Nerddom at its Finest

Nerdom at its finest

For the past three weeks, Dr. Fea has graciously featured me on his blog for a new series he’s running called Dispatches from a History Major. The point of this series is to give people a better picture of what the life of a history major is like at Messiah College, and in my latest post, I tried to accomplish this goal by writing about what my coursework has been like this spring. It was great reflecting on my coursework, however, I feel like it would be disingenuous to just write about the work I’ve been doing and completely leave out the play. So this is going to be a post about the ridiculously nerdy game I played with 5 of my friends last January Term, and why I think it made me a better college student.

Late last fall semester, I gave a presentation in my Historical Methods class, and my classmates received it so well that afterwards it made me say to myself, “I need to role-play more.”

Yeah, you heard me right. Like Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying (except I had in mind a Star Wars version).

I won’t blame you if you fail to make the connection between my successful presentation and Dungeons and Dragons. The picture that comes to mind when someone says the word role-playing is far from historical or academic: a bunch of unsociable, adolescent boys, sitting around a dimly-lit table in a basement, dressed-up in costumes, talking in voices that sound like something out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and doing nothing but rolling dice and screaming when they get a 20. Indeed, this image justifiably makes a person who doesn’t understand roleplaying question the mental stability of someone who pretends he is a High-Elven Mage. However, this picture is only partially accurate (please, I’ve never worn a costume), and certainly not the entirety of role-playing. At its best, role-playing can help you develop intellectual skills which are crucial for a successful college career.

Here’s what I mean. When you role-play, you work together with a group of people to create a story, and I think there are three major benefits to this:

  • You become less egocentric – stepping into the shoes of fictitious character is no easy task. Seriously, try to convincingly act like a burly dwarf form the Crystal Mountains for 5 minutes (it will not only improve your ability to empathize, but also markedly improve your Scottish accent).
  • You become a better communicator – good stories require solid narrating skills. Role-playing forces you to use vivid language, sustain an audience’s attention, and be quick on your feet. Nerds may be unsociable, but if you ever need a solid battle speech, turn to the kid wearing the Firefly shirt and he’ll probably knock your socks off.
  • You become more open-minded to new ideas – when you roleplay, a story can go in any I’ve had sessions when I’ve had to completely scrap my Game Master notes and follow the group’s led. This makes you more intellectually flexible, patient, and able to manage conflicts (it’s rare that everyone will want to take the story in the same direction).

I made good on my post-presentation words, and, when J-term rolled around, I spent the next three weeks playing a Star Wars roleplaying game with 4 other history majors and 1 engineering major. And, as I suspected, we sharpened some skills which are vital to any college student (though the emphasis on good narrative is particularly important for the historian) and laughed all along the way.

I acknowledge that there are better ways to hone intellectual skills than roleplaying, but I hope this short post is illustrative of a larger point: games, literature, and movies that are characteristically written off as a waste of time can have value and can make connecting with the past easier (I know if it weren’t for Tolkien or Age of Empires 2, I wouldn’t be nearly as interested in the past as I am now).

So, before you judge your nerdy friend’s hobbies, ask him why he likes them. You may just find that it’s because he has a genuine interest in people, culture, language, and expressing creative capacities.

James Mueller is a sophomore history major with a minor in French Language. He is a Student Fellow for Messiah’s Center for the Public Humanities, Member of the Digital Harrisburg team, level 34 Dark Elf Sorcerer, and contributor for History on the Bridge. 

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