What on earth is DnD? And what can it do for me?
If you are anything like me, when you think of people who play Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) you immediately picture middle-aged, socially awkward, white men who closely resemble The Simpsons characters Comic Book Guy or Professor John I.Q. Nerdelbaum Frink Jr; however, I’m happy to admit that I was truly, completely and utterly wrong. But what changed my mind?
Initially, I was watching Stranger Things (see below) and DnD sounded so much more interesting and creative than I knew. Next people I knew started ‘outing’ themselves as DnD players. But hang on, these people were friends and colleagues! They were young, old and in between; they were male, female and non-binary; and they came from a variety of ethnicities and cultures. I had some re-thinking to do.
Next, I got talking to one of my gifted students (OB). He’s new to the school and has been finding making friends a bit more challenging than expected. When I asked OB what he was passionate about the flood gates opened. He is passionate about Dungeons and Dragons, and is a Dungeon Master (I had yet to know what that meant). He spends hours watching You Tubes, listening to podcasts, reading manuals, playing and writing scripts for Dungeons and Dragons - definitely a member of a participatory culture (Jenkins, 2008). Apparently, he is currently developing a campaign based on the texts we read last term in our English class – Homer’s Odyssey and The Iliad (The Children's Homer), my teacher heart soared. So when OB asked if we could work together to start a DnD club at school I was hooked. It was time for me to do some more learning.
What on earth is Dungeons and Dragons?
To quote OB, “it’s like someone pulled apart a video game, and you are running it together, making choices and getting consequences, while using your imagination.” It’s a fantasy, role playing table-top game, run by a Dungeon Master, who is the main storyteller and “controls everything” (OB). Each new story (called a campaign) gives players the opportunity to become new characters. Each session of play is like the next episode. All the action takes place in the imagination and is negotiated by the players themselves based on throws of multiple, multi-sided dice.
I was still lost. However, the internet is full of DnD fansites and resources. This was the most understandable source that I could find
Why is Dungeons and Dragons particularly good for gifted kids?
Gifted children often experience asynchronous development – a mismatch between intellect and emotional development. They can also have different interests than their age peers, leading to feelings of disconnection. Rosselet and Stauffer (2013) suggest that using group role-playing games may assist gifted students to practice social and emotional self-regulation, experiment with new identities, and improve inter- and intra- personal skills while operating in slightly controlled environment. They develop skills in collaboration and interaction and can then work to transfer skills outside of the role-playing game. Callahan (2017) suggests that playing DnD can increase students’ understandings of how to manage conflict with others as well as feelings of self- worth as they absorb feelings of success when their characters accomplish tasks.
To put that in layperson’s terms? Some gifted kids can feel socially isolated, and need a bit of support to develop and practice their social skills – OB is one of those kids. So, while OB would be the leader guiding me, the novice, through the skills required to play DnD, I would be able to act as a social facilitator – a DnD match maker.
How can DnD be nurtured at school and the positives utilised?
That’s the big question. I don't think that my school, or the curriculum is ready for this. Each campaign can take hours and hours, even each session may take several hours. Fitting this into a lunch time session (especially since we have divided lunch times due to COVID) will be problematic. However, OB’s enthusiasm is infectious. Mentioning my meeting with OB to our e-Learning coordinator opened up more leads, she was able to name several other passionate DnD-ers. My next step will be to publicise my plans so that others can self-nominate as DnDers. I’ll then gather them together and see what they can suggest.
Maybe the simple action of being together in the same room will help kick-start some social connection, maybe they’ll be able to problem solve creatively – after all, that’s one of the strengths developed through playing Dungeons and Dragons. But I'm definitely going to persevere - though I'll definitely need some help.