Elves, dwarves, hobbits, spaceships, lasers, dragons, knights, princesses and more! Science fiction and fantasy have been huge in the popular scene over the past decade, with huge feature films from Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter to Star Wars. These fantastic adventures allow the imagination to run wild, and offer a fun temporary escape from the world we live in.
Perhaps not coincidentally, our most popular summer activity for years has been Dungeons and Dragons. The reason for this is simple: it’s a ton of fun! While a major focus of camp is to enjoy it, we also like our activities to have a positive impact on campers lives. For some, this is obvious, such as involves learning a life skill like cooking or overcoming a fear of heights on the ropes course. For Dungeons and Dragons (commonly called D&D), the benefits are a little less obvious.
D&D is basically storytelling mixed with improv. The instructor takes the role of the dungeonmaster, telling the players about the world they are in and what is going on around them. These can vary tremendously from traditional kingdoms and damsels in distress to laser beam firing spaceships deep in outer space. The campers will choose a character with a unique set of skills and take a few minutes to give each one a backstory, complete with a name, goals, and motivations. Then, the players decide what their characters would like to do in the situation. To decide how well that works, they roll a die, and the dungeonmaster describes what happens based on the results. This can lead to some wonderful stories and ridiculous events, which is where the fun and popularity of the game comes from.
Unlike movies or video games, there is no screen showing what is going on. All of the imagery is inside the players’ and the dungeon master’s minds, which allows everyone to exercise their imagination and creativity. It also fosters strong communication skills on the parts of both the players and the dungeonmaster, as if not everyone is picturing the same thing, the players won’t be able to see the options their character might have in front of them. Often times the most fun and effective solutions come from thinking far outside the box and being creative with the skills and items that a character possesses. .
Dungeons and Dragons is a role playing game, which means that players are not playing themselves, but are rather trying to see the world through the lens of a character they have created. In making their decisions, they are keeping in mind their own character’s motivations and histories. While this can be difficult, it helps to teach the campers about empathy, and seeing things from different points of view. This is an incredibly important social skill, which is somewhat ironic considering some of the popular stereotypes of the game.
Our dining hall is often filled with campers recanting epic tales of their latest sessions of Dungeons and Dragons. It is like hearing people walk out of a movie theater, or passionately describing their favorite books. This common ground sets a terrific foundation for long lasting friendships that often transcend the mystical world of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as the unique and diverse atmosphere of summer camp!