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Quarantined D&D: World of One’s Own

Quarantined D&D: World of One’s Own

Quarantined D&D: World of One’s Own
July 05
21:18 2020

In the time since COVID-19 reckoned the landscape of socialization, the world of gaming has tried to keep up and adjust as more people find themselves in continued sequesterment with newfound time to kill. While runaway successes like that of “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” created a burgeoning community centered around the game’s laid-back collect-athon style at the start of quarantine, many ambitious narrative projects and upcoming releases have stagnated in development or been delayed as the logistics of remote working present challenges for developers. The recent delayed release of “Last of Us Part II” gave many gamers the narrative emotional gut-punch that it was always sure to deliver on, but the more open-ended world-building powerhouse that would have closely accompanied it, “Cyberpunk 2077″, is still delayed until late fall. So with new worlds and narratives on the industry’s backburner, how have gamers tried to work within the status quo to keep their experiences fresh?

Interestingly, these limitations largely do not apply to the world of tabletop roleplay gaming, a malleable world where many a starved gamer or creative have sought refuge. In particular, the fantasy-based Dungeons & Dragons format has seen more of a resurgence in our socially distant times, with online platforms like Roll20 and games like “Tabletop Simulator” allowing players to engage in campaigns without physically meeting up. A tabletop gaming monolith for over 40 years, D&D is less centered around technical gameplay and more concerned with world-building and roleplay, essentially having each player create an original character that inhabits a world written by a dungeon master who guides them through a campaign. While a set of seven dice is used to calculate damage and technical stats for various encounters, the bulk of D&D gameplay is informed by how one chooses to navigate the world set in place by the dungeon master with their character, thinking not as themselves but through a vicarious fantasy figure who could have drastically different motivations from the creator. D&D campaigns often occur over multiple hours-long sessions, taking anywhere from days to months to complete depending on the length and frequency of sessions.

While it might make sense that this style of gameplay would have more appeal now that experiences outside the living room are fewer and further between, D&D’s spike in popularity long precedes this pandemic. In particular, D&D saw a big tick in popularity in the latter half of the 2010s when D&D podcasting became more popular. While listening to a group of people roleplay around a table littered with books and dice may not sound too appealing, variety and novelty in the presentation has made some of these shows wildly successful propagators of the game. Shows like “Critical Role” put popular voice actors in a group together where their professional abilities are showcased in their roleplay, and “The Adventure Zone” started simply with three brothers teaching their father how to play D&D. Like any good show, these groups use their unique dynamics and chemistry to bring mirth to their gameplay, but the time-consuming nature of D&D makes them particularly good as podcasting content for passive, long-term listening.

Aside from entertaining their growing audiences, shows like these have also encouraged many to step into the time-tested relic of nerd culture that is D&D. Where many may have once found the rules and combat elements of D&D obtuse or daunting compared to less open-ended games, these shows’ emphasis on player/character chemistry makes internalizing the game mechanics over time much more organic and accessible. And while it is not difficult to find some salty sticklers on the opposite end who insist that mechanical knowledge is paramount, the roleplay and world-building aspect of D&D is arguably more important now than ever.

While online gaming has undeniably allowed people to connect in times when physical socialization is discouraged, the coupling of long gaming hours with social isolation can also be damaging to mental health. D&D’s place in the world of gaming as a game that puts the onus of creativity on the players makes it engaging not only in practice but also in preparation. For people like me who get equal kicks from writing and games, having online D&D as an outlet for storytelling and character design when video games start becoming mental burnouts has been vital not only from a mental health standpoint but also as a motivation for personal creativity. While traditional online gaming with friends can be engaging on an arguably similar level, video games demand little more than money and hand-eye coordination to engage a player. The fact that D&D is catalyzed by the organic genesis and mobilization of worlds and characters makes it a breath of fresh air in a time when the real world seems to be in an endless tailspin.

Make no mistake, when “Cyberpunk 2077″ hits stores, I will be among the droves of dystopia fanatics eager to fill a pair of shoes in its bombastic and ambitious world. But like all video games, you step into the world on its terms. And when that world eventually loses its spark, D&D will always be there to offer a new world, on your terms.

Featured Illustration: Olivia Varnell

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Vincenzo Favarato

Vincenzo Favarato

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