This weekend, I am a Paladin, protecting the weak, standing up for justice.
On Mondays, I’m an investigator of the occult and weird.
And starting soon – possibly Thursday nights – I will control hordes of goblins, steampunk golems, undead monstrosities, and quirky shopkeepers and tavern owners with dodgy accents.
This is the world of tabletop RPGs.
It feels like not-so-long ago, even admitting that I played these games was a recipe for pantsing and/or locker-stuffing. These days, though? I’m starting games up with jocks, jerks, jills and jokers alike. Jeff Goldblum (to add another J) has started a Dungeons & Dragons podcast. Everyone wants to get in on that sweet D&D action.
Somehow, against the odds, the nerds have won.
We’ve been helped along by circumstance; if there was ever a more perfect time for imaginary group storytelling, I can’t imagine it. The pandemic has robbed us of community gatherings, social interaction, and, perhaps most of all, our sense of control.
D&D offers us time to talk with friends, form social enclaves, and best of all, the chance to stab our problems in the face.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that more than one campaign in the past year has featured a dark wizard named Covidious, and the key to defeating him was a blessing of Astra Zeneca (which is already pretty fantastic-sounding on its own). He may also have had a weakness to blessed Masks.
Looking back, it’s wild to think there was a time when D&D wasn’t just considered socially awkward, but outright banned in some cases. The “satanic panic” era of the 80’s had people actively stamping out RPG clubs and groups.
These days, it’s practically part of the standard social calendar. You’ve got your pilates, your book club, your tennis partner, your adventuring party.
Mental health is a major topic of concern right now, not just in the COVID era, but in the era of climate change, social inequality, and deadly murder hornets (who have gone eerily and suspiciously quiet).
In that vein, is it treacherous to be pursuing escapism? Put another way: could it be harmful to chase the literal dragon of tabletop fantasy, instead of trying to grapple with our real-world problems?
To that question, my short answer is no. My longer is “nay, by the mighty hammer of Grabthar, tis but sport for the soul!”
I think it’s wonderful that we’re embracing our inner imagination against the stresses of daily life. More importantly, I think it’s wonderful that we’re doing it together, and smashing down the clubhouse doors to invite in every person from every walk of life, whether they are long-time nerds or fresh-faced nerd-lites.
Time was, we might have thought of distractions like this as bread and circuses, but for my money D&D has taught me to process pain and stress in an altogether healthy way. Often by poking it with a sword and blasting it with a spell.
So if you’re out there feeling anxious, looking for a place to share your troubles and ease your brain, look no further.
Take your role, and play the game.