It’s Never Just a Game
A roleplaying game fulfills many purposes; more than “just a game”, it is an outlet for creativity, a vehicle for socializing. Games can get us out among our friends when times are hard, providing a diversion if only for a few hours. Good games have the power to make us laugh or cry, to make us think, to transport us across the world or across the universe. I was ten years old when I first encountered Dungeons & Dragons, while camping out in a friend’s back yard, and it quickly became one of the touchstones of my youth. It became my outlet, my drug; it let me express my imagination at a time when I had no other way. Before ever I decided to pursue writing, I was a D&D player.
D&D followed me through middle school and high school; it was with me when I got my first job. And when I lost that job a few days later, it was on D&D modules that I spent my first meager pay check. The game allowed me to meet new friends; it gave me a common language through which I could communicate with members of the fairer sex. D&D brought me my first girlfriend. It was there during my first angsty teen break-up, as well. Through jobs, college, courting, marriage, divorce, poverty, near-homelessness, recovery, rebirth, eventual stability and success as a writer, roleplaying games always had my back.
But that life-long love very nearly did not survive 2011. Since 2007, I’d been the primary caregiver for my parents – both of whom were terminally ill. At first, it was mild duty: keep prescriptions filled, make sure medicines were consumed, cook, clean, and run errands. But, terminal illness is merely a more palatable euphemism for death spiral, and before long my days were filled with coordinating doctors’ visits and Home Hospice schedules; my nights, long and sleepless, were consumed with worry over the thousand details of two lives slowly winding down. Through mini-strokes and falls, through MRIs and x-rays and the slow decay of dementia, games and fantasy grew less important. Then came 2011. My Dad died in my arms, that April; Mom died just a few months later, on a mild October day.
Grief is a curious beast. It worms its way into mind and soul. It seeks what is good and comforting and it feeds upon that. Grief rends. It shreds the good in you and leaves you hollow. And in its clutches, things I once found solace in became burdensome – grim reminders that I had not died with them. After years in close proximity with Death, I had to learn to live, again. And three people bear the most responsibility for that: my wife, Shannon; my friend Mido, and Grimnir, who was by and large a figment of my imagination.
I learned to breathe. I discovered a life beyond medicine bottles and the Damocles Sword of Hospice. Piece by piece, I rebuilt the man I am now from the ruin of what was left by my parents’ grave. Shannon gave me strength; Mido taught me hope, and Grimnir became my voice. I found the words, again. And earlier this month, after six years, I rediscovered the joy of gaming.
To celebrate Orctober I played D&D for the first time since 2011. It was via Google Hangouts, and it was FUCKING GLORIOUS! Myself, Ashe, James Jakins, Leigh Petersen, and our DM Garrett Schmigle played a game in which we were all Orcs. Left to fend for ourselves after the rout of our horde, we salvaged something from that ignominious defeat and forged an army from the survivors – an army that includes Barkley the Goblin and Grumchuck the Ettin. An army that somehow, some way, found itself being led by Grimnir.
I feel like a part of me has come back home – a part that was lost, that was mourned and believed dead. It’s a little shabby, a little bruised, a little rough around the edges, but I recognized it even as it recognized me: my younger self, and already it has made me promise we will play, again.
All of this is just a fancy way of saying thanks: thanks to Ashe for setting it up and not letting me forget; to James, Leigh, and Garrett for playing; to Shannon for listening to my breathless recitation of how Grimnir and Barkley blew up a hillside. And to Grimnir, for once again being the vehicle by which I found a part of me I thought was lost…