View Full Version : On D&D as a Formative Experience

2011-04-29, 12:57 PM
The following is my college application essay, meant to describe a particularly profound experience I have had. Please feel free to comment regarding either your thoughts on the essay or your feelings on the subject.
"Everything I needed to know about life, I learned from D&D", read the t-shirt of the man across the table from me. I chuckled at the seeming silliness of learning life from a game. Little did I know that nearly a decade later, I would come to realize the kernel of truth in this ironic sentiment. Calling Dungeons and Dragons just a game doesn't even make sense to me anymore. It has been a singularly enriching experience for me.

It all started when I was nineteen. I had dropped out of high school in junior year, and had yet to get a GED, though I was scheduled to in a couple of months. I was working in a video game store at the local mall, and got to discussing a customer's favorite type of game. It seems he enjoyed the same ones that I did, which were the games where you played as a character who grew demonstrably from his experiences. When he asked if I would like to join in his weekly Dungeons and Dragons session, I didn't know what to expect, but I agreed.

Before I knew it, the hours spent playing that first session became weeks, months, and eventually years. Getting excited about and reading the source material of these games has seen my vocabulary grow to include words I'd never have dreamed of using otherwise, such as “scintillating,” “umbral,” and “disquietude.” My mental math has become sharper from each instance of quick arithmetic deciding whether the sword or arrow strikes true. My ability to recall information has been put to the test during innumerable rules disputes.

More than that, however, I discovered that this shared fantasy often allows its participants to express who they truly are. When a vile werewolf kidnaps the princess, of course the heroes wish to rescue her. But what if they discover that the princess too is a werewolf, and the supposed monster is actually her secret consort? Should he then be brought to justice for the kidnapping, or will the player characters aid in the coverup of her escape? I have found that in a sense, the heart of D&D is in the opportunity to address ethical questions like these and in so doing, discover my own answers. Not all young people are given this unique opportunity to formulate their own principles before being thrust into a similar real life situation.

Conversely, by immersing myself in a persona who holds values I do not, I can give myself permission to interact with the world in a different way. I can allow myself to change my mind, because at the end of the day, I am not my character. Approaching a problem from a wildly different view can sometimes lead to surprising results. This freedom to put myself in the position of others has brought me new insight. That sort of social experimentation can go a long way when it comes to developing empathy and interpersonal relationships.

My attitude and perspective have changed a lot since that first gaming session, and Dungeons and Dragons has taken a significant part in that transformation. Concepts like teamwork, interdependence, courage, and loyalty have been put to the test through betrayal, overwhelming odds, and powerful, sinister villains. Many of these more important lessons have then been carried away from the gaming table and applied to real life situations. It is my belief that through such trials of endurance, cleverness, and moral character that we come to know ourselves. Our personal values shine in the roles that we play, both in a fantasy world like Dungeons and Dragons and in our own. Everything I needed to know about life, I learned from D&D.

2011-04-29, 01:11 PM
Well written, I'd say.
In my personal opinion, no, I don't share quite the same enthusiasm towards roleplaying, nor do I particularly 'become' a character, test my morality or reflect upon our reality by means of Dungeons and Dragons or other similar games. For me it has always been about telling stories, so I tend to distance myself from the characters themselves to look on the whole with an objective eye, never quite getting away from the notion that it is all a game. I suppose you could say that I'm not particularly hardcore about it all, in the end.

That said, this isn't the first time I've seen a story like this and every single time it's a really cool thing to read about. So, hats off and I hope the essay gets/got you where you want to be.

2011-04-29, 01:11 PM
*slow clap*

There's probably some minor word-choice issues I can pick out, but the gist of this is excellent.

In fact, I actually wrote an essay like this for my own college application - before my parents killed it and cited it as a symptom of my overwhelming addiction, as opposed to, you know, actual... *motions towards essay*

Bravo, mate, bravo. This is why I play D&D, and it is why many more people should.

2011-04-29, 01:13 PM
Very cool.

Perhaps you could add something about socializing? I know I personally learned a lot about general socializing, interacting with others in a group, and leadership as a DM, and met a lot of good friends through D&D.

Rescuing the princess always comes off as a little sexist to me. Obviously you've put an interesting spin on it, and hey, sometimes the princess gets kidnapped. It happens. But lots of other things happen too, which might be a good opportunity to demonstrate some of the sweet creativity D&D has taught you.

2011-04-29, 01:29 PM
Nah, I think saving the princess is a classic trope. The gender-neutral one would be to slay the dragon, but this works perfectly as is.

2011-04-29, 01:36 PM
Nah, I think saving the princess is a classic trope. The gender-neutral one would be to slay the dragon, but this works perfectly as is.

It's probably cool. Just trying to be a nit-picky editor. :smallcool:

2011-04-29, 01:54 PM
Aye well written.
For me I love how it allows us to explore parts of our souls we never normally get to see. As a DM it allows me to explore darker places when i scuplt my villians and craft their stories. For my players it allows them to explore their own morality, and you do learn to see the inherent goodness within them (I think deep down almost everyone is NG).

It didn't really boost my vocabulary however, but that's mostly because i tended to read a ton before i started D&D, so i had the vocab already.

2011-04-29, 02:23 PM
I agree that adding something about socializing emphasizes the whole "D&D made me a more well rounded person" thing. Otherwise I like it.

2011-04-29, 02:33 PM
Thanks for the feedback, guys.

