This year, the most reliable indicator of hard-core geekdom turns 40 years old. And for anyone out there who thinks only the nerdiest of the nerds can wield a 20-sided die, keep in mind, Vin Diesel, Stephen Colbert and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson are among those nerds. 

Big deal, you might say. So some game is having a birthday party. Big whoop. 

The saying “don’t knock it till you try it” comes to mind. 

For the uninitiated, Dungeons & Dragons (along with subsequent versions, offshoots and iterations) is a Role Playing Game (RPG) that allows people to decide what type of hero or villain they want to be, and what abilities they want them to have. Then, after everyone has created their characters, a “Dungeon Master” or DM will lead the group (usually 4-6) on an adventure. The adventures can be short campaigns with a single objective, or multi-layered story arcs stretching over years. 

Yes, YEARS. 

As the characters progress and defeat their enemies, they gain experience points which can be used to level up. (see also: gain new strengths and attributes.) 

The allure of this particular type of gameplay is, it can take place entirely through dialog, leaving the scene and world entirely in each player’s imagination. 

Director Jon Favreau reportedly credits Dungeons & Dragons with giving him “… a really strong background in imagination, storytelling, understanding how to create tone and a sense of balance.” 

The controversy surrounding Dungeons & Dragons is long and storied. When the game first gained wide popularity, christian groups denounced the game as promoting satanism and the occult.

© Philip J. Hall

But what did D&D really do? It gave kids who might otherwise be socially inept (to a certain degree) the ability to become someone else. To take on the form of a powerful warrior, or a skilled magician. It entertained, socialized, and enriched the storytelling imaginations of generations of geeks. And I count myself in that group. 

Mason Froberg, Co-owner of Dungeons End in Duluth, has been on earth as long as Dungeons and Dragons. And while he has shared a lifespan with the game itself, aside from a bit of dabbling, Froberg didn’t really get into the role of Dungeon Master until he opened his game shop. 

“I run a campaign of Pathfinder every Sunday for three hours,” Froberg said. The game is open for people to watch.

Speaking for myself, as a geek from way back, I didn’t start dabbling in the RPG world until the last couple of years. In that brief experience I’ve had with the game, I would agree that playing the game facilitates meaningful, interpersonal contact. Not like the contact you have with people at work, or your core-group of friends. Playing this game collaboratively, allows a group of people to form something of a bond. 

Sure, it’s not quite as strong as two guys in the same foxhole, but there is a sort of brotherhood that is gained by finishing an epic campaign together. 

And maybe society could use a little more cohesion, and a little less division.