By Matt Powers
I play Dungeons and Dragons. There I said it. I have played it for twenty years, and now have a biweekly game. I am the Dungeon Master. I craft adventures, campaigns, and stories. I build fantastic worlds, delightful characters, and vile enemies. I play all the characters my players interact with. Together we adopt roles, converse, act, react, and resolve conflicts. It is a unique share creative experience, but, essentially, we create theater akin to creating episodes in a series.
While the connections between role playing games and drama are there, I’d like to take a moment to discuss a related theme. Depending on my audience, when I tell people I play Dungeons and Dragons and they look at me like I am some hydra, I sometimes quickly follow up with labeling it as time for “structured creativity.” This is purely to re-frame the conversation to help them understand what it is we engage in, because, more often than not, they have no clue about the game beyond the stereotypes they have encountered.
The benefits of this time for structured creativity have been enormous. It has rekindled my imagination in childlike ways and put my back in touch with the exhilaration of imagining. When I sit down to work on the game, I ravenously search for something new. Something the players have never encountered. I paw through books, websites, and magazines for inspiration. Pay attention the world around me a bit more closely in hopes transforming my experiences.
There are also other skills I get to exercise here: problem solving, crafting an adventure where everyone can shine, providing challenge and danger, improvisation, managing personalities, adjudication, and many others. From creating an adventure to playing it out, I get to utilize all manner of “critical thinking” skills, and, upon reflection, this has sharpened my other creative endeavors. I have a clearer sense of what makes an entertaining and satisfying piece of theater or fiction. I pay more attention to the rhythm of the piece, its moods, and how to modulate them for effect.
But, most importantly, I get to have fun. There are eight in the group, so twice a month we sit around the table, play a game, role play, create story, and laugh. The ingenuity that arises is spectacular, dynamic, infectious. Once one of us does something the rest finds wonderful or hilarious, that moment inspires a chain reaction of other creative ideas. There is a palpable energy in the air when we play, and three or four hours seem to disappear.
I guess the best part of this time, for me, is other people, and seeing (again) that storytelling isn’t always a solo work of genius, but a group having fun.