Column: How Dungeons & Dragons can help players escape isolation

A game of D&D 5E being played online

Clay Wilkerson
Oxford Stories

With the pandemic locking almost everyone indoors, and physical interactions being limited severely, all I really want to do is roll some dice and swing a sword at a dragon.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic that has been sweeping the world, many people have felt lost. They’ve been told time and time again to socially distance and limit interaction with other people to the best of their ability, and in a pandemic that has gone on longer than anyone could have foreseen, people are just tired of it.

Workplaces have transitioned into online spaces, with many college classes following suit. Once bustling places of public interest have dropped in traffic. To say that people are as wary as they are weary of the coronavirus is an understatement.

So, what can one do to break the dull isolation of quarantine? Here’s my proposal: Go play Dungeons & Dragons.

Of course, hearing that name invokes a lot of different thoughts from a lot of different people, so let’s break down what it is. Dungeons & Dragons, particularly the popular 5th Edition, is a tabletop role-playing game designed and published by Wizards of the Coast. It involves a group of players, taking the role of fantasy characters of their own creation, and a “Dungeon Master” that will narrate and run them through a series of challenges. It sounds simple, but it can be a lot of fun.

In the current mid-corona world where we find ourselves asking, “What next?” it is important to find a way to step away from the distracting pull of worldwide tragedy. For me, Dungeons & Dragons has been an amazing relief from the constant amazement I feel every time 2020 seems to get worse. After all, when the world outside seems to be crumbling around you, why not just imagine yourself in another world entirely?

Naturally, many are skeptical of playing Dungeons & Dragons. The tabletop game carries with it a number of connotations that have discouraged many from trying it out for years. Ever since its original publication in 1974, talks about the game promoting anti-Christian or satanic ideals have swamped the outlook on the game. Then, the image of nerdy teenagers playing make believe in their parent’s basement smeared the name once again.

However, with the release of “Critical Role,” a live-streamed Dungeons & Dragons show with an all-star cast of professional voice actors that premiered in 2015, the popularity and image of the game has taken a complete shift from what it once was. Seeing Matthew Mercer, renowned for his voice roles as beloved characters such as McCree from “Overwatch,” run a group of his friends, each similarly recognizable, through a fantasy world with elaborate characters and an enthralling story has inspired many to take up the torch and try their own hand at the game.

For me, Dungeons & Dragons has taken me out of my own habits of isolation far before the coronavirus made it a much more obvious concern. Throughout my high-school years, connecting with others and making friends was always a difficult process. I felt like an outcast, never able to find common interests with those around me and always feeling like I had a difficult time starting a conversation. To say that the mental barriers and fears of mine had a large impact on my social life would be saying the least of the matter.

However, Dungeons & Dragons presented an opportunity; a chance to sit down with others, play a fictional character in a fictional world, and talk to other people in a number of scenarios you’d never find in the real world.

It forced my mind to think creatively; to problem solve on the fly and come up with solutions to growing concerns that the party’s cast of fictional characters needed to solve. It made me dig deep into conversation with characters played by the Dungeon Master and the other party members around the table and helped me practice my social skills against countless individuals that never truly existed. And the entire time I got this social practice, I was getting the chance to do one of the things I love to do more than anything: tell stories.

At the end of the day, that’s what Dungeons & Dragons is all about. It’s a social game where you and your friends collaborate to come up with a story that everyone at the table can get involved in on the fly. It teaches so many aspects to communication that I likely never would have gone out of my way to learn in the real world and made me so much more comfortable with my own ability to talk to others.

Of course, the thought of a ‘social game’ brings up red flags in the pandemic. Luckily for those interested in trying it out, Wizards of the Coast has been pushing their game onto the online market for years now.

Webpages like DnD Beyond have been working and partnering with the publishing company to create spaces where tabletop games can be played almost entirely online. So many free resources exist on the internet for these types of games, and anyone can easily find a group to sit down and play with.

All you need is a bit of time, creativity, and some good friends to get started and have fun.

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