A few words ahead of this article. This didn’t start out as a blog post. It started as a Facebook update and grew to the point where there was no way it was just a status any longer. So here it goes.
Wendelyn Reishcl, who I was recently introduced to via e-mail by Alan Bahr, wrote a great article at Gnome Stew today about the impact that role-playing has had on her own life. A great article. And the more I thought about it, the more I knew I needed to write a bit of a response.
You can find her article here. I’ll wait if you want to go check it out…
Back already? Cool.
I know that a lot of people look at me askew when I tell them I play role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons or better yet when I tell them I write for such games as an adult. Why not just ditch the kid stuff and grow up already? The judgment in some folks’ eyes is harsh at times, but I’ve learned to deal with it.
I’ve been playing some form of role-playing games since I was 12. That’s 35 years, folks. Nearing four decades. And in every single decade, it’s made a difference in my life.
Wendelyn writes about how playing a role-playing game has helped her cope with the loss of a parent. I can’t pretend to know what that’s like. Someday it’ll happen and I won’t be ready when it does, but hopefully I can work through it.
Even so, I do see my role-playing sessions as a way of embracing several tasks at once.
- My primary task for many things is having fun. We all need more fun in our lives. At every game session, I usually am throwing awful jokes and puns around, if not just doing simply goofy things in the name of “character development.” And that shared camaraderie at the table, even among strangers, is a powerful motivator. I’m not the most social person in the world, but there’s something about cracking a joke and sharing a laugh after making a cool move, an awful die roll, or a poor decision that never gets old.
- Second, I’m always on a quest for a good story. Anybody who knows me knows I read a lot when I can, usually for enjoyment. It’s an escape. A way of dropping away from the world for a bit and exploring another landscape in my mind. But it’s a solitary venture. Tabletop role-playing takes that element of story and makes it a shared experience. When I play at the game table, I never know exactly where the story is going to take us because of that human element — and that spirit of discovery creates a spark that rekindles my creativity.
- Third, exploration of sometimes complex or controversial topics in a safe environment. This is a biggie, especially when role-playing with my kids. The idea that the game table is a safe space and you can get crazy and try different things (within reason) is very, very important to me. And as an adult — especially as a game master running a game, I often use these stories to explore ideas bigger than myself. The themes of inclusion and exclusion often come into play. Hard moral choices. Challenging decisions with no clear winner or loser. Sure, the games are about fun, but they’re also about exploring the edges of the human condition so we can empathize with others in a more meaningful way.
So… Having fun and telling stories, with sometimes complex themes, in a safe environment with empathetic folks. Doesn’t sound like an awful time, does it?
I can’t think of a time at a game table where I haven’t successfully hit at least one of those three points, but it’s rare to hit all of them in a single session. Doesn’t mean I don’t aim for that. 🙂
Other people choose other ways to enhance their lives and escape for a bit. We’re encouraged to find our bliss, right? Well, this is mine.