Monday, June 6, 2022


An anecdote:

On Friday, my children had a couple friends over after school. This is ostensibly called a "playdate" (still, though my son is an 11 year old. Not sure when this will just transition to "hanging out;" maybe age 12?). Diego and his buddy, Maceo, spent the majority of their time together playing D&D with Yours Truly...this was, in fact, the reason Diego wanted his friend to come over: to play Dungeons & Dragons. Much fun was had, as usual, and Maceo went home before dinner time. This was, perhaps, the third time Mace had been a guest in our home.

Cut to yesterday (Sunday). Maceo and Diego, besides being classmates, have been on several sports teams together...they both played Little League (which just ended last week) and they're currently on the same flag football team, coached by Mace's dad, Connor. Maceo's parents are "good people," friendly, progressive, kind, intelligent, etc. They are  planning on leaving our school next year (Diego says it's something about them having a problem with God or something...I don't know, though I know they aren't Catholic or particularly religious) but we (my wife and I) have tried to build a relationship with them, as the kids really get along, they live close to us, and we'd like to keep in touch.

[mm...I have some things to say about God and belief and stuff, but I'll save it for another post. Tomorrow night we're having the parish priest over to our house for dinner (I'm cooking my version of Paraguayan asado) so I'm sure I'll have some reflections after an evening of theological discourse]

ANYway...Shaina (Mace's mom) and I were chatting on the sideline, and she was telling me her kid had a fun time and expressing her appreciation that we'd hosted him again when it was clearly their turn to have our kid over to their house. And I said that was totally fine and next time they could host and whatever. And then she added that, funny thing, when we'd invited Mace to hang out last Friday, they had planned on turning it around and asking Diego over, but that Maceo had pleaded with his folks to let him go over to our house instead because they wanted to play D&D and Diego's dad was the Dungeon Master and his own father (who would have been watching the kids since Shaina was out-of-town that day) couldn't do the job

To which I replied, "Oh, I'm sure Connor could have done just as good a job being 'Dungeon Master' if they'd been at your house."

Which is, of course, a blatant boldfaced lie...something I realized roughly 30 seconds after I said it. But what was I supposed to say? Yeah, the father of your kid's friend has spent 40 years playing this D&D game, and it probably would be tough for your husband to just pick it up and run the thing? Or maybe just "hey, your kid's friend has this creepy man-child for a dad and probably it would be good for everyone if our children spent time away from all that D&D nonsense?"


Lately, I've been encountering parents who are...perhaps, maybe...running into the same kind of thing the parents of my generation ran into: their kids are obsessed with this weird, strange game of Dungeons & Dragons. The other night (a week or two ago), we went out to eat with another family who we know through soccer (their two sons play for the same premier club as our kids). They're very cool, international types (dad from the UK, mom from Spain) only slightly younger than my wife and I. Their boys are DEEP into the 5E D& the point that the older boy brought his books and dice to the restaurant and was running a game for the kids while we adults chatted and ate and drank.

And the kids had a great time. Though it was clear that they didn't really know the rules and were "winging" most of it and generally just f'ing around, even my son came away saying "I like 5E now!" (though, he stipulated later, "only the way Manjeet runs it." He also says "1E is still the best."). And the parents, while they were happy about their children's joy were just kind of befuddled by the whole thing. "I tried playing with them but I didn't really get it," confessed their father (Manjeet Sr.) to me. "I don't really think they know the rules even, but they sure have fun." 

"Yeah, D&D is a lot of fun," was about all I could offer.

But my wife, who is always quick to promote me, explained how D&D was totally my thing, and how I wrote books for it, blogged about it, had been playing it for decades, etc. "I don't really understand it myself," says the wife, "But Jonathan knows all about it and can tell you anything you want." 

We ended the night over a gelato in Ballard, promising we'd have to get together again, soon. This time at our house, so the kids could play D&D while the adults hung out and drank wine. "Or maybe three of the adults can hang out," someone (I don't remember who) quipped, "while Jonathan acts as Dungeon Master!" 

