Fascinated by Narrative: David Millians on Gaming & Writing

David Millians is an elementary school teacher at the Paideia School in Atlanta, GA.  He has been playing role-playing games (RPGs), such as Dungeons & Dragons and Runequest, since the sixth grade.  These days, in addition to playing RPGs, uses them as teaching tools.  He gives seminars on the subject of games and education at conventions around the country. He also coordinates the gaming and education group for the Game Manufacturer’s Association.

Over the years, Millians has spoken widely and often about the value of role-playing and other games for teaching math, social skills, collaboration, history, and just about everything else in a non-competitive, interdisciplinary manner.  Here, he focuses on what RPGs have taught him (and, of course, his students) about writing.

David Millians contributed Appendix A: Games & Education to Family Games: The 100 Best.


David Millians: Games have fundamentally affected the way I experience writing. I began playing and reading games in an active conscious way at around the age of ten and have continued to do so ever since. All games have a narrative, and pair and group games create stories, shared for the moment or for many years. I remain fascinated by these narratives and they ways they are experienced, recorded, and recalled.

My favorite kind of game is role-playing in a group. I am often the person running the game, so my interest in oral storytelling has grown over the years. This leads to considerations of plot, character, and such, but it also considers pacing and the live, ongoing response of the other participants. I have always been a reader. Some of these are easier than others to translate into games, depending on the goals of the games and the interests of the players. We all see this sort of thing when a favorite book is made into a movie. Often the result is disappointing, but sometimes there is a new, exciting creation. There are so many kinds of writers. Some prefer to work alone, but for those with collaborative inclinations, playing a role-playing game would be an interesting and valuable experience.

In the 1970s, when I was first playing role-playing games, the production value of published games was low. The same was true to a slightly lesser extent of some science fiction and fantasy books of the time. These various readings and my mother’s instructive grammatical comments effected a Darwinian improvement in my own writing mechanics. I wanted to understand these games and books, and the effort required actually improved my sense of quality writing, which I found more and more. I don’t know that I write any better, but I have benefited from countless encounters with excellent writers and their commendable editors.

Any sort of collaborative activity reveals new ideas to its various participants, and their interactions can lead to novel products none of them could have imagined on their own. This is one of the most enjoyable aspects of games for me. Through their play, I continue to learn and expand the possibilities I can see.