A fantasy world without creative limits is the perfect antidote to London’s relentless cynicism
In a kitchen in Mile End I watched one friend pick up another and fling him at a flaming skull. Earlier that night, in between mouthfuls of oven pizza, I had repeatedly pinged green fireballs at a variety of undead bastards with a uniform lack of success. I was happy.
I play Dungeons & Dragons, and here’s why you should too. Okay, being a regular D&D gamer is right up there in the pantheon of Things Not to Put on Your Tinder Profile. It has the reputation of being the single geekiest possible way to spend time, and considering that London is currently one big Pokémon Go playground, that is no mean feat. But in the few months since I was invited into a game, my initial nervousness about it has been annihilated – it’s a hobby that is thoroughly non-cynical and boundlessly creative.
The game was invented in 1974 by two American friends. It’s not a board game or a video game or some hybrid of the two (remember Atmosfear?). You sit around a table with some bits of paper and a few pencils and some funny- shaped dice and collaboratively invent and tell a story with your friends. It’s like playing along with ‘The Lord of the Rings’, except you literally make it up as you go along. It takes place in your collective imagination. My mum always said the pictures are better in your head: she was right then, and she’s right now.
One of the group takes on the mantle of Dungeon Master, who gamely steers proceedings. Along the way, there are infinite possibilities that are entirely guided by the people around the table. Want to pick the pocket of a thousand-year-old demon? Or have a bard play a magical concert in front of a group of surly orcs while your hellspawn mates set an ambush? Roll for it.
It happens in the room and builds uniquely, with each participant having equal ownership in telling the story line by line. The more you invest in it, the more you get back. It makes me use parts of my brain I haven’t flexed since I was about eight years old, when I was staring out of the window and wondering whether or not clouds have edges. Before playing D&D it had been so long since I really used my imagination, and it’s so exciting to do something that has its only limits in what comes out of my mind.
The thing I find most rewarding, though, is the fact it’s impossible to play ironically. It isn’t fun if you aren’t buying in, and that sort of full-hearted investment is not something I find very often. It’s a regressive escape back to running around in the garden with a stick pretending to be an adventurer before being called in for supper – at its best it’s completely devoid of ego, judgement and shame. It accepts all and asks nothing more than attention and ideas.
It’s not an activity that caters to sly Twitter commentaries or I-should-hate-this-but-look- at-me-in-a-funny-wig-lolocaust Instagram documentation. To play without one eye on irony is the most pure form of self-expression I can think of, and one that is almost cleansing in how liberating from reality it is. And that’s pretty damn necessary right now, isn’t it?
By Ben Patashnik
Want more ranting and raving? Read Daisy Stenham's column on why Margate is well on the road to becoming London 2.0