/Rolling for initiative: How fantasy prepped me for reality

Rolling for initiative: How fantasy prepped me for reality

For the last semester of my college career, Friday nights have been more than just a party night for me. Each night, a group of my friends gathered around a fluorescently lit kitchen table and told a story together. The eight of us, for a few hours each night, forgot about the stresses of work, school and general social obligations and immersed ourselves in a fictional world of my own creation. For just a few hours each week, the eight of us were able to conquer entire worlds as opposed to facing the more mundane mountains of homework piling up around us.

My Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) group wrapped up its final session April 18, and the feelings at the table as the final dice fell were a mix of excitement at fulfilling such a long-lasting game and sadness that a semester’s worth of collaboration was finished. I looked around at my seven players and was overwhelmed at the emotion pouring from these faces.

For me, D&D is all about this experience. For four months, I had carefully crafted a living, breathing world and these seven, very real people had occupied this world. For the eight of us, these fictional worlds became real. They were sources of real life excitement, real life joys and, for some, fictional solutions to real life problems.

The first few sessions as a Dungeon Master (DM), the individual who creates the world and guides players through it, were more stressful than any test or paper a professor could throw at me. I was baring my creative heart to these people, and they could do with it whatever they wished. I had several moments of intense concern that all my hard work would come crashing down around me, months of work burnt to a cinder as my players ignored my plot hooks and killed anything that moved.

I was shocked, however, when the first sessions went smoothly. As time went on, I got more confident in my abilities as a DM and, as a result, the game began to gain real importance in my life. The game became less about getting players from point A to point B and much more about the interactions these players were having with each other within the boundaries of this fictional world. I watched these friends, individuals I’ve known for years, come together and collaboratively create meaning from a story we all told together. As a DM, I became less of a shepherd and more of a unit in the chain of narrative. This was no longer my story. It was our story.

Occasionally, real world issues would slip into the in-game conflicts. Sometimes tensions grew high and players became frustrated with each other. Instead of quitting or letting it ruin the game, the conflicting individuals solved problems in-game to overcome their out-of-game irritations. As a DM, this experience was fascinating to witness. Problems I never expected to show up, such as struggles for power and recognition, were solved creatively within the world I had created. Real life problems became nonexistent through unintentional in-game solutions.

With our game reaching its climactic ending, I’m left with a feeling of sadness. No longer will my Friday nights be spent within this collaborative world telling a story with seven of my best friends. However, I’m coming away from the experience knowing that we have all created a real, tangible world that enriched each of our lives in large and important ways.

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