As the school year draws to a close, so does a long-standing tradition in the 4200 wing of the West Campus Suites — a two-semester game of Dungeons and Dragons. The game brought our hallway together, had us fight packs of goblins and compelled us to save orphans from soul-sucking necromancers.
I was the Dungeon Master for these games, so I got to watch a small, close-knit friend group form in and out of game. It is difficult for me to watch it go, but I can take solace in the fact that come fall of 2017, the game can begin again. There is something inherently magical about playing D&D in person. It truly brings the game to life and makes it a more immersive and worthwhile experience for everyone involved.
Dungeons and Dragons has been one of my passions since a little before I started high school. I played it with a few of my neighbors, and one of their dads served as our Dungeon Master. Despite not really knowing what I was doing at the time, I enjoyed every second of it. The expression “time flies when you’re having fun” is never truly actualized until one experiences a game of D&D starting in the afternoon and finishing at three the next morning.
When I entered high school, I tried my hand at running the game instead and found I really liked it, which began my career as a writer and Dungeon Master. I took the skills I learned from high school into college, and now that summer is about to begin I’m left with a glaring problem — if my neighbors moved out and the school year is over, how can I find a new group to play with?
I could look online, check the nearest gaming stores or hit up old friends through Skype, but even if I did it’d be lacking the in-person aspect of the experience. This lack of personal contact is relatively new to my career in “the hobby,” but it is a symptom of a much larger problem.
Our interpersonal connections are increasingly made impersonally. A striking parallel shows up when you look at the way communication has changed and the way tabletop games have changed. Most of us are familiar with how our society has transitioned to social media and instant messaging, but to understand the parallel, more context is needed on how tabletop gaming has changed.
When Dungeons and Dragons was released in 1974, the world really didn’t know how to react. With hindsight, we now hail it as the true start of tabletop gaming, but it was initially met with apprehension. Much like how those afraid of the changes in communication technology tried to say cell phones would rot the brains of children, those afraid of Dungeons and Dragons tried to tell the world that those who played would turn into devil worshippers and Satanists. Well, maybe these two cases aren’t entirely similar, but the idea is the same.
Despite the opposition, communication technology and tabletop gaming continued to prosper and adapt. Many popular gaming systems popped up like Call of Cthulhu, Generic Universal Role Playing System, Traveler, Savage Worlds, Castles and Crusades, and Pathfinder. Dungeons and Dragons is currently on its fifth version.
However, today’s world holds new developments for communication and tabletops. Tabletop gaming can be played virtually and communication occurs globally and instantly. Neither of these are inherently bad things, but they can potentially cause a lot of problems.
If our communication becomes almost entirely digital, we lose a good portion of the message that goes along with our conversations. A pure, text-only message doesn’t leave much for interpretation. There is a disconnect between the sender and the receiver. Whether the message is global or personal, the audience can only read the message as it is written. Video chatting alleviates some of this vagueness, but the problem still persists, if not as grave.
Programs such as Fantasy Grounds are allowing players to create a virtual tabletop. They typically have a chat function, ways to track things normally done on paper and functionality to move your characters between games. After a quick check with a gaming store near where I live, there are no games available. So, I am stuck using one of these programs.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the ability to enjoy the hobby without needing to go through the stressful process of trying to meet in person, but it loses the magic that makes it a wonderful experience.
At the end of the day, society will continue to progress regardless of the drawbacks faced in these two parts of society. But it shouldn’t stop us from pushing for something more. Try to take your friends out for coffee or a movie sometime, or even invite them over for a game of Dungeons and Dragons. Whatever your preference, don’t let the digital world sweep potential memories under the rug.