The polyhedra of my childhood

The assignment: for “Learning Creative Learning” class, we were to read the forward from Seymour Papert‘s book Mindstorms: “The Gears of My Childhood.” We were then to write a reflection on an object from our childhood that interested and inspired us.

In my early teen years, my imagination as well as most of my free time was captivated by a collection of simple objects: polyhedra. Specifically, polyhedral dice.

These dice were the tokens and controlling objects for a variety of strategic games, including role-playing games. Through these games, I was able to create, control and explore a wide variety of worlds and scenarios. In the process, I found community and status and began a lifelong love of imaginative play.

With one throw of these polyhedra, a myriad of options opened up. It could have been a military action – a favourable or unfavourable outcome determined by the numbers that came up. It could have meant the success or failure of a new initiative. It could have been the life or death of a fictional character controlled by me. Through the polyhedra, and the numbers on them, the world (imaginary) could change in an instant.

Weekly, I and other teens played a variety of strategic games. Some were military campaigns – the English War of the Roses, World War II, etc. – hence the common name for these games: wargames. Others were more strategic: one, Civilization, had each player lead one of the early cultures of the Fertile Crescent and attempt to develop industry, spur trade and cultivate learning and knowledge growth to found a successful civilized nation. Some were set in worlds of fantasy – my favourite was Middle Earth – and combined strategy and tactics to accomplish various tasks.

And then there was Dungeons and Dragons. Not really a game, it was mainly a set of rules by which games were played. The games themselves were created by the leader – the Dungeon Master (DM) – who created a world, populated it with monsters, villains and heroes, and allowed other players to enter into the world tasked with a challenge. It could be a military or adventure campaign – exploring and seeking wealth and fame. It could be a problem to solve or a puzzle to work out. The only limit was the DM’s imagination.

The players created our own characters, using the all-powerful polyhedra to randomly determine their strength, intelligence, etc. Adopting that persona, we then entered the DM’s world and attempted to achieve success using the traits we had been given.

Through playing these games, and creating my own as DM, not only was I able to explore a multitude of worlds and scenarios – realistic, historical or fantastical – I was also able to learn tactics and strategies: the advantages of alliances, the compromises needed to achieve group goals, the importance of assisting others so they could succeed and help you succeed as well.

Furthermore, I was able to experience the joys of creation. Using my own imagination, I could build worlds that others could experience. If I could create them interesting and challenging enough, others would appreciate them and they and I would enjoy the experience all the more. My status was dependent on my creativity and imagination.

While I no longer play Dungeons and Dragons and only occasionally play other strategic games, I remember with fondness those days and experiences. I like to think that they helped make me more imaginative and creative, and helped me be a better team player and a more adventurous individual.


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