Not your father’s Dungeons & Dragons: How role-playing games give people courage to try new things

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Since 1996, the Origins Game Fair has been held in Columbus.This year the convention returns amidst what some consider a tabletop gaming renaissance.

The popularity of board and role playing games has boomed in recent years, spilling back into mainstream pop culture recently in the Netflix original series, Stranger Things.

In the series, a group of teenage friends play Dungeons & Dragons and by the end of the first season, one can argue, they have learned something about themselves through their playing of the game.

The journey to self-discovery through role playing is not a new concept. Psychologists use a similar technique in certain situations.

In the table top setting, young adults are given the opportunity to explore their identity and learn more about who they are in a safe setting, according Ruty Rutenberg and Satine Phoenix, co-creators of Maze Arcana, an internet web series on which D&D is played.

Phoenix began playing D&D more than 20 years ago and says she used it as a young girl to escape the monsters in her life.

“By creating this other character that was stronger and smarter and faster and wiser,” Phoenix said. “Over time, I kind of took those pieces and learned from those pieces of that character and now I’m a strong woman, like I imagined I was going to be when I was little.”

The benefits of role playing games like D&D can be applied beyond the development of young adults, Rutenberg said. His service in the U.S. armed forces included time spent overseas in war zones.

Rutenberg believes role playing is one of the best ways to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Being able to stop for a minute and just explore something else that isn’t a video game, it doesn’t have a win/loss column; I think is kind of life altering in a way,” Rutenberg said.

The passion Phoenix and Rutenberg have is paralleled by 11-year-old Andrew Reitman-Lewis.

Andrew has been playing D&D since he was 9 years old. He was introduced to the game by his father Dominic, who was looking for a way to connect with his son. Reitman played D&D as a child as well.

Andrew says he has read through the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Masters Guide and the supplement book, Volo’s Guide to Monsters, three times. His father says D&D is a great outlet for his creativity.

But it’s Andrew’s own words that sums up what role playing allows people to do best.

“I get to try out new things, and if you want to make a character that looks and acts just like you, you can do that; if you want to make a character that is all holy and smites all evildoers, you can do that; there are no limits,” Reitman-Lewis said.

Right now, the preteen is acting as the Dungeon Master, the head storyteller, for a group of his Boy Scout friends. He said the best part is the that rules are flexible and they can do stuff they might not have tried in real life.

“Since we’re all kids, if we mess up we just laugh about it and restart,” Reitman-Lewis said.

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