Now that you’ve heard me go on and on about everyone else’s Podcamp presentation, it’s now time for some shameless plugging. Along with attending four sessions, which I have already written on, I was blessed to get the opportunity to present my own talk, with my presentation partner, Drew Moore, aka @DrewMooreNS. I’ll talk a little bit at the end about how this whole thing came together but for now, here’s the show.
I want to start by assuring you that if you’re worried that your lack of understanding what Dungeons and Dragons is is keeping you from continuing on, don’t worry about it. At it’s core, this talk has nothing to do with Dungeons and Dragons. I mean obviously it has a LOT to do with D&D but as you’ll see as we go through, this talk is about love and community. The image that you see is a grid of the various alignments you can choose in D&D (how your character will make decisions) through the lens of Jack Nicholson. I chose Jack Nicholson because I’m going to guess that most of you have seen a Jack Nicholson movie or two, probably even some of the ones that are on this alignment. You can google a MILLION different celebrity D&D alignments and should you want to go down that particular internet rabbit hole, good on you. It’s a fun time. Now let’s talk a little bit about me.
THIS is me in grade 10. I was a jock. I was a “guy”, bordering on being a “man”. My interests were the same music everyone else was listening to, girls, whatever movie was most popular according to popular people at the time and expensive sneakers that felt about the same as every other pair of sneakers on the planet when used for the incredibly difficult task of walking on linoleum floors through a crowded high school. Sound familiar? I’m gonna guess that a lot of you have a very similar story. Almost everyone is trying to be the cool kid. I made trying to be cool and art form. I hit things in an effort to take out any aggression I had and in general, I was exactly the person you see in that picture. (If you’ve seen The Croods, I’m not that far from the character in the movie either.)
If you had asked me at this point in my life what people who played Dungeons and Dragons looked like, this would have been the image in my head. It was pointed out to me by several people in my Podcamp talk that while I might be using this as an example of what Dungeons and Dragons player parties look like in my mind, it’s not that far from what a lot of them look like in real life as well. But seriously, I thought that Dungeons and Dragons was played by people who looked exactly like this and played in a basement with a side of cheezies and a two litre bottle of coca-cola that they drank out of a pewter mug that was brushed to look like it was owned by a Dwarf. And this is how I felt about D&D players.
When I told my family that I was going to start playing Dungeons and Dragons, my grandmother and aunt told me that D&D players dipped tennis balls in gasoline, lit them on fire and threw them at each other in the woods while yelling “WIZARDS” and skinning cats. When I told everyone in my session this they suggested that this in fact would be a pretty fun game. D&D fans are an odd bunch, but I love them. When I discovered that this is NOT what D&D was about, this is what happened to my world.
I’d spent my life wanting to create things. I’ve been a writer since elementary school, I started making my own board games at age 13 and had been a Tolkien fan since grade two when I stumbled my way through The Hobbit. Having a chance to create and live in a world that I’d only read about was mind blowing. Literally. Mind. Blown. But there was still part of me that was stuck in the world of high school football playing meatheads…sooooo….this is my first ever character.
The first game I ever played was at my friend Art’s house. The game was run by his dad. Art’s dad, John, was the kind of guy that everyone wants to have as a dad. He had shelves full of action figures, books filled with collectible cards and had the coolest D&D playing setup of all time. He had a round table and a piece of glass cut to the exact same size. When it was time to game he would put graph paper, ALSO cut to the exact same size as the table, under the glass. This allowed the DM to draw directly on the glass. If you’ve ever played D&D you will understand how amazing this is. If you haven’t ever played D&D you will wonder why it’s such an amazing thing to write on a table. Because part of me was still stuck in the “this is stupid, you bunch of nerds” I decided to put it to the other players, so I went with Daryl The Barbarian from the series Newhart. I even worked it into my backstory that he had a brother named, wait for it, Daryl.
At this point during my presentation, I asked the audience who remembered the first character that they ever played. Almost everyone who had played remembered the character, their powers and their basic details. The connection we have to our history with this game is intense. I will never forget the very first campaign that I ever played. This doesn’t translate only to Dungeons and Dragons. When we fall in love with something, we remember it. Whether it’s the first time we ever hit a homerun or the first time we perfected a song on guitar. The things we love hold amazing power over us. And that’s not a bad thing. That’s an amazing thing. It’s incredible. And when we love something we’re able to create connections that will last forever. That’s what Dungeons and Dragons is to me.
