The Twenty-Sided Self: In Celebration of Role-Playing Games / by Orey Wilson

Let me start by saying, If you haven't seen Stranger Things, move it to the top of your viewing list. In addition to being a brilliantly written show with complex, lovable characters, it showcases something I've come to be incredibly passionate about with an innocence and vigor I never expected from a main-stream show: Role-Playing Games.

My first experience with and RPG was in college. a few of my fraternity brothers began playing the RPG, Pathfinder, and I could hardly contain my judgement toward them. They gathered in a dimly lit basement with two-liters of soda and bags of chips with papers and pens. Hours later they'd resurface with smirks, babbling about dwarves. I couldn't comprehend their interest in Dungeons & Dragons but, all too often, those in glass houses spend too much time Windexing and not enough time looking out. So, I tracked down their leader (AKA "Dungeon Master"), Patrick, and asked me to explain why they liked it so much.

He explained the plot they were playing through, the mountains and forests they were traversing, the underground puzzles they faced. He told me about the dice that decided their fate and the math that built their characters. And, honestly, my immediate thought was, "That sounds dumb." But, as my mind tends to respond to damn-near everything, it continued with, "I bet I could do it better". So, I spent the next few weeks taking what I knew about story-writing and board games and made something happen.

My first game was called, "Erronail, An Adventure". I decided to forego many of the things I found to be cliche: elves, labyrinthine catacombs, and the ever-present threat of goddamn dragons. Instead of making a game about a story, I wanted to make a story that read as a game. I made a plot about religious intolerance, racism and hate crimes (things I find myself thinking about often). I invited a few of my friends (some who played Dungeons & Dragons and some, like me, who had always found it to be lame) and we began.

Within ten minutes of game-time, I was addicted. I had created a story with characters that could talk, walk and make their own decisions, regardless of my plans. My characters were fighting with me and against me. My plot flew out the window within minutes and I had to frantically think "what the hell would happen next" basically the whole time. But, at the end of the three hours, I had a story far greater than I could've made on my own.

That was five years ago. Since then I have written fifteen different games with over twenty different people. It's become one of my greatest passions and has deepened my love of writing more than I ever expected. I get to explore political issues that trouble my "real" life through the fictional worlds I create. My personal turmoils can work themselves out through the characters and plot decisions my players make. 

Without spoiling anything, Stranger Things brings an RPG into the spotlight and shows how problem-solving skills and comradery in the game affected the way the main characters viewed the world around them in a positive light. They saw the world as a game, one where the stakes were lethally high and the goals were near-on impossible. But, they still knew that there were rules, things to be understood, and people beside them the whole way. (I obviously love this show. One might say I give it 11-out-of-10? ...#Dadjokes.)

So, why should you care? Because this is a call to arms or, more specifically, a call to the table. If you've never played a Role-Playing Game, find a game store, find a friend that plays, or just get a Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set online and start your own game. It doesn't matter how you start, but play one. Create a character. Make decisions based on your character's backstory, outlook, hopes, goals. Get out from in front of your take what you see on your Netflix shows or your favorite novel and experience the limitless possibilities of fictional worlds for yourself. Good luck and roll high.