chemistry can be applied to the existing alchemy scheme, physics operates in every projectile, fall, and collision, biology lurks in the countless flora and fauna that populate the world, and the game’s engineer class is an open invitation to justify contraptions with hard science. And math is the low-hanging fruit. [3] Beyond science, technology, engineering, and math, D&D requires many skills that art teaches as well. For one, D&D teaches about basic narrative creation, story analysis, and structure – especially as a DM. However, this is also true for players since they must act within the confines of their character and fictional world. Plus, it teaches critical and analytical thinking since creative solutions are often needed to solve difficult problems.


Final Thoughts


Ultimately, when used correctly, D&D is an exceptional teaching tool that can help students reach their academic benchmarks with ease. This RPG is easily moulded to whatever concept or learning outcome you’d like to explore. So, as long as the teacher has a basic understanding of the game mechanics, they can create engaging quests that motivate students to learn about complex topics by making it easier to understand and integrate the information into their knowledge processes. In essence, it provides students with a space to apply what they learn safely, so they can then take these skills into the real world. Therefore, our team invites you, nay challenges you, to try out D&D in your classroom or external learning environment and watch how it helps put the ‘fun’ back into functional learning.

If you’d like more information on utilizing games for learning purposes, or if you want to explore our tutoring options at Knowledge Bump, reach out to our team directly on our inquiry page at www.knowledgebump.ca.


References


1. Skenazy, Lenore. “The Surprising Educational Benefits of Dungeons and Dragons.” Let Grow,

https://letgrow.org/educational-benefits-dungeons-and-dragons/.

2. Gaudette, Emily. “When the Teacher is the Dungeon Master.” The Elective, February 2020,

https://elective.collegeboard.org/when-teacher-dungeon-master.

3. Darvasi, Paul. “How ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ Primes Students for Interdisciplinary Learning,

Including STEM.” KQED, October 2018, https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/51790/how-

dungeons-dragons-primes-students-for-interdisciplinary-learning-including-stem.


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