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Game Master

Game MasterA Tufts graduate teaching entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago has developed an innovative course based on the successful Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [07.29.05] Starting a business requires a lot of hard work, but there’s no reason why a game can’t help budding entrepreneurs learn what it takes to succeed. That’s why Tufts graduate Waverly Deutsch (’89, ’92) used the basis of the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons to develop an innovative course at the University of Chicago on carrying out a business plan.

"A lot of universities teach students how to create a business plan and things like that, but not many actually teach them how to execute it. That's what this course is all about," Deutsch, clinical assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the school, explained to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The course, entitled "Building the New Venture," won the Method of Teaching Entrepreneurship Award from the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Dungeons & Dragons – or D&D, as it is known – has been criticized since its inception in 1974 as being a bad influence on the youths who play it, but Deutsch believes nothing could be farther from the truth.

"I was a huge fan of Dungeons & Dragons in high school and college," She recalled to the Sun-Times. "Some people thought the game corrupted the minds of children, but what it actually did was make people be more creative and think."

While D&D is a game, Deutsch’s course involves a lot of work.

"It may be hard for some to believe, but they are essentially running a company the entire quarter," Deutsch – who worked with technological start-up firms for 15 years prior to joining the faculty of UC – told the newspaper.

"We have a probability calculator for the class, and each person is scored to see what the chances really are of that happening and succeeding. But before they're done explaining, they have to roll a 10-sided die like in Dungeons & Dragons,” Deutsch explained to the newspaper. "If they roll a seven, eight, nine or zero, they have to go back and use Plan B. Startup companies need a lot of luck to be successful, and you always have to have a backup plan."

Success in the game has also been known to directly prompt success in the real world.

"Two students decided to try to get nurses from China to move to California, because of the nursing shortage," Deutsch told the Sun-Times. “They talked to hospitals, worked on the environment the nurses would live in, and countless other things. It took a lot of research and work to get it off the ground. They did well in the course, and in the game when challenged. And they're still doingbusiness very successfully."

Both the administration and the students at the University of Chicago have embraced the course as a boon to the school.

"There's no question Waverly created a real strong course,” Steven Kaplan, faculty director of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship, told the Sun-Times. “When you get the right combination of content with the right instructor, a course is going to be popular. She has done a great job doing both."

"When the university reviewed the course, they saw it had a good balance of everything, especially case discussion," Deutsch told the Sun-Times. "The students are getting real-world experience. They love it, because they are learning things they wouldn't learn in a typical MBA setting."

And her students aren’t the only ones getting an education.

"I have actually learned a lot throughout the process, too,” Deutsch recalled to the Sun-Times. "When I go back to validate their work with professionals in the real world, I'm learning things I never knew before. I hold them accountable for anything and everything they accomplish though."










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