Truth be told, that sounded pretty good to me (though I'm sure I'd still partake of the wine).

I am...and have a weird space lately. Once upon a time, I was just a guy masquerading as a normal adult who had this gaming hobby on the side. The same way other dudes play pickup basketball at the rec center, or jam with their old musician buddies, or run a fantasy baseball league. And THAT was fine...normal, understandable. People were cool with it...that's just JB's thing, like someone else might really dig sailing or gardening.

But now my kids are old enough to play D&D. And the kids of my (adult) friends are old enough to play D&D. And the kids are learning the goodness of the game and the obsessive-compulsive nature of it and its potential for absolute immersive fantasy joy and their parents, glad that they're wanting to do something that doesn't just involve a video game console but weirded out a bit by this thing, this "role-playing game" that they don't understand...

And then there's this adult that their kids gravitate towards, who they (the kids) want to "play with" and who is cool playing this game with kids a quarter his age... I mean, it was cool when JB was their soccer coach, but this "dungeon master" thing is a little strange, ain't it? A little cult-ish, maybe?

I wonder if these parents
watch Stranger Things.
Yeah, it's weird. When I was a kid, I wasn't playing in games run by old geezers...or even by old teenagers. I was running the game for my friends (or playing in games run by them). Because there weren't any adults who were interested in, or who understood, or who'd ever played these games we loved and enjoyed and obsessed over. Until I was an adult myself, I only ever met ONE ADULT PERSON (I've related that story before) who was an active gamer. One. As far as any of us knew, these were games for children...they were purchased in toy departments, after all.

Neither my kids, nor their friends, live in the 1980s that I grew up with...but there are still some parallel things going on. Russians are bad again. Music is crassly commercial again. Economy is sucking again. And D&D is sold in toy stores again. And kids are getting it, and playing it, without much understanding from their parental figures.

Well, most of them. But my kids have a weird old man. That's not their fault. 

My wife's colleague has a couple kids who LOVE D&D. During the early days of the pandemic, when everyone was under house arrest and kids were being homeschooled, she found out about my little "hobby" and asked if her kids could play in our home game via Zoom. While I was happy to oblige, the medium sucked and we shut down the game after a couple sessions. Melissa (the mom) did gift me with a six-pack of (disinfected) tasty craft beer for my trouble, however. For her son's birthday, a year later (he was 13 or 14) I know they hired a 'professional DM' to run a game for him and his friends. These parents still don't "get" this D&D thing...and this is a woman who used to compete in Magic the Gathering tournaments (at a high level) in England when she was a teen! 

D&D, though...nope, don't get it.

As I said, it's a weird head space I find myself in these days...and it's only getting more weird. I have a long-running narrative in my head about who and what I am that seems to be butting heads a bit with reality. Like, I long ago made peace with the fact of my "gamer identity" but the more I make that identity public knowledge, the more I have to navigate new waters and ramifications surrounding that identity. 

*sigh* (again) I guess I'm surprised that I keep surprising people. Look, I get it. Humans are self-involved. We see other people as cardboard cut-outs until we start having meaningful interaction with them. But even then, we confine our discussions to general, relatable topics: How's the weather? How are we coping with the challenges of child-raising? Why is the local sports team terrible? Man, that pandemic sucked. Etc. 

I assume I probably come off as a smarter-than-average Average Joe Seattlite. Ball cap over thinning hair, Seahawks hoody, jeans. Pleasant-enough white dude. Wife, kids, house, dog. 

Mmm. Sometimes I feel my persona is only that...a "persona," a dishonest facade. And yet, it IS honest. I look and dress and talk like I do. I am a "pleasant-enough white dude." I do have a wife and kids and house and dog. There's just a lot more underneath all that...the deeper me that I don't advertise. These days, I'm being...well, more honest about it. More open about it. And it's maybe a little more different than, say, revealing I like rock music and used to have long hair. A lot of dudes my age could certainly say the same.

