Controversies about Roleplaying: Benefits of the Hobby



PAX East 2013 Tabletop Rooms by srslyguys

"Tabletop Rooms" by srslyguys is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Since roleplaying games are rooted in imagination, it can be difficult to pin down and measure their benefits. With physical sports, results like increased hand-eye coordination are easy to see and track over time, but roleplaying games exercise the mind in ways that often aren't studied. That doesn't diminish the value roleplaying games have had in many lives - it just means we have to observe what gamers do and listen to how they feel about their experiences.


Roleplayers tend to read a lot to learn the games they want to play. They also learn to follow written directions and exercise their memories. Why? Roleplaying books are reference manuals that you use at various points before, during, and after a game session. You follow certain rules to create a character and other rules to craft monsters for the heroes to fight. After reviewing them enough times, roleplayers will likely memorize certain portions. Gaming books can also build vocabulary since they often use less common terms. (It's from White Wolf games that I learned terms as obfuscate, vicissitude, and umbra.)


Roleplaying games encourage communication. As long as there are at least two people required to play, discussion will be necessary. If sessions are live and in person, then roleplayers get to practice taking turns, reacting to prompts, using their speaking skills, and formulating clear responses. (If games are text-only, then they'll practice writing skills rather than speaking.) Social games also require navigating a variety social cues (visual, auditory, verbal, and so on). When trouble arises with understanding, as it inevitably will, gamers get to practice interpretation and conflict resolution skills. During play, teamwork and leadership skills can be developed to make things run smoothly.

Other Academic Skills

In addition to all of this, gamers have opportunities to employ a range of literary skills, from brief narrations to descriptions and metaphors. Game Masters who take and use notes to guide sessions will develop organizational skills to keep everything straight. Players may also have a chance to use organizing skills if they compose backstories, journal entries, or pieces of fiction for their own amusement. Game Masters who rely on written notes will use their writing skills more often, as will gamers who rely on text-based modes of play (such as via chat or shared cloud documents).

Gamers often feel motivated to research areas of interest and expand their knowledge. A GM may delve into an era of history to craft a historic game setting, while a player may look up slang or fashion so they can portray a character from that era more convincingly. In high school, I ended up doing research just for my hobby and I learned a lot outside of class. Roleplaying games also tend to involve some level of mathematics. Rolling dice involves probability; results are often subtracted or summed up quickly and multiplication and division may also be needeed. Descriptions of locations ask gamers to envision and understand the confines of dimensional spaces. Unless a system is based entirely on description, math will be required somewhere.

Social Ties

When sports fans meet strangers who are also fans of the same team, they have a good chance to experience an immediate sense of camaraderie. They have an in with each other: a topic of discussion they're enthusiastic about. The same can be said with roleplayers. And since gamers can spend uninterrupted hours interacting with each other over months and years, it should be no surprise that personal relationships develop. This may not happen with every group or all players involved, but it's quite common for friendships, romances, and other kinds of relationships to develop. If there are many tabletop roleplayers in an area and/or if players are in various groups, gamers may have broader social circles. These relationships can stand the tests of time, provide support, and lead to a great deal of joy. I am a case in point: All of my close friends are roleplayers whom I've gamed with, and I eventually married my first Game Master.

Stress Relief

Everyone needs a hobby. Recreation is a way to process and release the strain that could otherwise build up and start to negatively affect our lives. And children aren't the only ones who benefit from playtime; humans engage in many games throughout their lives because play is fun. As thinking and feeling beings, we all need some fun. And roleplaying games offer so much to look forward to: creative endeavors, social engagements, and enjoyable interactions. Freely chosen goals and tasks like those we take on in our hobbies can provide personal motivation that can enhance other areas of life. When other things might be going wrong, you can experience something going right at the game table - and when times are rough, no price can be put on that.

Constructive Outlets

Instead of engaging in destructive behaviors, millions of gamers spend their free time in safe locations, rolling dice and perhaps drinking too much caffeine. Roleplaying books directly encourage respect and safety, as well as enjoyment. And this doesn't have to end when a game session does: roleplayers also engage in the hobby via painting miniatures, drawing characters, writing fiction, and interacting on social media. They make memories together that provide in-jokes and satisfaction. While moving through fantasy worlds, they create real and healthy outcomes that are worth being proud of and grateful for.


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