Tuesday, July 5, 2022

My Experience Is Not Yours

Happy 5th of July to everyone; hope no one was seriously injured in yesterday's festivities. Currently, I am writing from a darkened hotel room in Spokane, Washington (the very heart of the Red Empire in my campaign setting). We've been on the road since the 30th; yesterday, I was at Muse Comics in Missoula, Montana getting information about MisCon. By tonight, I should be in everyone's favorite German theme park, Leavenworth...presumably eating shnitzel and quaffing great quantities of beer (bier?).

[I should note that we passed through Coeur D'Alene, Idaho and my kids were super excited to see the lake and recount their adventures...including their ship being herded through a warp gate by purple lightning. No such atmospheric phenomena was observed from the windows of our car, however...only weekenders in their powered pleasure vessels]

Hanging out / chatting with my 93 year old grandmother the last few days...as well as touring towns that have changed significantly since my youth...I've been reminded again how little of my life, especially with regard to gaming, bears any resemblance to others' lives. Including the folks who read this blog or to whom I'd like to "evangelize" about this D&D game. The other day, I posted a (fairly abbreviated) timeline of my gaming history, with specific focus on Dungeons & Dragons and the various editions I played, ran, and experienced; there's certainly more I could have added to the timeline (if I'd had a few more hours...or days...to spare). But while it might be of interest to various folks hoping to glean some idea of poor old JB's muddled mind, it's probably not terribly helpful to people. Because they can't live my life, or experience my experiences, and thus can't develop in the same way as Yours Truly.

We live in a different world from the one that existed five years ago, let alone fifteen, twenty-five, or thirty-five years prior. In the United States, huge societal changes have taken place. A lot of those changes are "for the better," but many of them have been of more dubious value...and even some of the positive shifts have had unfortunately negative side effects.

[by the way...the whole Roe V. Wade overturning? What a fucking disaster! What a fucking sham of "justice." Short political rant moment: my family (including my older relatives) are Roman Catholic and WE didn't want to see RvW over-turned...what the hell is up with midwest Catholics wanting to get all up in other peoples' business? Remember that bit about God giving people free will to choose stuff? Allowing states to make laws taking away choice (or, rather, forcing people into making worse choices because of fewer options) is bad, bad news. But, fine, you got your Pro-Life bullshit agenda passed...does that mean you're going to start voting Democrat now, instead of the hateful, pro-Gun, pro-War, pro-Capital Punishment, pro-Business, pro-fucking-Trump-esque-hate mongering Republican party? That is, are you now going to start voting blue instead of siding with basically EVERYTHING CHRIST STOOD AGAINST? Huh? Let's see you put your Christian values where your mouths are]

[by the way: I shouldn't bark at midwest Catholics when I've personally known plenty of Seattle-born Catholics (male and female) who voted Republican specifically because of their "pro-Life" values. Fine. Agenda passed. Now switch sides and show you aren't just hypocritical assholes]

*sigh* I know. I'm not winning any fans. Back to D&D:

I gave my son a long (like hour long), off-the-cuff lecture on D&D the other day. I wish I'd recorded it...it was pretty good (my measure of a "good lecture" is when my 11 year old will voluntarily hang out with Pops, folding laundry, while listening with rapt attention, rather than wandering off or whining about wanting to do something "fun"). Anyway, I didn't record it and I wish I had because I was rolling, and the gist of it went something like this:
Kid: you, at age 11, have only begun to scratch the surface of this hobby. You have started to experience the "obsession" of it...you can't get enough, you want to play all the time, you get frustrated when you can't. I know...I understand. I've been there...LOTS of people have been there. 

But YOU have a great advantage. YOU have a parent that understands. When I was a kid, parents did NOT understand. My parents certainly didn't. For good reason: there had never been a game like D&D. Games like chess, card games, classic board games like Monopoly...those games had been around for decades or centuries. For multiple generations of people in our society. When I was a kid, D&D was first published in my lifetime...I was born in 1973, the game was first available in 1976, and not available in an easily accessible (i.e. learnable) form till 1981. And when it first became available, in that easy-to-learn, easy-to-access form [B/X]...where was it sold?

In toy stores. To parents of children. For their children. Children like me. 