A lot fewer of them would admit to being a practicing Dungeon Master. 


  1. Maybe you should set up a game for the adults. Have the kids playing D&D their own way in one room while you run a game for the adults. At least they'll understand the game and may actually like it.

    1. I’ve suggested something like that once or twice, but the reception has always been rather lukewarm…even from parents who might otherwise seem open to both “fantasy” and “gaming.”

      Perhaps it’s difficult to acquire a taste for RPGs as an adult? That doesn’t SEEM like it’d be the case…maybe I’m just a poor salesman for the game. Or maybe folks already have hobbies and busy lives and D&D seems like more work than they care to dip into. Or maybe the ones my age who never played as kids still have left over bad impressions of the hobby…for whatever reason.

      Anyway…MY kids would probably be unhappy not to play at “the big persons’ table.” Definitely my son would.

    2. I've introduced several adults to D&D in my West Marches game over the past three to four years. They don't always stick around, but one of them, in his early 50s, has become an avid gamer.

      Of course, the social situation for most expats in Busan is drinking...or drinking. But we've also got a small but pretty dedicated community of gamers, both TTRPG and board games.

    3. Yeah, that makes sense…can definitely see how that would work.

  2. Interesting . . .

    I've never found it at all weird for adults to be into rpgs, in fact it was hard to find people my own age who were remotely interested in that sort of thing, any fantasy or sci-fi stuff really. I've always gravitated to an older generation. Probably due to the fact that my dad was our DM, and whenever we played with anyone else it was my older sisters friends.

    1. Yes, I recall your podcasts in which you discussed your early gaming days with your father. My experience as a kid was very different from yours…though perhaps not so different from how my own kids are experiencing the game.

      Was your father a gamer before he introduced you and your sister to the game? I thought, perhaps, he was…but I don’t remember for sure.

    2. Yes, though not to the degree that I or you are. I guess my experience was pretty unique, it's not until the last decade or so that I've seen kids learning from their parents :)

  3. We should you out to NTX or GaryCon, Jonathan. Maybe next year when Anthony Huso's going too? :D


    1. Ha! If only. They’re both bucket list items (GrogCon, too, in Florida)…but I’ll be lucky to get away to Bellevue for DragonFlight.

  4. I’m also thinking along the lines of Ruprecht, above. Let me lean slowly into that.

    I have seen parents sink themselves to the eyeballs into hockey, soccer, curling and a host of other past-times, because they see these things as competitive and perhaps coin and fame gathering in the long run. Especially hockey, this being Canada. There is a definite hesitancy among parents about investigating D&D, which my daughter and I have discussed since it was as true about her generation as it was with ours. I sense that adults think it’s a bit “foolish” to involve themselves in “make-believe,” largely because the way kids talk about it doesn’t sound like a game, it sounds like make-believe.

    And since the game is VERY hard to explain, it doesn’t surprise me the parents can’t get the sense from their kids. I remember when my parents agreed to let me teach them. Wow, was that a bad experience. I only had about six months of running D&D and they steadfastly refused to take the premise of the game seriously. I never did change their minds about the game. My father must have said about fifty times before I was 20, “One day you’ll become an adult and grow out of it.” Yeah. Sure were right about that, Dad.

    Okay, so JB ... you say you’ve “suggested something like” what Ruprecht suggests. I’d like to suggest a possible strategy on this regard. Suppose you don’t suggest actually playing ... but that instead, you’d be happy to sit down with one or more of them and explain the excitement in a manner the parents can understand ... i.e., that it really is a game; that the excitement doesn’t come from the kids making stuff up, but from not knowing what’s going to happen next. Explain it like the kids are watching a really interactive movie. That the way the game functions, it enables the kids to be PROACTIVE and CREATIVE, and stress the problem solving. This is so much more hands on than video games, which you sell as “very passive.” Stress that D&D is active. Stress that it’s friendly and co-supportive. Stress that there’s no “winner.” Explain why there’s no winner.

