I had been meaning to do it for quite some time. Ever since I started listening to an old friend’s podcast.
“The Misadventures of Max’s Minions” is a Dungeons and Dragon (D&D) Role-Playing Game (RPG) podcast, which tells the story of the titular group of adventurers as they navigate a game in the D&D RPG system.
But this post isn’t about that, per se. I mean, listening to the podcast was the catalyst, of course, but that’s not what this is about.
I went into the crawlspace and pulled out the plastic tote containing memories of my younger days. Out came the First Edition D&D books, the Star Wars RPG books, the cyberpunk-based Shadowrun RPG books, and even the Roger Zelazny-inspired Amber RPG book.
Oh, those heady days in high school (and beyond). Stocking the house with enough sugar and salt (soda and chips) to kill a herd of cattle, settling down on Friday night with however many of your friends you could get, and plugging away in pursuit of tabletop glory all weekend. Hour after hour, into the wee (and sometimes not-so-wee) hours of the morning, only to sleep, get up, eat, and begin again.
No clocks. No responsibilities. Nothing but friends around a table, focused on a common goal, ribbing one another both in and out of character. Playing catch-up on our lives if we didn’t otherwise run in the same grades or social circles.
You laugh, but it’s true. Those who played (and still do) know this. It was impossible to play an RPG without your social circle expanding, whether you wanted it to or not. Friends begat acquaintances, who became friends, who begat….
You get the idea.
Why the nostalgia now, you ask?
Good question. Here’s why.
Though I long ago quit playing, I’ve never lost my love for it. The interaction, the creativity, the verbal sparring, the logic, the problem-solving, all of it. Listening to my friend’s podcast reminded me of that in a very visceral way. I wished I could there, at the table, chiming in, causing problems, solving problems, and being uniquely me, all in that friendly space that we create together.
I miss it. I miss gaming like I miss working with my military guys since I retired. It was a huge part of, and had a huge impact on, my life up to that point. I might not have succeeded in the military as well as I did (or didn’t, depending on how you want to look at it), without gaming.
I was terribly shy growing up. Still am, really. I don’t necessarily like being the “eyes-on” center of attention, or speaking in front of a crowd (though I can, if I must). I was never one to express myself in a group, preferring to hang back, lay low, and go along.
Gaming changed that. Being asked “What are you going to do?” and knowing that my choices, my actions, would have consequences (imaginary consequences, sure, but consequences nonetheless) for the people around me was a new experience. What I did in that situation could make or break an effort. And so I was forced to not sit back, not be quiet, not just go along. I was forced to not be so shy.
I was forced to be me.
Sound silly? Sure it does. Because in the end, it’s just a game. But all games (card games, board games, physical games) teach us something, whether it’s how to follow the rules, plan a strategy, or think creatively: it’s not the game that is important, but what we take from the game.
Athletes look back on their glory days at the high school, college, or even professional level, and they will all talk about what they learned, what it taught them about themselves and how they approach life.
A silly comparison, you say? Maybe.
But not to those of us that enjoyed it, learned from it, let the lessons of the experience help inform who we were and who we might be capable of becoming. Would I have reached 20 years in the military without being able to deal with folks not exactly like me?
Would I have started writing without the stories I was–at first–being told, but then helping to craft?
But perhaps not.
All I know is that gaming was important in making me who I am. Pulling these books out isn’t about sitting down and playing again (although maybe once I get to the old-folks home and have some time…), but about reminding myself what they meant and what they did for me.
I brought them out because something that important shouldn’t be stuffed in a box in a dark crawlspace.
I’ll bet, if you check the crawlspace of your memory, you’ll find that box full of things that helped make you who you are. They might not be physical things that you can pick up and hold in you hand, but they’re real enough. They’re there for you.
In your mind.
In your heart.
Go thank them. It’s probably been a while since you did.