So what is it about Dungeons and Dragons? What is it that makes me think that it has a power and an importance that cannot be understated? A few things, really. The first reason I love Dungeons and Dragons is how separate it is from the video game iterations that it grew from and spawned.
The ability to create is, to me, paramount in this world. We all live to create something that is powerful and meaningful and unique. But that creativity is not the only thing that D&D offers us. Every subject that you’ll ever study is about problem solving. Whether you’re talking about how to combine substances in chemistry or how to formulate an argument in English Literature, it’s all about problem solving. There is a problem before you and you must figure out the best way to get through it. No activity in my life has ever made me a better problem solver than D&D. The reasons are that it offers us no limitations. Example time.
Art, (the gentleman mentioned earlier in relation to his super cool father), is a bit of a strange gamer. When you begin a campaign, one of the things you need to do is choose what equipment you’ll be bringing with you. During one campaign, this is a partial list of items that he brought with him;
- 1 bottle oil
- 2 bags standard nails
- 1 candle wick
- 1 pouch gunpowder
- 1 domestic pig
These items were interspersed within a list of other items which made it amazingly difficult to understand how or why he would ever use them. And then we came across a cave…filled with bad guys. This was almost 3 years into the campaign and was the absolute moment that Art was waiting for. His plan was to soak the gunpowder in oil, tie it to the pig, light the wig and send the pig screaming into the cave. When the wick hit the gunpowder, the nails and pig were strewn violently throughout the room, killing most of the bad guys and allowing us to head in and mop of the rest. The importance of this particular idea is not the in the details but rather in the entire concept. You see, you can’t slap a bunch of nails and some explosives to a pig and send it into a cave in any online game that you’ve ever played or likely that you ever will play. While many games allow for a certain degree of creativity but nothing like this.
One of the other aspects of D&D that I find particularly powerful is the socialization aspect. While I previously knew most of the people I’ve played with, I have also met a number of new people that I likely would have never encountered. And then there are the personalities. Have you ever worked with someone that you just didn’t like? Have you ever worked with someone where every single decision that they make is the opposite of any decision that you would ever make? How do you deal with that? It’s not a lot of fun. It’s hell. But if you’ve ever excelled in a situation where you had to make decisions with people that you may otherwise loathe, then you’ll be fine. And Dungeons and Dragons is that situation. You have to work together with people that you would otherwise NEVER work with.
We live in a world that has always been focused on a huge pyramid in every job. You, as the lowest of the low grunt workers, are a part of a team, that has a manager who is barely holding it together and is a part of another team, that has a manager who drives a relatively nice Toyota and they’re a part of a team that has a manager who drives a really nice BMW and they’re part of a team who has a manager who has a yacht and hunts people in their spare time. But that;s changing. More and more companies are focused on creating flat leadership models where teams work together to develop and test ideas. There’s no head honcho, no numero uno. Well, there is a head honcho and numero uno but they let the players play, just like a game master. As long as you follow a basic set of rules that has been laid out, go bananas. They trust that people will work together like civilized people. It’s a REALLY new idea and moving forward, you need to know how to play nice with others, a skill that seems lacking as we march off piers with our heads down, playing fruit ninja on our iPhone.
Growing up, I would have never had the confidence to share this slide with you. Never. In a million years. But now, I wear my heart on my sleeve. Why? I’ve had the absolute pleasure of being surrounded with people who unconditionally love me despite my love of Ben Affleck. They support me even when I support shirtless Channing Tatum in every movie he’s in. They’ll be seen with me even when I’m doing a dance that is my own loosely choreographed version of hanging tough. There’s nothing on this board that I don’t love. Yes. Even Bieber. Don’t believe me? Here’s what I wrote about the Biebs. As I said in the beginning, this isn’t a presentation about Dungeons and Dragons despite it being a presentation very much about Dungeons and Dragons. This is a presentation about owning what you love and trying to build a community around it. And that’s why I was so excited by what Drew Moore was doing in his classroom.
