I have many memories of family game nights when I was a kid—playing games like Monopoly and Uno around the table—but as with many households, that tradition slowly gave way to movies, video games, or just generally shifting interests. Many of the games we had played simply didn’t have the same level of engagement or replayability to keep up with their digital competitors—once you’ve played Monopoly, it’s not long before each game is just a race for Park Place. Before long, our collection of board games was gathering dust in the back of the closet.
Today, tabletop gaming—both board games and Tabletop Role Playing Games (TTRPGs)— has surged back to the surface. Why? Some hypothesize that it’s connected to an increasing desire for community and social engagement. We live in a world of near-constant connectivity, but much of that interaction comes through screens and we’ve begun to notice the strain. Humans are social creatures, after all, and our natural desire to be near others eventually kicks in. As a result, our local game stores, libraries, and schools are holding more events where people can gather and bond. Many families are experiencing a similar transformation and see TTRPGs as a new way to revive an old tradition. My own local gaming community, in particular, has seen a huge rise in families wanting to get involved. What is it about these games that draws people back to the table?
Through running family-friendly Dungeons and Dragons workshops and campaigns, I’ve learned a little more about why people are falling in love with TTRPGs.
Tabletop RPGs are bigger than ever right now, with parents and children alike being drawn in by the countless podcasts, gameplay streams, and blogs surrounding the hobby. Furthermore, they are highly portable: all you really need is the rulebook (many of which are available in PDF format), pencils and paper for tracking character progression, a handful of dice, and a story. Some systems are even lighter, only requiring the game book itself. From classic dice rolling to fully narrative story games, there seems to be no shortage of both physical and digital resources to fit any family’s budget…and as more small publishers and indie creators make their way onto the scene, it’s unlikely that will change any time soon.
Instead of pitting players against each other until one emerges victorious, most TTRPGs require teamwork to progress the story. The focus on collaborative play has been a rising trend in the board game world as well and has a huge appeal for families trying to teach their children how to work together. In a TTRPG, each player has a role in the story with their own unique strengths and perspectives, which can be used in creative ways. The most engaging games are those that employ a wide variety of perspectives to solve the case or defeat the great evil that threatens the land; you can’t use a hammer to fix everything and an armoured knight isn’t always the best hero for the job! The idea of bringing diverse people together for a common goal is inherent in this style of play and encourages active listening, taking turns, and helping others.
Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
Many games—video games in particular—are linear: you have a defined goal that you must reach and there are certain steps that you need to take to achieve it. A TTRPG isn’t always so cut and dry. You may have a clear goal in sight, but there are a multitude of ways to reach it. Each challenge you face could have a variety of different solutions, or sometimes no solution at all. It’s entirely up to the players around the table to pick it apart and find a solution in a creative way. This leads to out-of-the-box thinking that exercises the brain in ways that routine tasks and formulas won’t. When that’s paired with the collaborative play aspect, your heroes will start to explore atypical solutions to the village’s goblin problem that don’t include fighting the little buggers off.
Memory and Reading Comprehension
One of the more unexpected outcomes from family TTRPGs is an increased interest in reading! Due to the story-heavy nature of these games, many players end up learning about plot structures, character development, and narrative styles, which inspires them to find more stories away from the gaming table.
My favourite example of this came from one of the mothers in our family game groups. She said her son had a test in school after going to a TTRPG workshop and his scores had actually improved! After going through the adventures at the table, his reading comprehension increased and he, like many other children in the group, is now becoming more interested in books. As a bookworm myself, few things bring me more joy than children wanting to read! Parents have found that the kids are more and more engaged in stories and have even begun writing adventures of their own.
Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Growth
Perhaps the most defining characteristic of a TTRPG is that it provides a gateway to different realities, much like reading a book does. Players have the opportunity to explore new worlds and timelines in someone else’s shoes, having experiences that are otherwise unattainable in their normal lives. This is a fantastic way to learn about different perspectives, cultures, and worldviews, and learn how to empathize with others even if they believe or behave in different ways. Perhaps you can learn a little more about why those “pesky” Goblins went to the village in the first place!
Using a character of your own creation also allows you to explore aspects of your personality that are otherwise hard to tap into. How do you handle stressful situations? What happens when you meet someone with views that are contradictory to your own? What does it feel like to lose something (or someone) important to you? Shy players may end up finding an inner strength and confidence that they didn’t realize they possessed, while headstrong players may learn how to slow down and listen to others before rushing to their own conclusions. I’ve seen many of these transformations at the gaming table, all leading to a stronger bond between those who undergo them.
Using the imagined setting within a TTRPG creates a flexible space in which the players can safely develop communication and coping mechanisms that can aid them throughout their lives.
For these reasons and more, tabletop RPGs continue to stand out amongst the wave of new games that we see each year. From the ever-popular Dungeons and Dragons to emerging indie systems, there are so many new voices that are finding ways to refine the game so that everyone, regardless of age, can enjoy it. Regardless of the system or story, the benefits listed above will remain the same and TTRPGs continue to offer a unique experience that brings people together in unexpected ways!
If you’d like to start introducing your family to TTRPGs, here are some good places to start!
- No Thank You Evil (read the Meeple Mountain review here)
- Rory’s Story Cubes
- Dungeons and Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides
- Hero Kids
- Happy Birthday Robot