When I was eleven years old, I basically spent half my time over at my aunt and uncle’s house. Mom was a career nighttime nurse and couldn’t technically, legally, leave me at home overnight by my self (dad had passed two years before). So you could say I basically lived with them part-time. My uncle had been (and of course remains) a loveable hardcore geek since his early years, and that included a D&D lifestyle – something I’ve been glad to inherit.
Didn’t think it would be that way when I was eleven.
They had longtime friends coming in from out of town, and they were going to play a game of Dungeons and Dragons together. Having my cousin and I as curious kids in the house for the night of fun, they asked if we wanted to take part, which of course we said yes to. If you’ve never played before, D&D is a cooperate storytelling game, basically a campfire story your group tells together, each with their own characters and with dice to help settle disputes. I…I didn’t understand the cooperative part, at first, so I did what any child about to face a group of adult veterans would have done.
I cried to my mother.
“They’re going to kill me,” I lamented. “I’ve never played before and they have, and they all know what they’re doing, and they’re going to beat me up. I don’t know the rules.” Eventually, they managed to drive into my impressionable skull that we were going to work together against monsters and stuff, so I got brave really quickly from there. So we started building my character, and they got around to the crowning achievment and asked, “So what do you want your name to be?” I gave it some thought, then told them.
“Yam?” the Dungeon Master asked me. And when I nodded enthusiastically, she held her face in her hand and shook her head. “Just what my monsters need, going up against a sweet potato.” This also after initially introducing herself to me and asking me my name, to which she had replied, “Mmm, ‘Evan.’ That’s a good strong name. It would look good on a tombstone.”
And in truth, shoot, I hope she’s right.
The game got underway and I got to experience the magic. Our troop were venturing across a barren grassland when we were beset by ghouls – viscious undead that eat people. It comes to my turn and they ask me what I want to do, and I am nervous. I mean, I’m in a fight with monsters, for God’s sake. But I steel myself and tell her I want to shoot one with my longbow. We roll the dice, crunch the numbers, and I hit one, making it stumble and set it up to be slain by our group’s paladin.
I’d…I’d helped. We’d been attacked by monsters from beyond the grave and I had HELPED. I’d never shot a bow before, but here I’d gone and plugged one with an arrow. Do y’all get how friggin’ empowering that is? These people, heroes from lands I’d never heard of, strangers to me, gave me a smiling thumb’s up and a “good job, bud.” I’d been scared, but had contributed to a group effort alongside people I admired, proving myself capable in a capacity I’d previously not known.
Play. Dungeons. And. Dragons. With. Your. Kids.
Social skills, quick math, priority management, creativity, strength of imagination, organization and more are all a treasure trove of soft skills these games help foster. It comes at the cost of pens, paper, and time you wind up happy to spend. This is my advice to you, now go forth and conquer.