Stop! Don’t run away! Continue reading…I know that you probably expect me to be wearing a cape and speaking in a mock-spooky voice, but I assure you, I have no such intentions. I only wish to make a simple, regrettably provocative statement:
I play Dungeons and Dragons.
Yes, yes I do. I play—regularly!—one of the most stigmatized, feared, , and generally despised games on this planet. Not only that, I organize the playing of it. I encourage others to play it. I corrupt the young. Even better, I look just like one of you. You’ve probably said hello to me in Usdan, or seen me in one of your classes. I live among you, outwardly no different from anyone else.
So, why the social stigma?
Now, some of you may be surprised to find this column in the Arts section of The Argus. I, however, side firmly with British writer Mark Barrowcliffe, author of memoir “The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons, and Growing Up Strange,” who argues that if the structure of DnD (as we call it) had arisen in a context divorced from dragons, wizards, unicorns, and other fantastical paraphernalia, it might have created quite a high art form. The basic structure of the game is this: a group of individuals (the players) gets together and creates unique, interesting characters, often as detailed (or excruciatingly more so) as characters in a novel or play. These characters then become the protagonists of a story loosely sketched out by another individual (the Dungeon Master, or DM), who also serves as adjudicator to make sure the players abide by the rules of the imaginary universe. Although the DM has a loose sketch of the story, the details—and sometimes entirely new plot points—are developed through improvisational role-playing exercises over a series of meetings.
It’s not, in fact, that much different from some forms of improvisational theatre I could imagine. Think about it: a group of actors arrives to perform. They create characters, perhaps a family unit. Another actor/director comes out of the wings, sits at a desk, and, after hearing the actors’ character choices, presents them with the start of a story that requires them to work together. They act, and the “director” plays the other parts. See? Not that different.
So why the social stigma?!
All the stereotypes are false. We live among you, and you know us not. Barrowcliffe claims that he thinks the problems he faced as a child were more from a lack of female companionship than from the game itself (DnD is a notoriously male-dominated game), and even that is not such a problem any more. The game I run here, not counting myself, includes half female players, even my own girlfriend.
We are your classmates, your teammates, and your friends during the week. But on the weekends we let loose, embracing our otherness in the personas of half-orc barbarians, gnome wizards, and dashing half-elf troubadours.
I’m not saying that DnD is for everyone; it’s not. If you don’t like the feeling of cleaving through your (fictional) foe’s skull with a +2 Greataxe of Chopping, it’s not for you. If you don’t like the idea of being able to shoot fire from your fingertips, it’s not for you. If you don’t like the idea of turning into a wolf, leaping over a seething vat of acid, and landing with your teeth sinking into the throat of a goblin on the other side, the small, smelly body crumpling below you, and the hot lifeblood spurting into your mouth, it’s not for you. But I don’t know why you wouldn’t enjoy that.
On the other hand, if you like stories? It’s for you. If you like fun? It’s for you. If you like meeting with friends to have fun with stories every week—or two, or four, or whatever you want—it’s for you. And even if you think it might not be for you, you should at least give it a try anyway. You may find that you enjoy it more than you’d expect.
So, be aware, Wesleyan University! We, the Dragons (and the Dungeons) are among you! We eat the same food as you, we drink the same water, we breathe the same air. Hath not a gamer eyes? Hath not a gamer hands, organs, dimensions, senses, passions? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? (Unless of course we’re dwarves, with a bonus to saving throws against poison.) We have been stigmatized long enough, and we now, like the Whos from “From Horton Hears a Who,” shall let you know: “WE ARE HERE, WE ARE HERE, WE ARE HERE!”
And the dragons are on our side.