Dungeons and Dragons is an incredible game. I’ve seen it make people happy from age 6 to age 60. When you work as a professional dungeon master for kids ages 6-13 you get to see a lot of real evidence of the positive changes it can have on people.

We have seen 9-year-olds who are prone to tantrums turn into 10-year-olds who are respectful, thoughtful, and empathetic. We have seen shy and apathetic kids turn into supremely confident participants. It’s incredible how sharing one’s imagination can open doors for better real-life behaviors.

I once introduced a bard NPC to a group of 10-year-olds. He was making comics of the party and their adventures. They went to accuse him of copyright infringement and realized he was making these comics way before the events actually happened.

One of my players asked to see what he was working on. He produced a picture of the party surrounded by a living hedge maze. The characters in the picture seemed lost, surrounded by enemies, and nearly all hope lost. One of the kids excitedly said, “I freak out and draw all over the picture!” The NPC went catatonic and let out a small high-pitched screech before falling to the ground, clutching his head in disbelief. Another NPC dragged him off to tuck him into bed so he could recover. Most of the kids were laughing at this, except for the one kid who had caused this reaction by drawing on the paper.

“Can we say that this didn’t actually happen?” he asked me.

“Unfortunately it did, but the other NPC tells you that he’ll be okay once he gets some rest. He just takes his comics very seriously.” I replied.

The kid started to tear up. “I’m the worst person in the world. I hate that I did that just now!”

I took a moment to stop the game and talk to this player. “Hey now. It’s okay. What you’re feeling right now is called empathy! You are imagining how it would feel to be in that NPC’s situation. It would feel really bad to be proud of your artwork and then someone just destroys it for seemingly no reason. I totally understand, but keep in mind that empathy is an actual superpower! Some people make fun of other people when a story affects them so much that they cry, but it’s because they don’t understand how powerful empathy really is. Empathy allows us to imagine how our actions might affect others and it makes us better people. I hope you can use your empathy right now to instead feel how proud I am of you!”

From that moment on it was clear to me that he was a lot more mindful of how his actions might affect others, not just for D&D, but in general. I meant it when I told him I was very proud of that.