Gamers Imagining Worlds
Not all walks are literal. Not all adventures take place in our world. When I went hiking as a kid I would get bored easily and my mom would suggest I pretend to be a hobbit on a quest. A love for Lord of the Rings was--and still is--something we share. We also share a profession and, I think, these two things are not unrelated. It takes an active imagination to go through life imagining that there is something else beyond our existence. Having an active imagination is not always looked upon with affirmation. In many circles--ones built to value worldly success--to be religious or to be a nerd (or worst of all, a "religion nerd") is to be seen as being somewhat less than serious. In a sense they are right. However, the serious, rational, commercial world is neither fun nor humane. I believe that imagining others worlds may make our own better in the end.
This leads me to a pursuit that has taken up a certain chunk of my time for over three decades; tabletop roleplaying games. Right now I am in three regular games that meet somewhere between once and twice a month. The newest of these is a game that I run with adult members of the church. It is a beginners' game, for the most part--there is one old-school LARPer--and we struggle to find time to meet. That said it is fun to get together and work through the rules. I am the "Dungeon Master." I keep the story flowing and play every character that my players do not play. Theoretically that is an entire world. I have gamed with many of their children over the years. Now it is the parents' turn.
In a sense that is my only actual D&D game. By this I mean it is the only one that uses a various of the D&D ruleset. It is also the only one where we meet in person. Another group meets over zoom and isn't Dungeons and Dragons at all, but a rules-light horror game that emphasizes improvisation. I play a variety of characters doomed to madness or death. The dice rolling is saved for crucial high-risk moments and the rest of the time we act out our characters as we encounter difficulty. I do not run this game. I am a player, which is very liberating. The people I play with are either close friends or close friends of my close friends so the trust level is high. It is good sometimes to work though some dark stuff with grace and humor, which is what we do.
The final group is online through Discord. If you don't know what that is, ask your kids. It is like zoom but with no video and is optimized for gaming of all kinds. Also, this isn't a D&D group either. We play Pathfinder, which is a slightly more complicated competitor. This group really kicked off during the pandemic and it is still going, though now it is hard for me to find a time to play. They play many games without me, but I am glad I can still make it to the one I am in. With them I play a nature-priest who has seen better days and his companion, a tiny self-aware onion. Interestingly, I met some of the people in this game through the game, itself. I know their voices and we are part of each other's lives but I would have trouble recognizing them if they walked passed me.
A good tabletop roleplaying game needs geography, politics, and religion. It needs characters with motivations and depth well past what is provided in a 90-minute action movie or even in the most well-developed fantasy video game. It needs a world at least as complex as a quality novel. In some ways (because the players can literally travel anywhere) it needs to have eternal potential for even greater complexity. It also needs the commitment of the group--whenever they are able to be together--to build and live in to that world. In that way it is like church. It depends on its participants. Also like church, people are committed at various levels.
My own ability to participate is based on many things, the most basic of which is time. In each group I have been able to be more or less involved as the months permit. I wonder if I will have or less of it during sabbatical. The last sabbatical I had involved developing a gaming world and then leading those children of my current church group through various scenarios. My plans in this area are less involved this time. I just want to stay part of the groups I am in right now. After all, I value the practice
So that is what I am doing. I am building--with others--three different worlds through acting out three different stories that are at least partly beyond our control. It is as vulnerable thing to do. Maybe that is what we are all practicing. We aren't just imagining. We are trusting. We aren't just building a story. We are holding out hope for each other and for the people we could have been...or in some sense are. This is part of the sabbath walk both when we are out on the trail and when we journey with our minds and hearts. I am delighted to get to collaborate with people in this way.
For the record. My mom's suggestion was never really helpful to her. Hobbits spent a lot of time complaining, demanding snacks, and slowing the "big people" down. Still, living into a dream isn't a bad idea when the road gets tough, is it?
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