I wrote the following piece for one of The National Young Writers Festival late night readings.
Due to the wonder which is The Press Room you can listen to me read the piece instead of reading it yourself. If that sounds like your kind of thing click here. Otherwise read on…
Secretly I’d always kind of wanted to be one of those people who cluster excitedly around tables in gaming shops. I used to go into those shops and wander aimlessly. You know the shops I’m talking about. The ones that sell nothing but Stars Wars bobble heads and teeny dragons you have to hand paint. I’d walk straight to the sections of shelving containing memorabilia I understood, sonic screwdrivers mostly. I felt like I was betraying the hopeful looks of the cliental. Yes, I was a young woman. Yes, I was in a gaming shop. But I wasn’t interested enough. I didn’t really
care. Part of me secretly wanted to buy into their world of excited yelling and tiny figurines. There’s a sense of sanctuary in those places. This is a place these people feel safe. And they always look so HAPPY.
Dungeons and Dragons is a fantasy RPG, or roleplaying game. In layman’s terms, it is when a collection of adults play make believe. But with dice.
Contrary to popular belief, DnD is not simply a game for nerds and losers. It is a game for nerds and losers who have friends, overactive imaginations and a slightly higher than average desire to escape.
For me, DnD is largely an opportunity to live out my dreams of running away to a sailing ship. Dreams I’ve never been able to fulfil due to living in an age where most boats have motors and are crewed by arseholes with too much money. In DnD I get to be someone else. I can be James Shakespeare, roguishly handsome pirate captain and ladies’ man, whose crew includes a blind man who is very good at knitting. For a few hours a week I can inhabit the mind of a totally different character. It’s escapism in its purest form.
During my day to day existence, I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a sex manic. And yet I can pretty convincingly play a character with a serious fetish for barmen. When walking into an imaginary tavern my default reaction is to scope out the talent. And then rate the talent on a scale of one to ten. And then attempt to seduce the talent in descending order. Just to be totally clear- this is not how I approach bars in real life.
During one campaign I managed to get pregnant twice. I lost the first (unwanted) pregnancy after I accidentally teleported into a booby trap and got impaled on a giant scythe. It happens.
I’ve learnt a lot about myself playing DnD. For example, it turns out that 50,000 gold is the amount it would take for me to consider letting an orc sodomise me.
I’m not sure what a psychologist would say about all this. Probably something about playing out primal urges and that fact that we’re all supressing anarchy and chaos. Given the opportunity we would all spend our time roaming the countryside having sex with randoms and setting inns on fire.
Personally, I think it’s best not to over think it.
Take, for example, my friend Rachel. By day Rachel is a radiology student. Her hobbies include eating soup and posting pictures of hedgehogs to Tumblr. She wears a lot of beannies and tends to fall over in the vicinity of famous people. But give Rachel a set of dice and suddenly she becomes a blood-thirsty megalomaniac, hell bent on the destruction of all things. Rachel once left a screaming infant writhing in a pile of intestines, which she’d just spilled from the bowels of an innocent women she thought was “a bit suss”. It happens.
Playing Dungeons and Dragons, you often find yourself watching in horror as dreadful events play out. Regularly sane and stable people do things in the course of role playing that… let me give you an example.
To set the scene. Four heroes are trapped in a giant hedge maze. They accidentally lost their guide after they punched him and he turned invisible and ran away. Every time they stumble upon a dead end, it attacks them. Finally, bloodied and bruised they happen upon an inn. The mysterious inn is run by three people. Or goats. They’re half goat, half people, to be more specific. The inn, very cleverly, is named Pan’s Labyrinth.
Due to a complex chain of events, the night ends with one member of the party in bed with the female satyr, hooves and all. Another adventurer, the wizard, lies in a separate bed with two males satyrs, who were technically father and son but let’s not go into that. The final two members of the party are tied up in a corner and passed out under a table respectively. This, as you can probably imagine, happens.
The party wake in the morning to discover that the goat people are gone. And so are all the parties’ possessions. Naturally they track down the goat people and beat them into submission. Victorious, they reclaim their gear, going along their merry way and leaving the goats to run their inn in peace.
Or at least that’s what should have happened. What the party actually decide to do is this- they tie up the two male satyrs and throw them into the inn. They then proceed to set the inn on fire. While the goatmen burn alive, the party ignore their desperate baaaahs and argue at length about whether or not they should kill the female. On balance they decide against it. They render her unconscious, tie her up and carry her with them on their journey. Over the next few days they wake her up sporadically just to attempt to convert her to their religion.
These people are my friends.
I think in lots of ways role playing a deeply evil character in DnD is a lot like writing one in fiction. It doesn’t mean you just really
have this insatiable urge to stab people and bury their bodies is shallow graves. Even when you’re role paling an elven woman who plays fiddle and sleeps with barmen, Dungeons and Draons is about understanding human existence. We want to escape into different people. And sometimes those people are homicidal douches bags. But that’s kind of the fun of it.
I go into those gaming shops with purpose now. There’s still an aimless wandering but it’s usually accompanied by loud discussions of the black hole of bureaucracy which is Wizards of the Coast (a company which continues to attempt to gain income from a game which requires nothing but imagination). We walk to the counter and ask about dice. Toying with the tiny coloured gems we try and gauge their personality before emotionally investing in them. If you’ve never played a table top RPG you won’t understand the complex relationship it is possible to have with a set of dice.
I don’t see those people, yelling excitedly around tables, that same way I used to. Once a week I’m one of them. Friday nights around our kitchen table has become my sanctuary. And I’m happy.