Sunday, March 09, 2008

Dungeons and Dragons on the Living Room Floor

Now he plays kiddie computer games with his children. But back in the 80s, Stephen played Dungeons and Dragons, aka D & D, on the floor at our house in Eugene.

D & D required rule books (which required proficiency in reading) , little pewter figures, pencil and paper, and intense concentration.

Stephen's friend Ian would come down from Portland for the weekend. The boys would stay up all night playing, just stopping long enough for pancakes in the morning. Although D & D players have been called "nerds," "extreme geeks," and even "social outcasts," Stephen and Ian certainly didn't fit that description.

When Ian wasn't around and Stephen wasn't riding his bike, he read J.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings," over and over. Three times? Maybe four times? Delighting in telling the minute details of the adventures of the Middle Earth creatures.

"Mom, I gotta tell you what happened. See, it all started when Bilbo Baggins . . . but Frodo . . . except that Gandalf . . ."

I hadn't thought about D & D for years until I read that Gary Gygax, the game's creator, died last week. The game reached such popularity that well-meaning grown-ups debated its grand virtues--fosters creativity, imagination, critical thinking, verbal skills, and team building.

Or argued its terrible faults--too violent, doesn't prepare young people for the "real" world. Doesn't teach the difference between fantasy and reality. Promotes devil worship. Encourages kids to kill themselves. Two D & D enthusiasts did commit suicide. Their Mom denied any connection whatsoever to Dungeons and Dragons, but "60 minutes" picked up the story anyway.

And "aren't you afraid your kid'll grow up to be a serial killer if he plays too much D & D"? No, not really.

Instead of creating axe murderers, our love affair with wizards and magic had just begun. We went from D & D to fantasy video games with dizzying visual effects. From "Lord of the Rings" to Harry Potter, with a delicious six books to the series, four blockbuster movies, games, and fan clubs galore. Now adults are playing and reading too.

In an op/ed piece for the Boston Globe, Ethan Gilsdorf, who spent his teen years playing Dungeons and Dragons, defends the game: "The game won't let you hide behind avatars and computer screens, in lonely bedrooms behind closed doors." (However, online versions of D & D do exist, along with a now defunct TV show.)

And Gygax defined role-playing games as group, cooperative experience. "There is no winning or losing, but rather the value is in the experience of imagining yourself as a character." Although some pundits dub Gygax as the father of modern video games which go far beyond simply playing a character's role. And nothing high tech about Dungeons and Dragons in the 80s.

I'm not much for that tired old nostalgia, "Well when I was a girl, we . . . ," but I'll take Stephen sprawled out on the living room floor playing Dungeons and Dragons with Ian any day versus today's mind-numbing, addictive, and even more violent fantasy video games.

I rate Dungeons and Dragons and any game requiring imagination and creativity as Brain Boosters.

And Harry Potter rocks! I've read all six but have to admit once Bilbo Baggins left home, I never quite made it through "Lord of the Rings."

So let me know what games your kids play that foster creativity and engage imagination. Let's get a list going.


P.S. Well, I finally listened myself to the free 60-minute Introduction to Brain Gym audio. Yes, you do get 17 pages of great handouts with the audio, some good Brain Gym tips, and an explanation of what Brain Gym's all about.

But frankly I think yours truly needs to re-record it. Needs an update. Skip all that nonsense in the beginning. Good task for next week.

In the meantime, there's still time for you to sign up for Brain Gym Basics. Starts Tuesday, March 11 and jam packed with fabulous Brain Gym tools you can use everyday. No traveling, no complicated webinar stuff, just a telephone.

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