For Adrian Bear, Flure Swimmer and Ben Heaney, of the group Dice, Nerds and Nagas, who currently live in Cambodia, a fantasy tabletop role-playing board game is more than just a pastime. The board game, Dungeons and Dragons, also helps children with special needs socialise with others, as Eileen McCormick found out.
Good Times2: I read a recent article about board games making a comeback. Is this some kind of hipster thing, or are people serious about playing these games now?
Adrian: Yes for sure it’s a real thing and it’s not just for hipsters, although according to Ben when he started to play board games and tabletop games the group he played with could definitely be considered hipsters. You know they had thick-rimmed glasses, grew beards and all the works.
What got me back into it was this podcast hosted by Wil Wheaton, the guy from Star Trek who plays Wesley Crusher in the first four seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. There are all these celebrities that go on the show and bring up people like Vin Diesel. Diesel has played Dungeons & Dragons for over 20 years and wrote the foreword for the commemorative book ‘30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons’. It is just less of a stigma to play board games, I think, because most people have played video games before.
Good Times2: What are the social benefits of playing board games?
Flure: On the whole, we wanted to do something in order to connect with the community and not idle our time away like getting wasted over weekends etc. Frankly, a lot of people feel that way in Phnom Penh. There is this place called the Puzzle Café Shop where people can just come to play board games. I frequently see both Cambodians and foreigners there. So, board games seem to be catching up.
Good Times2: Do you think people are staring too much at screens when playing games? Is it a case of reality vs virtual reality? And do board games help bridge this gap?
Adrian and Ben: You know, we never really thought about this. I guess it’s something about the face-to-face connection. We now have mobile phones and all sorts of gadgets so it’s more of a social/work requirement to be in some form of virtual reality. Take the board game Dungeons & Dragons. It happens in real time, without an LCD screen or technology, and all you need is just a rulebook and a set of dice. So the game is actual reality and we’re playing with real people.
Flure: Well you know I can play a game for hours online. I guess Dungeons & Dragons is something for us to play and interact face-to-face with real people. This is the alternate reality we’re looking for.
Good Times2: What has been your interaction with Cambodian youth and playing board games especially in Phnom Penh?
Adrian: Well, we have not been able to play with Cambodian youths as much as we want to. But we hope to interact with them more. I see a growing number of youths at cafes playing board games, so it’s something we can see happening soon.
There is a place where they can play Dungeons & Dragons and it’s called Happy Damrei – it’s also known The Puzzle Chamber Board Game Café and it’s in street 174, between Norodom and Pasteur. The staff is really great there because if you don’t know how to play a board game, they’ll teach and guide you. They’ve been trained to do so. It’s mostly a Khmer hangout.
Good Times2: Can you explain simply what Dungeons & Dragons is, for me to share with my Cambodian readers?
Ben: Dungeons & Dragons, or D&D, is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game. D&D departs from traditional war-gaming and assigns each player a specific character to play instead of a military formation. These characters embark upon imaginary adventures within a fantasy setting. A Dungeon Master serves as the game’s referee and storyteller while maintaining the setting in which the adventures occur, and playing the role of the inhabitants. The Master may also choose to deviate from the published rules or make up new ones if the players feel it is necessary.
Adrian: That’s the crux of the game. Your role to succeed or fail depends very much on yourself and how you deal with your alternate reality. Each story creates plots and subplots that you get to develop as your character transforms.
Good Times2: If a Cambodian or a guest member wants to join your party how can they qualify?
Adrian, Flure and Ben: Just don’t be a pain in the butt! Everyone is welcome. But we need guest players who like fun and are easygoing, so that they can contribute to the story flow and add depth to it. The Dungeon Master should also feel comfortable and not lose the plot of the story with a guest member playing D&D. We are always looking for guest players when we meet to play. There is also a Facebook group people can join.
Good Times2: How about D&D inside the classroom? I saw several ESL teachers use D&D as a teaching aid?
Adrian: There was this one girl who was really shy in my classroom but she was dead set on the character she was creating in the D&D game to be a thief. There was already another kid who chose that character and I told her that. As a result of which, she got really upset and started crying. The kid that had already chosen the thief character then did something cool. He told the girl it’s okay and she could have that role. I did not expect that to happen!
There was another kid I was working with who had some anger management issues. I decided to put him in a D&D game and found out that he vented his anger in a ‘productive way’ by assuming a character that cast spells on others. He did this when the other players made him upset, and he let them know that he would cast a spell on them without getting physical. I guess D&D helped him focus on his problem and made him realise that he could control his anger without harming other people.
Flure: I use D&D for teaching Math, utilizing the dice. I started teaching the class Algebra and I wanted a more lively way to get the concepts through to them. I tie Algebra with the characters using the monsters and animals from Dungeons & Dragons. The kids have to roll the dice to solve an equation and then they can fight someone else who has assumed the character of an animal or monster. They really love it and I get remarks like, “OMG, my tiger just beat your elephant”.
Good Times2: Could Dungeons & Dragons become an extracurricular activity for kids at each of your schools?
Adrian: We run an ICT (Information and Communication Technology) curriculum at my school with concepts like adaptability, resilience, communication and thoughtfulness. D&D would be one of the best ways to help kids develop these skills. Kids love role-playing and D&D allows them to do that, while integrating with others.
Flure: I read a lot of stuff on the benefits D&D has for autistic kids in helping them learn social skills.