I actually wanted to get more out of the socialization aspect of RPGs, but I didn't really have any trouble making friends as such, so that wasn't the profound aspect my essay was focused towards, because it was meant to be a personalized statement.

Though now you mention it, the vocabulary and mental math were more skills that I brought to the gaming table than they were skills I took from it, so maybe I can squeeze in a sentence right around there. That said, the cooperation and empathy bits kind of touch on the social aspects.

Figgin of Chaos
2011-04-29, 05:50 PM
I like this essay. It needs more illustration of the points you make, though; perhaps a story or two from the games you've played? As it is, I don't see it swaying people who don't play D&D as much as it does people who do.

2011-05-01, 04:10 PM
I agree entirely.

I think that I owe my good presentation and public speaking skills to the hours i've spent DMing. its easy to be confident when you give a presentation if you are used to standing in front of a group of people improvising an interesting story every week.

2011-05-01, 06:57 PM
That's a great point, eccentric, and really illustrates how participation in RPGs can help one grow in other social aspects.

In my case, most of my D&D experience is as a player, though, so far more can be said in terms of making hard choices than in overcoming the difficulties of improvising a fun game with compelling characters and stories.

2011-05-05, 01:28 AM
It's also a big confidence booster, in terms of being able to put on a character and give dramatic speeches, negotiate with the king, or even just play out an emotionally fraught scene effectively.

DnD has made me a better speaker and a better conversationalist, both of which have helped me be a better teacher.

2011-05-05, 10:28 AM
That's great! It makes me really happy to hear how others were also affected by discovering RPGs like D&D.

I hope to become an English teacher, so the speaking, teaching of rules, and vocabulary aspects are especially important to me.

2011-05-05, 10:46 AM
We don't know where you are applying and whether this essay is more a formality or something they will actually be looking at. But if any part of your admissions is riding on this, I don't know that this is your best bet on getting in.

Its written well enough, but I have to agree with Friggin:

As it is, I don't see it swaying people who don't play D&D as much as it does people who do.

Jay R
2011-05-05, 01:36 PM
I spent a while debating whether to send this, but you asked for opinions, and I think you deserve to hear what effect this essay will actually have.

First of all, it is very well written. It says exactly what you want it to say, and it says it extremely well. But an essential writing skill is the ability to see what your intended audience is looking for. You've written the essay you want to write. I am offering you some suggestions on how to turn it into the essay they want to read.

An admissions officer is looking for proof that you match up with this school well, and that your study skills and focus will enable you to succeed in their curriculum. In your specific case, they need an indication that your high school experience isn't going to be repeated, and every college admissions officer knows that many students have flunked out by playing D&D too much.

For their purposes, your essay boils down to "I am not interested in your courses or your curriculum, and do not intend to spend my weekends and evenings studying or doing homework."

I'm sorry, but that's the message they will actually receive from your excellent essay.

I'm not guessing; I've taught at three universities. As a student, I got into the most exclusive school in Texas (Rice U), and went on to get three graduate degrees, including a Ph.D., from a highly technical university (UT-Dallas). I'm pretty knowledgeable about the admissions process. They are swamped with applications, and look at each one trying to find a reason to move on to the next one. Your application gives them that reason (too much focus on D&D) without countering it with a reason to admit you (focus on school).

So you need to re-focus it to their purposes. Your current final sentence is "Everything I needed to know about life, I learned from D&D." The next paragraph should start, "And now it's time to apply those lessons to something more important than a game."

Add that you have learned that you need to research in books to find the knowledge to succeed. (If true, tell them how much your bookshelf has expanded.) Tell them that you have now learned the importance of setting a goal and meeting all challenges. Tell them exactly how the D&D experience led you to choosing their program. Let them know that you now want to use your newfound study and organization skills to improve your life by going into the program you've chosen to improve your life. Explain why their school is the best choice. Contrast your current ability to study with your approach in high school.

And make it absolutely clear that your highest priority will be your schoolwork, not your game-playing.

Again - it's a great essay about what D&D has done for you. Turn it into a great essay on how D&D has prepared you to succeed in their college.

You need to answer the questions they have, not your own.

Good luck.

2011-05-05, 02:02 PM
I agree. It's a delightful essay for a gaming-friendly audience. It extols the value of the hobby and on some level justifies the massive investment of time, money, and energy we've put into it. The concept is a good one, if done to death over the years by RPG apologists, and the writing is very pleasant as well.

However, as a college application essay, I think it misses the mark. To the admissions officer, it communicates that you can write coherently, you're obsessed with a game, and you believe you already know all you need to know.

If all they care about is the first of those things, it probably works just fine. In fact, depending on the school and your other scores (GPA, SAT, ACT, AP, etc.), it may not even matter. But if you're on the bubble or it's a school that cares about such things, I don't think this essay helps and it has the potential to hurt depending on the opinion of gaming held by the admissions officer.

As much as I don't like saying it, you may want to think of writing about something more mainstream, and you should definitely keep your audience in mind. RPGs and D&D still carry some stigma, particularly among certain older people and within organizations like universities. And even if you don't run into one of "those folks," it still sends an unintended message about where your priorities are.

2011-05-05, 02:49 PM
Huh. Both excellent critiques, and much appreciated. Unfortunately, I have already sent the application in, so it either will succeed or fail. However, it's fine either way, since my local community college has an agreement of guaranteed admission with the college to which the essay was submitted, all I have to do is pass an AA degree with a 3.0 or higher GPA at the CC to automatically be enrolled in my chosen college.

All that having been said, I've been enjoying the responses so far and I hope they continue.