If a game marketed to children is sold in a toy store, what are parents to think? Should they not assume that this is a child's game, something to provide momentary diversion and entertainment but, eventually, to be set aside as all toys and games are once a child grows beyond it? Why would they think otherwise? What would lead parents to believe that here was something that could be utilized by a person for their entire life, providing decades of entertainment and endless mental stimulation...through youth, adulthood, and (presumably) even into old age?

How could they POSSIBLY understand that...when no such game existed for them as a child. When they had no such experience with any game that came in a box (with dice). It's not like D&D was marketed as a game to last you your entire life. 

But it can...it does. It can be played in fair weather and in foul, in sickness or in health. It exercises both the imagination and the mind, encourages cooperation and communication, provides powerful experiences in physical safety, and develops learning, knowledge, creativity, and problem solving. 

Your whole life.

Kid: your mom doesn't get it...not all of it, anyway. And that's mainly because she's in the same boat that MY parents were. There was no D&D in Mexico when she was growing up. She sees it as an interesting game (and a weird obsession of your father) but only that. And games serve their purpose (entertainment), but D&D is too long and too complicated to learn for it to be worth her time when she has little time for games. Games are more for kids than for adults; adults have better things to do than play games.

Video games are not the same thing as D&D...and yet many of today's video games (particularly those of the "adventure" variety) have their roots in D&D. Many were developed from ideas of how to shortcut the "inefficiencies" of the game: how to play an escapist fantasy without players; how to play when you had no DM; how to calculate numbers without rolling dice and doing he math; how to experience worlds without using your own efforts. Video games have superficial similarities to D&D...but they are not D&D, they remain limited by their very medium, and they provide little lasting value. They are, indeed, momentary diversions, entertaining time wasters, and (in the end) just games. By their very nature, they are isolating, requiring us to interact with a machine (even when gaming with others). The intention of video games...like the intention of most technology...is to increase convenience. The unfortunate side effect (as with a lot of other technological wonders) is to instill alienation and detachment...further separating humans from each other, rather than bringing them closer together.

D&D is a powerful tool for stimulating and expanding the human mind. And the human mind is the most powerful, knowable thing in our present reality. Everywhere we go, most everything we see and experience started as an idea in the mind of a human: the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the films we watch, the music we hear, the buildings that shelter us, the pets we care for,  the vehicles we drive, the institutions and communities and religions...ALL of these things began as ideas in the mind of one or more humans. And then those ideas became concrete reality for us to interact with. The sports and games we play are not found in nature...they were invented. By people, for people. First imagined, then willed into creation.

Little Gods are we, cast in the image of our Creator.

D&D is not just "a game for smart children." It is a device that develops the human mind, the most versatile and powerful possession every human owns. And because of that, D&D has value beyond entertainment, and is worthy of respect...despite being a game even children have the capacity to learn. Just because it is grasped by the average 10 year old doesn't mean it is a game exclusively for 10 year olds. There is a difference between Little League and the Majors, after all.

All right, there was quite a bit more to the conversation than this...a lot of it had to do with the differences between players of different ages (Diego was frustrated that his 8 year old sister doesn't have the same development as his 11 year old self) and reasons for encouraging inclusion and cooperation and the pitfalls of "solo" play (i.e. play between one DM and one player, NOT literal one player solo play, which can be used for teaching, though it has many of the same issuesI associate with video games). But it's 10am right now, and the family's up, and if I don't start wrangling them they're just going to start watching Pawn Stars or something on the hotel TV. Time to get some breakfast!

Have a good week, folks.


  1. That was a quality observation about the longevity of D&D. A few years ago, in conversation with my mom, she mentioned how surprised she was that I was still playing. Like many parents, she figured it was a phase I'd pass through in my adolescence and then give up as I grew up. Nope. Not at all like other kinds of games.

    Also, as an aside, whenever I'm back in the States and go to mass with my father, there's always something in the mass dedicated to "praying for an end to abortion" And yes, most of the Midwestern Catholics I grew up with had been praying devoutly for Roe to be overturned. I'm also curious to see what it's like next time I go back.

  2. 1. Abortion is murder. 2. The progressive left brought it (Roe vs. Wade decision) on themselves. 3. Trump was anti-war. 4. Get ready for a decade of conservative ascendancy, hoss.

    1. RE: #1

      Depends on your definition of "human being."

      RE: #2

      Not sure what that means.

      RE: #3

      So what?

      RE: #4

      We'll see.