Role-playing games are fun. I’m going to put that out there right off the bat.
You may think RPGs are nerdy. You wouldn’t be wrong. You may also think they’re childish, that only pimply teenagers play Dungeons & Dragons. You’d be partially right. And I say that as a 30-year-old man who enjoys role-playing games.
RPGs are childish. I don’t mean that they’re for children, or that only children play them. I mean that they force us, in a small way, to get in touch with our inner child.
Because role-playing is about imagination, it forces us to do something that most of us don’t do very often—be creative, use our imaginations and tell stories. Kids do this all the time. As we grow older, most of us do it less and less often. I think that’s to our detriment.
Storytelling is fun. That’s reason enough to find entertaining ways to use our imagination more often. But role-playing may encourage other skills that can be useful when you’re not flipping through rule books with Cheeto-fingers.
Playing role-playing games and telling cooperative stories with little or no pre-determined narrative outcome requires a lot of improvisation and outside-the-box thinking. Just the other day, the group I play Shadowrun with figured out how to take down a Yakuza-run virtual horse track almost entirely through social manipulation (and a bit of computer hacking).
While this scenario is ridiculous—especially because it’s Shadowrun, which means the player characters are an elf, a dwarf and an ork who use a troll strip club as a base of operations—the ability to improvise and solve a complex (if absurd) problem is valuable. Thinking through fantastic scenarios, and actually describing them (on the fly, as you’re thinking them through), gets the synapses firing.
As far as mental exercises go, a good role-playing game is like Sudoku on crack.
Plus, like I said, role-playing is fun. After all, where else in life can you slay a dragon or take down an illegal gambling ring without getting shot in the face?