In the earliest of the 1980s, as I approached the yawning abyss of adolescence, I discovered Basic Dungeons & Dragons, and it rang a note in me that I’d always been listening for. Here then was a game that would allow me to step outside myself, to be something great and heroic, to be someone valuable and significant, to be a person that was not me. My entire life, I’ve been nearly paralyzed with introversion, wrapped around the tiniest chip of self-loathing. Once I took a personality test that put me so far into the introvert’s block, they had to staple an extra paper onto the report.
If I may speak for my group, you should know that we introverts wouldn’t mind being the friendly, chatty, genial life-of-the-partiers, but we just can’t. We lack that gene. And I had the added benefit of suspecting that maybe, just maybe, all those people didn’t really want to talk to me anyway. Finally, I had a found a forum where I could be better, different, clever, funny, charismatic, witty, and important.
While D&D had rung that much desired note, it didn’t give me exactly what I needed, but it sure came closer than anything else I’d ever experienced. These were hints, ghosts, echoes, but they were soothing and lovely on my psyche, and I poured my whole self into the game. I played through all the various incarnations, but stopped right around the 3rd edition – and no, this wasn’t because of any silly “this isn’t my game” disdain. Rather, I had become awfully busy having a family and pretending to have a career, and that sword and magic lobe in my brain withered and atrophied. My books and modules, my characters and dice, all those pencils and gum erasers, they all went away, but that craving never did. It went deep, but it never disappeared.
When I first got my dirty little fingers all over the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, not just reading the books, but actually playing the game, I immediately realized it was the system I’d been waiting for my whole dice-rolling life. This wasn’t because of the manifold powers, though I did like them quite a lot. It wasn’t because of the conscious move away from the 5-minute adventure day, though that was pretty tasty excellent too. And it wasn’t because of the durability of the characters, meaning they might just survive into the second encounter.
No, what leapt out of the system and directly into my heart is the aspect that may least appeal to other gamers. The Monopoly tycoons, the Risk tyrants, the Chess masters, these are all players who revel in rivalry, who thrive on challenges, who define their leisure in wins and losses. As kids, they raced around dark backyards in lethal matches of Manhunter. As teenagers, they picked up CO2 pistols and raced around heavy woods, risking eye damage and severe pricker lacerations. As adults, they… I don’t know, compared stock portfolios, Mercedes features, and colleges their kids attended.
Competition. That’s what lights their bulbs and spins their wheels, that’s what sweetens their treats and makes their lives worth living. And it’s the one thing that has never appealed to me. Back some ten or more years ago, when I finally figured out the arcane connectivities of the original Quake game, my friends and family were all in on the Deathmatch, and there was my sad and weak little voice, mewling, “Don’t you want to play cooperative?”
Forever, I’ve been looking for the game that not only allowed me to be someone better than I am, but also afforded me the opportunity to develop relationships that were formed and forged in fire and blood. I’ve never wanted the center stage, because it’s way too lonely out there under all those lights. I want to be part of a unit, a unit where the individuals rely and depend on each other completely, where success requires everyone giving everything they have. My favorite memories from any of the games I’ve ever played were the back-to-back scenes, the we’re-in-this-together scenes, the lean-on-me-and-we’ll-get-out-of-here scenes.
When I started playing 4th edition, that’s all I saw on every page, a game built for the whole party and not the lone player. I have finally found the game that I wanted when I first opened that blue book in my basement, a game where many hands come together to create a solid unbreakable bond, and I have my value in belonging.