During a recent conversation with gaming friends, the topic of “what games most influenced us over the years?” came up. It was so interesting to hear how games we played as kids, in school, and later in life influenced our gaming interests today and led to some of us working in the game industry. This Monday series will take a personal look into my history as a gamer with my #Top10InfluentialGames. This week, this child of the 80s talks about his introduction and experiences with a game that has shaped him over the years.
As I mentioned last week, my introduction to the roleplaying game hobby was via Villains & Vigilantes. I played that for a few months, but eventually, we quit meeting altogether and I was left making up characters just for fun. It was during that time that a group of friends who had seen me with my superhero books and folders of notes approached me about another game called Dungeons & Dragons. I had been watching the cartoon, so I knew of the world. I loved fantasy literature, being a huge fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings already by that time. So when some of my friends from high school asked if I wanted to join their AD&D game, I was really excited.
That is, until I spoke with my mom. She had been fine with me playing the superhero game of V&V, and even accepted me trying out Dragonraid with my cousins. My mom, and many others in my community and at my church, had a very different view of Dungeons & Dragons. As I was new to the hobby, I was unaware of the controversies of D&D. It was not until later that I learned more about the Chick Tracts, Mazes and Monsters movie, and 60 Minutes special. I love my mom and have great respect for her, so I appreciate how much she cared for me and my hobbies. She knew of many of these controversies and was concerned about her son engaging in such a hobby. I will be honest, I was frustrated by her unwillingness at first to allow me to play D&D with my friends. I just viewed it as a game and didn’t understand the nuances at the time. We continued discussing it for quite a while. It took her speaking to the parents of some of the others in the gaming group before she would compromise. It helped that members of the group included the Valedictorian of the high school, other high academic students, and a member of our church. After my mom spoke with the parents, and talked to me more about my interest in the game, we agreed that I could join this gaming group as long as I kept up with my responsibilities at home, school, and work.
So, I joined my first true gaming group that met every Saturday morning. I vividly remember that first session. I was handed the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook and told to make a cleric. The party needed a cleric, and that would be my role. So, I created a human cleric named Boabdil (a name I snagged from studying him in Spanish class that week). That human cleric proceeded to get attacked, swallowed, and killed by a giant toad within his first two rooms of my first every dungeon. I was shocked. I was disappointed. I was hooked! A game that has consequences? A game where you have to think tactically? A game you pour your creativity into? Wow. V&V had been fun, but as we had played it at first, it was just a glorified combat game. We made heroes and villains to fight each other, not campaign per se. Dragonraid had been a confusing one shot. AD&D was something very different and I loved it. I quickly moved from player to Dungeon Master. I love telling stories, reacting to the players and their characters, and improvising on the spot. I am most definitely a theater of the mind style game master.
AD&D (and other RPGs) in college helped me quickly build friendships, but this time was also when I first personally experienced the controversies of D&D and the vehemence some people can have against it and the RPG hobby. I had some very emotional confrontations, specifically because I played AD&D. Other RPGs were fine, but Dungeons & Dragons created numerous incidents during my college years. I loved gaming and really enjoyed it in college, but this backlash from people I thought were my friends and some of the leadership of the university really impacted me emotionally. I was not ashamed of my hobby, but I did tend to start withholding that I was a roleplayer until I knew someone better. At one point post college the negative D&D experience became so intense, I even purged my AD&D collection entirely and focused on other less controversial RPGs. I regretted that decision years later and have slowly been re-acquiring AD&D books for my library and returned to playing the game with my new gaming group.
My personal experiences with AD&D backlash kept me for years being unwilling, almost unable, to share that passion with my daughters as they were growing up. I played lots of board games with them, tried some non-D&D RPGs with them, and even let them listen in on my AD&D game sessions with my gaming group, but I honestly was fearful to have them share in my younger experiences with AD&D. I wanted them to enjoy their gaming hobbies without the stigma I felt regarding D&D for so many years. When the new D&D Fifth Edition was released, I fell in love with it. It had a feel of my classic AD&D, but with the modern storytelling and flexibility of games like Fate Core and Savage Worlds. I also saw D&D become much more mainstream with D&D 5e at game conventions, on TV, and people where I worked talking about it casually even. My twin daughters then asked if they could play the new D&D with me, even my wife (who has never gamed with me) asked if she could join. So, with a bit of trepidation mixed in the excitement, I ran my first adventure of D&D for my wife and daughters. I loved every moment of it. Finally getting to share openly a passionate hobby of mine was great. We continue to play as we can find the time in our busy schedules. And in recent news, Dungeons & Dragons has been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. With all my experiences, I never thought D&D would become mainstream enough to earn that honor.
AD&D and D&D 5e continue to be core games for me that I often return to. I might play many other RPGs and tabletop games, but Dungeons & Dragons will always be my favorite game. Through V&V as an introduction, and AD&D as my core roleplaying game experience, my understanding of games and their impact expanded dramatically.
- Games are social. Games are so much more than competition, strategy, rules, winning or losing. Games help you build relationships. So many great memories come from sitting around a table with friends and/or family playing a game. Friendships can begin and are strengthened while gaming. That first gaming group in high school has led to others in college, graduate school, and now one I have been with for almost 20 years. I have also begun to build some gaming groups online, which is a whole new social experience. Each one of those groups have led to lifelong memories and friendships.
- Games can be controversial. For me growing up, it was the stigma of Dungeons & Dragons. Now, my daughters and I discuss and struggle with inclusivity in gaming. We all need to put our heart and energy into making gaming social and welcoming to everyone. There should be no stigmas from gaming nor should anyone be or feel excluded.
- Roleplaying expands your creativity and leadership. My years of roleplaying and being a game master have developed many skills and talents that have been so useful in life. I gained confidence in public speaking, my ability to improvise has grown, I take detailed and organized notes, leading others has become natural, and I am able to describe events, actions, places, and things in vivid details to help others visualize. There is even a TED talk on how D&D is Good for You (In Real Life).
I know this has been an extra long post, but I have a lot of history and passion for Dungeons & Dragons that I wanted to share. Perhaps the sharing of my experience with AD&D will help others be more open to the hobby and to other gamers.
What about you? What game have you played the most over the years that had a huge impact on you? I would be very interested in others writing about their #Top10InfluentialGames. Next week, I play a game that mixes my growing passion for roleplaying with a board game.