Role-Playing Games: Where Belief Comes From

David - Columbia Heights, Minnesota
Entered on April 19, 2011
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I believe in role-playing games.

When I was eleven my cousin locked me in a dungeon. I could only see it in my mind’s eye but, being inspired, proceeded to map it onto graph paper. I faced monsters, found treasure, and cast spells. This was Thanksgiving, 1979, and was my first experience with “Dungeons and Dragons”. In an RPG, you become the hero of your own adventure. It’s like “Let’s Pretend” with rules. While my first character died fighting a giant centipede with face tentacles, I was hooked.

I received the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks for Christmas and was creating my first adventure by New Year’s.

In school I wasn’t popular. I had some friends but spent the bulk of my lunch hour hiding from bullies in the library. Sadly, even the school librarian thought “D-and-D” was evil and that I would better off “worrying about nuclear war”. This was during the eighties’ “Satanic Panic” scare and legions of scared adults were calling “D-and-D” a gateway to occultism and evil. Even our school Valedictorian accused me of “dancing around bonfires like a frog”, worshipping demons.

Media-fueled ignorance and religious extremism made life cringe-worthy. Rona Jaffe’s “Mazes and Monsters” only added fuel to the fire. Despite this, I continued to believe in what those games offered.

They weren’t escape as much as encouragement to create new worlds. I survived high school and emigrated to college in 1985.

I immersed myself in games like “Call of Cthulhu” which introduced me to the writing of the 20th Century’s greatest horror author, H.P. Lovecraft. I travelled the stars in “Traveller”. I even played a duck -yes, a duck- in the bizarre fantasy game, “RuneQuest”. I played dozens of RPGs.

In college, I discovered the Fantasy Role-Playing Game Association. The socialization that had eluded me in high school came rushing in like a spring flood. Together, we went bowling, frequented bars, dated, became politically active, and grew as human beings. We went to class and applied our studies to our games. Role-playing became the crucible in which we distilled our emerging adulthood.

Years later, when my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I started a new game. It was one-part distraction from my father’s decline and one-part yearning to create something “alive” in a season of death. My father passed away in the spring of that year. My game lasted for four more.

RPGs helped me cultivate bravery, creativity, and open-mindedness. Today, I am an activist, a writer, and defender of the weak. I work to make the real world a better place because I’ve already created better worlds on paper and they’re pretty awesome. No, the real world doesn’t have dragons or super-powers or benevolent aliens but it does have the capacity to be just as wondrous. That’s my goal.

When I look back, I’m often amazed at how it began: with a centipede monster -a carrion crawler- attacking me, in my cousin’s bedroom, on Thanksgiving day.

I believe in role-playing games. I believe that they teach people to envision a more creative and fantastical world. I believe they offer socialization and adventure in the darkest of times. Because of role-playing games, I believe…