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The Benefits of Roleplay

Posted by Brian Tyrrell on

A short essay on the impact of roleplaying games, and our need to play them. We discuss their benefits for marginalised communities, their use as teaching aids, and their mainstream relevancy to a market hungry for personal stories.

 Roleplaying games have been proven time and time again to be a force for good in our world. They can help:

  • Develop social skills and confidence

  • Allow you explore new ideas, identities and perspectives

  • Foster new friendships

  • Stimulate creativity, critical thinking and problem solving

I started playing role playing games when I was 10 and haven’t stopped since. I consider them to be a major part of what made me who I am today, and I wish more people could enjoy their benefits.


Games like Dungeons & Dragons offers enough agency to the Game Master and Players that they can explore their characters and the world they play in without paralyzing them with the infinite choices or complex rules (Heller, 2018). Players believe that merely playing in a historical [setting] increases their knowledge of history and custom (Hughes, 1988). Games of D&D can “fulfil genuine human needs, engage learners, and unite people in unprecedented ways” (McGonigal, 2011). D&D allows for members of minority communities, such as BAME or LGBT+, to explore their voices (Johnson, 2018). Furthermore, it is shown that Role Play “[teaches] children [about] the self-concept, behavioural changes, cognitive abilities, social skills, and anxiety management” (Bratton & Ray, 2000).


The Girl Scouts organisation in the USA created a TRPG badge to encourage its members to play RPGs such as D&D, as inspired by a scout troops in South California (Astleford, 2014). Scottish high schools are introducing D&D into their curriculum with strong revelations for both teachers and pupils; "You see a zombie like that, he's obviously going to come up and kill you. But I can make him a Defender and I can change his strength and all these other things. [...] You can take the worst nightmare creature and make him a good guy" said one student (Blane, 2008). Dr Gina Gomez completed her PhD research in play therapy techniques for children on the autism spectrum under Simon Baron-Cohen (a leading psychologist at Cambridge university). Gina noted that “the division of labour with a common purpose inherently requires children to practice joint attention, turn taking, sharing, joint problem solving, listening, and general social communication skills.” (Gomez, 2008). Roleplaying Games have grown from its underground following to mainstream market.


D&D has gained legions of followers stepping away from digital gaming (Brodeur, 2018) Local businesses such as Brewdog pubs are investing in attracting groups of roleplayers (Barnes, 2018). ‘Dorky’ and ‘uncool’ stigma around the game is at an all time low, following support of counter-type celebrities such as Joe Manganiello (Abramovitch, 2017) and Vin Diesel (Shepherd, 2015). Shows like Stranger Things from Netflix, and Critical Role have created a wide public interest in the hobby (Armstrong, 2019). However, the amount of content to take in can be overwhelming, (Schreier, 2018 a), and GMs find that a lot of preparation is needed to run a game of D&D, (Schreier, 2018 b). 


This essay is only an introduction; there are many well read and respected researchers exploring this subject.

We recommend Rachel Kowert a PhD Psychologist, researcher and overall very talented individual. On her website is a fantastic resource full of academic research into the benefits of gaming. Many of the papers listed here cover one (or more) of the following: videogames, roleplaying games, and tabletop games.


Abramovitch, S. 2017. Joe Manganiello on His Love of 'Dungeons & Dragons' and His 'Batman' Status. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Armstrong, N. 2019. No more nerds: how Dungeons & Dragons finally became cool. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Astleford, G. 2014. Dungeon Scouts. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Barnes, L. 2018. Dungeons & Dragons: The revival of a 'geeky' pastime. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Blane, D. 2008. Computer games-based learning may be a step too far for some, but a national games centre aims to prove them wrong. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Bratton, S. & Ray, D. 2000. What the Research Shows About Play Therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy, 9.

Brodeur, N. 2018. Behind the scenes of the making of Dungeons & Dragons. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Gomez, G. 2008. Using Systemising to Facilitate Social Competence in Autism. PhD. Claire College: University of Cambridge.

Heller, E. 2018. D&D beginner’s guide: how to get started with Dungeons & Dragons - Polygon. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Hughes, J. 1988. Therapy is Fantasy: Roleplaying, Healing and the Construction of Symbolic Order. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Johnson, A. 2018. Dungeons and Dragons is a Great Tool for Exploring Your Identity. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

McGonigal, J., 2011. Reality is Broken. 2nd ed. New York: Penguin.

Schreier, J. 2018 a. What It Was Like to Play D&D For the First Time. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Schreier, J. 2018 b. I DMed in D&D For the First Time And Now It's All I Can Think About. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

Shepherd, J. 2015. Vin Diesel nerding out over Dungeons and Dragons is an amazing slice of internet. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 July 2019].

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