If you’ve read Harper Lee’s famous novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird” you may be familiar with the saying “you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family”. Clever writing in literature or a memorable quote from films you love can influence you in strange ways or cause you to think about the world in a different way. This saying is so true and it causes me to draw comparisons to myself and the tabletop community. The quote goes on to say that your friends are still members of your family whether you choose to acknowledge them as such or not. I think many people feel strained relationships with family members or may not have the closest bond with all of their extended relatives. So we seek out the family that we are most drawn to…our best friends.
For the past year or so I’ve been thinking about our tabletop hobby in different ways. What are the driving factors behind what makes this hobby so special? Why have I been drawn into tabletop gaming in such an intense way? Many people would probably look at me and think I’m a fool for caring so much about essentially toys. For me however tabletop games are so much more than games, they are more than the colorful bits and pieces that come in the box. Tabletop games represent something. These games represent time spent together, relationships strengthened, new friends made, tabletop games can create a way of life that our world has lost in some part due to technology and how connected we are online. Due to our connection online we’ve forgotten in many ways how to connect offline.
Why read a book when you can watch the movie? Why read the book when you can read the Kindle, better yet why read at all when Audible can read for you? Technology has made our lives so much easier in so many ways and for many of us it’s made it so much harder. It’s less common to find people who prefer a physical connection with anything. I also find as a younger person who’s lived in the internet age it’s becoming harder and harder for people my age and younger to make a meaningful connection with another person in the analog world. It’s now estimated that 1 in 5 couples meet online.
I’ve also noticed that teenagers and pre-teens many times when standing in front of you will use meme’s or gifs as physical forms of communication. Instead of creating the narrative with another person, kids these days ( and you can picture me holding a cane as I say this) will dab in response to a question, or if there is a moment of silence will just floss in front of you. (It’s important to note that this is a dance not just good dental hygiene. It’s also important to note that dabbing isn’t cool anymore but this happened to me when it was.) So what’s a Millennial to do? Who will save us from our introverted and tech numbed reality and build a bridge to connect us with our elders and the other generations? In my life, my knight in shining armor has been tabletop gaming.
You see, tabletop gaming is special for many reasons and I think I’m beginning to understand some of them. One reason that the tabletop world is special is that it works the connection muscle that for many in younger generations has atrophied. Growing up playing video games and watching loads of movies and shows I learned that in the digital world conversation is easy and requires no effort from you. Younger adults and teenagers for hours on end live in worlds where the narrative is pre-fabricated and you converse with another person by pressing A, or clicking on a text option. No thought is required, and the story tells itself. In the real world conversation can be hard. You have to write the script on the go and if you’re unkind to someone they show hurt, and it’s real. So as a younger person who had somewhat lost my ability to connect with people, instead of just diving into society headfirst and meeting people I would often just withdraw. I never really met and connected with people other than coworkers and family for years.
When the tabletop gaming community came into my life however I made friends, lots of friends. In fact I’ve met more people and made more friends since the tabletop community has entered my life than my first 25 years of life combined. Why is this? Why is this hobby so conducive to connection? As I’ve discussed before I think it’s because tabletop games create a situation where you have to sit next to and across someone but no one’s focus is on each other. The focus is on a shared communal experience and for an introvert like me the pressure is off. I don’t have to make small talk or try and ask the right questions to make someone feel at ease…everyone already feels at ease. In this type of situation, most people are having fun and you can slowly get to know someone in a low stress way without having to try so hard. I will be the first to tell you that as an introvert, house parties can be a nightmare, team building events are torture and holiday gatherings can stress me out. With a game night or convention, the social pressure is off. No one is expecting me to be anything, or more importantly I won’t FEEL like anyone is expecting anything of me. Everyone is just hanging out, and looking to have fun.
For these reasons tabletop games create an atmosphere where you get to practice your possibly lacking social skills without any pressure at all. What happens often because of this is you make friends that you would have possibly not made had you not sat down at the table. I have friends from work and from other countries that I will consider lifelong friends thanks to gaming, and I don’t think I would have ever met them or known them in the same way were it not for tabletop games.
The other special thing about tabletop games is that they create family. Let me explain. Many people may not have family. Many people have family but for one silly reason or the other they don’t get along. Some people have family that they just can’t relate to. You will always be connected to your family but many times, your best friends feel more like family to you than your extended relations. It’s natural, you see them more, you probably have more in common with them, and you have a great time when you’re together. I think Harper Lee’s quote was poetic and true in so many ways. You choose your friends and they’re just as much family to you as your related family whether you want to admit it or not.
What I realized over this past year is that what I’ve been doing while getting to know some of these people that I play games with and setting up game nights and exploring D&D worlds is creating a gaming family. I’ve experienced life with people around a table. They were there when I was having rough times, they were there when I experienced great joy and some of them have talked me through life struggles. These people have become my family. I’m still very close to my brothers and sister and all of my family by blood, but I’ve extended that family by a sizable amount with the people I’ve come to know in this hobby. The reason that is so special to me is that it makes me so excited for others to experience this type of connection. If you have no family, or you have lost those that were closest to you, there are wonderful people that you can connect with in the tabletop gaming hobby. There are groups of wonderful people that meet up weekly at your friendly local game store and can be your support group, your closest ally, your best friend, the possibilities are endless and tabletop games can be the catalyst.
Now obviously my experience may be different than yours, but I submit that tabletop games create an atmosphere of acceptance and connection and that’s a special thing. So my piece of unsolicited advice for today is play a game, create your gaming family, you may not realize just how much your life could change.