    That’s not an easy ask. But even if these parents don’t want to play, there’s no reason why they can’t possibly understand what’s going on. Put out some cheese and fruit plates, suggest a meaningful question and answer and make sure the kids DON’T know about it. The parents will feel more secure if they aren’t suspected of spying on their kids.

    As far as your other concerns about reality, self-involvement, weirdness, et al ... it’s just St. Elmo’s Fire, JB. It isn’t real.

    1. That last is the most telling. That is to say, absolutely correct.

      Truth be told, Alexis, it’s not the 80s (or the 90s) and these parents are not the reactionary idiot-types of an earlier age. I *have* discussed the game with them, they *do* understand (somewhat) its benefits. They are GLAD their kids are reading, using their imaginations, exercising their minds, working together in a cooperative, problem-solving fashion. AND they understand the significance of the game (D&D) on popular culture, past and present.

      They DO get this. And they would rather their kids are playing these games then gluing themselves to a Nintendo Switch. They are HAPPY about their kids’ interest and enjoyment in D&D.

      I guess, what they really don’t understand, is why *I* would want to play the game. I’m not a kid, after all…don’t I have better, more “adult” things to do?

      (actually, I DO…which is why I don’t get to play as often as I’d like)

      But their opinions (or my perceptions of their opinions) are just personal hang-ups. Clearly.

      The title of this post comes from my anecdote: a mom remarked that her kid would prefer to hang at my house because my kid has the “DM Dad” and I (dishonestly) made a typical, feeling-assuaging statement, rather than saying: “Yeah. Probably best your kid hangs with us if he wants to play D&D.”

      Because it was already obvious that the parents don’t get it. Not all of it…not why *I* take this stuff seriously. ‘Yeah, D&D’s a great game for kids…that’s awesome you’d introduce them to it. Really cool. But, um, why do YOU want to play with them?’

      Yeah. Working on it.

    2. Why do some parents coach little league sports (play with the kids)? Why do they play catch or skate on the ice with their kids? To share the joy and support their kids. D&D is the same. Clearly you enjoy it and sharing that joy with the kids. Being DM is very much like being a coach, especially if you are running a sandbox. Otherwise it is akin to reading stories to kids, which also imparts a joy of stories and reading. It is no different than playing boardgames or wargames with kids - it shares the joy and develops interest (not to mention a certain amount of critical thinking, math skills, and other useful things for being an adult).

  5. Jeff Vogel wrote a post, long ago, about how he didn't get Minecraft, but his kids loved it, because as a boring adult he now required goals and structure to be imposed and couldn't just imaginatively have fun in a sandbox any more.

    This springs to mind here. Less-structured imagination is definitely a younger person's game a lot of the time, and is a thing adults don't do nearly as much. A shame.

    1. Huh, interesting. I always figured part of the fun of Minecraft was IMPOSING goals and structure on the sandbox...I have given my kids a lot of ideas/options on "what to build" in the past (and these days, they have their own ideas, when they play).

      But I don't have the patience to play Minecaft myself...even if I had the time. It takes too long to use the system to accomplish the goals and ideas I have (or figure out how to do certain things). The freedom of being a DM...where anything you can imagine can be jotted down as notes, or drawn on a far too easy and has spoiled me for any kind of "virtual building" games.

  6. I definitely get kinda weird reactions from coworkers and such when I mention I play D&D, am taking a few days of vacation to go to D&D cons, that kind of thing. On the other hand, my first D&D group resulted from me inviting coworkers who had never played to try it, and had a great run until people moved away etc.

  7. I find it fascinating that after generations of wargames, board games, card games, videogames and roleplaying games, so many people (probably the majority) still don't get this stuff!

    1. I intend to explain why (I've a pretty good thesis on the matter) a future post.