This is Drew Moore. Well, it’s Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s day off, but specifically, this is what Drew Moore felt like when it came time to teach junior high level creative writing. His students seemed equally enthralled. For Drew, the problem was two fold. How do I get kids interested in creative writing and more importantly, how do I get myself interested in creative writing. As any teacher will tell you, if you;re interested, the kids will be interested, but they’ll also spot a fake very easily.
Then, inspiration struck in the form of a piece on Q. It focused on how D&D had helped a lot of current creatives get to where they were. People like George R.R. Martin played when they were younger and found it to be a wealth of creative inspiration. Drew recalled his own experiences in university where, as one of the only under drinking age students in his residence, many a night was spent exploring worlds far different than this one through the lens of D&D. And it got him thinking. If he loved D&D and all these other incredibly successful people thought of D&D as one of their creative influences, maybe his kids might like D&D.
As lesson planning began to look like this.
And his classroom began to look like this.
He knew he was moving in the right direction. D&D began to inspire his students. Most importantly it inspired ALL of his students. Not just a few. There began a movement within Drew’s class to learn as much about this idea as they could. Students began working their way through the DM’s Guide in an effort to gain an advantage. Let’s stop and think about that for a second. Students, without being asked, were using reference material in an attempt to independently learn, outside of what was required. A group of students who wanted to be in a group together wrote impressive backstories which included them being brothers, then made family medallions, that they wore to school… proudly I might add. This is a fundamental shift in the junior high experience for many. Junior high is the middle of everything. Ask the middle kid what life is like. But in Drew’s classes, he began to see that students were willing to work when it was something that excited them. There is a great quote by Socrates, and a variation by Adam Purcell’s dad, that says, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
Congrats Drew. You’re kindling. #JedSaid
One of the more memorable moments in Drew’s class came when the students were introducing their characters to everyone. The most recent rules edition of Dungeons and Dragons pushes for acceptance and understanding of gender and sexuality in a way that has never been present in previous editions. It asks its players to contemplate thoroughly their character’s understanding of their own gender and sexuality. When the students were introducing their characters, one male student chose to play a female character. He provided her backstory, told everyone who she was, and no one batted an eye. At an age where peers are often pressured into fitting into social norms, this particular student was not shunned, shamed or bullied into playing an expected gender within the game. This is very powerful at that age.
Drew began to integrate his creative writing unit into social studies. Unbeknownst to MOST of the students, they are carrying out their campaign in a “fictitious” world that just happens to be Canada leading up to the Charlottetown Conference. They will have to deal with the various issues confronting their region and will have opportunities to make some of the most important decisions in Canada’s history. And slay some goblins while they’re at it.
One thing that Drew realized was that after this experience, some of his students may be interested in continuing down the D&D path. But finding a game that fits our hectic life schedules can be difficult bordering on impossible. How do you integrate within a community that seems so fractured? How do you find opportunities as someone who is outside of the community as a whole. We all have obstacles. Mine are time. Work. My two children (represented here by Chewbacca as my daughter and Vader as my son. It’s amazing how accurate these representations are.) At the end of the day, we just want to find people that love what we love and love those things together. There is an interesting irony in Dungeons and Dragons
So what are we to do. Well, I decided to build a portal for local Dungeons and Dragons players. It was described by Drew as “Plenty of Dwarves” and that’s not far from it. I’m building a TOTALLY FREE portal that will connect those who want to play games with those who need players. Individuals will be able to choose what sort of gaming experience they’re looking for and when they’re available and be matched up with gaming opportunities that meet their needs. My long term goal is to connect a number of games into a cohesive world, spanning several different gaming groups, but played in the same world where players get to move in and out of these games as they could in a real world. I know. Tall order. For now, I’m looking for people to sign up and as I build out the, again, TOTALLY FREE, portal then we can work together on building the community that we’d like to see, together.
But this isn’t limited to D&D. There are people out there that love what you love. They want to do what you want to do too. How do you reach them? First, wear your heart on your sleeve. It is a dangerous and rewarding play. Second, talk and listen. Whatever your platform. Even if its, dun dun dun…..REAL LIFE. Listen to people. Talk to people. Get involved in online and offline communication and start building your community. Finally, if there’s any way that I can help, drop me a line. If you need something built, or you need some guidance or you just want to throw some things off the wall and see what sticks, I can be that wall. I’m always happy to help people build the community they want to see. I hope you enjoyed. If you stuck around ’til word 3,050 you must have liked something you heard.