Dungeons & Dragons & Duty

Charlie Haycook

Every Thursday night after work or class, I spend the night watching a livestreamed Dungeons & Dragons campaign called “Critical Role” where a group of voice actors and friends have created an enormous community over the last couple of years. Sometimes episodes run into the wee hours of Friday morning but are always worth the late nights.

I know, I know, I may have already lost some of you. Hear me out with this majorly nerdy post, dear reader. While many still scoff at the very idea of playing D&D, it’s becoming increasingly destigmatized due to shows such as Critical Role or its central focus in Stranger Things. This got me thinking one night. “What could we possibly learn from D&D that relates to the Student Affairs field?” I’ve identified three things that I think are among the most important lessons that we can learn, whether you roll dice yourself or just want to open your imagination a bit.

“How Do You Want To Do This?”

A sort of catchphrase from “Critical Role”, Dungeon Master Matt Mercer asks his players this question whenever one of them lands the final attack against a particularly tough or boss enemy. The player gets to describe how they want to finish the fight, often leading to a wave of stress-relieving revenge or a hilarious scenario from their character’s perspective. So what does this question have to do with Student Affairs? Why, everything of course!

Our field is all about teaching, inside and outside the classroom. Student learning cannot happen if we tell them the answers. To me, whenever a student asks me what to do in a situation, this quote pops into my head. It’s a quote that’s all about agency and making your own choices. We need to always remember that students do not grow and, by extension, we do them an incredible disservice if we give them the answers. We should always allow the student to decide their course of action whenever possible and teach them resiliency skills in the face of uncertain or exciting choices.

Improv, Improv, Improv

Quick, how many times has this happened to you? A student who is normally positive and bright walks into your office visibly distraught. Just when you were about to finish an important email or project, this student needs you RIGHT NOW. You have no time to prepare when they go into their story about their significant other or a test that they failed and are going to flunk out of school. You quickly stand up and close your door. Then what?

Welcome to the world of Student Affairs and the world of D&D! As much as you think you’re prepared for what the day has in store for you, there will always be those random moments, large or small, that throw everything into a spiral. Half of what we do in this field is documented somewhere and we’re diligently trained on it all, but the other half comes from our informal theories. Whenever we are presented with a situation that we do not know how to handle we need to improv every action. Every statement that we make has some meaning to it and how we compose ourselves in these stressful situations can make or break our ability to actually make a positive impact. Same with D&D. You can have a general idea of what will happen in the game, but ultimately that isn’t up to you. It’s up to the dice rolls and it’s up to your Dungeon Master, or your players’ actions if you are the DM. Any action that you take means that you have to live with what happens next, but whether it’s a kidnapped imaginary villager or a student facing a conduct hearing, I feel that D&D can teach us how to think on our feet when the unexpected happens. Anybody that has been in our field for even a year knows that the unexpected can happen almost every day.

Different Perspectives on Life Events

Constant internal and external forces ask us to question our moral beliefs, often in high stress or controversial ways. What if there was a way to examine life in an environment that does not present many real-world consequences? This is a great strength of role-playing games in general, D&D being one of the most prominent among them. In the practice of mental health counseling, using roleplaying games and D&D is becoming increasingly common as a tool to help children and adults alike explore skills that they are developing (For a BBC article on this from a few months ago, click here!) So what can that teach us?

The world is not dichotomous. We need to look at events from different perspectives in order to make the most educated decisions. While our personal biases are difficult to ignore and snap decisions need to be made occasionally, I’m a firm believer in trying to find out as much as possible about a situation before acting (shoutout to my fellow Learner/Inputs out there!). That’s what D&D does best. Whenever I start a new roleplaying game, I find that it’s easy to create a character that looks like me and acts like me through my choices in the game. We know ourselves best. The challenge and fun comes when we have to make choices outside of what we would normally do. Then we get the chance to reflect on how it made us feel, how others reacted, and what the ramifications of those choices were in the context of the game. All of the learning, none of the real-world consequences!

Thursday quickly became my favorite day of the week after I started being able to watch “Critical Role” live every week. It’s not just a Dungeons and Dragons game, but it’s a place where nerds everywhere feel connected. The community is such a kind and friendly environment and the players are genuinely positive role-models. Isn’t that what Student Affairs should be as well? We all come together with the common interests of helping students everywhere and connecting with like-minded people who want to make the world a little brighter. In D&D, your character can become a hero depending on your choices. In Student Affairs, you can become a mentor and agent of change the same ways.

Just, ya know, with fewer goblins and necromancers. Hopefully.    

Student Affairs - the First Years

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1 comment :

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