The mental health benefits of playing Dungeons and Dragons

Tor Books (@TorBooks)

You are what you eat. On the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food. Devon is part of the Family, an old recluse clan of these bookworms. Her brothers grow up feasting on tales of valor and adventure, and Devon, like other female bookworms, is raised on a carefully selected diet of fairy tales and cautionary tales. But real life doesn’t like fairy tales, as she learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for the human mind.

I was Dungeon Master for about three years. I run Dungeons and Dragons with teenagers twice a week at the middle school library I run, and I also run it with adults almost every week. I find play extremely helpful in dealing with the demons that can come with the onslaught of our daily news feed or just life in general. I believe that playing Dungeons and Dragons has several benefits for mental health and well-being, and I’m not alone. I’ve been lucky enough to talk to many other librarians and even mental health experts about this topic, and I’ve found that while it looks like just a game at first, what’s really going on is that every time you play, you’re engaging in therapy. if you play the game correctly. If you are thinking of starting Dungeons and Dragons in your school or public library, this information can be useful in convincing the principal or senior management why a game like D&D should be started, as it has many benefits not only for the students, but also for an adult running the program.

Increases confidence

I’ve seen teenagers who are usually shy and reserved come out of their shells during a Dungeons and Dragons session. This is because they know with absolute certainty that they are in a safe place and can express themselves without judgment. It’s also because they live their lives, even just for an hour on their lunch break, at someone’s place or another. Teens who don’t feel like they fit in or have trouble making social connections don’t have to endure the initial first stage of “fitting in” because D&D is the way to fit in, and it’s already open to them. There is an unspoken bond between our D&D students who know that the table we play this game at is safe and everyone can be who they want and do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt others. Do this regularly and you will see your confidence increase significantly.

Photo courtesy of Lucas Maxwell

This is planned entertainment

In a world where we are bombarded daily with garbage, misinformation, terror and outright anxiety-inducing fear, planned entertainment is more important than ever. After the pandemic restrictions, we see teenagers with mental health problems in the library. I’m not saying that Dungeons & Dragons is some magical cure, I’m saying that setting aside time on your calendar to say, “I’m going to have fun for this hour at lunch a few times a week” is incredibly powerful. D&D, when done right, is cathartic. Teenagers can, if they want to, experience their anxieties and fears through the experiences of their characters. Also, failure has no real consequences. In fact, failing with a good dungeon master can stick with you as a player for a long time, because maybe it was fun, or maybe it led the party down a path that no one, not even the DM, expected. The importance of planned entertainment and D&D is discussed in more detail in my interview with playwright Cathy Lear.

Memoirs

This is the most important thing for me. I hated high school. What I do in my current position at the library is create a space that I would enjoy being in as a teenager. After all, many young people look back on their high school experience as a very bad one. I want these kids to look back and realize that someone out there didn’t care, someone cared, someone wanted them to have fun and develop friendships and let them be who they wanted to be. And they could play a really cool game while they were doing it. I will miss these students, the ones who have come to play D&D in faith over the past three years, because the game and our interactions have helped me so much as well. I also have great memories, and that’s something I strive for not only with D&D, but with every program and event I do at the library.

My advice if you are thinking of starting a D&D program in your library is to start small. There must be six players to begin with. Don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel. Let the players help you create the world if you don’t have time. Get a starter kit that’s really cheap and comes with a ready-made adventure. Don’t worry if you don’t remember the details, just when things go bananas will create a moment that teenagers will remember.


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