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When I Was A Rhino-Man: The Importance of Role Playing Games

Saying that role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons are childish is BALONEY. Nay, not bologna, the blue collar worker of the processed lunch meats, which at least some people enjoy. It’s more like pimento loaf. Everybody hates that stuff.

Saying that role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons are childish is PURE PIMENTO LOAF. Let me tell you a story to illustrate. We’re powering up the True Life Time Machine™ ’cause I’m fixin’ to take you back to my early high school years.

Becoming a Rhino-Man: The Importance of Role Playing Games

I was into comic books, particularly the X-men and Wolverine, buying them religiously off of drug store spinner racks. My friend David was getting into comics as well, plus he had been introducing me to D&D miniatures. I even bought a couple custom painted miniatures from him, miniatures that I have to this day.

A few weekend evenings David invited a group of us guys to crash at his place, where we could read comics and play role playing games. An invite like that was an easy ‘yes’, particularly because David had a pet boa constrictor that lived in his bath tub.

Zoat
A crash of Zoats.

Our game for one weekend was Warhammer 40K and the character I rolled was a Zoat, which was pretty much the love baby of a human and a rhinoceros. (Warhammer 40K fans, does a Zoat even exist as a character option any more? I’d love to know.)

Surrounded by buddies and playing a game where I pretended I was a futuristic rhino-man were important moments for me as a teenager, even if it’s difficult to articulate. I mean, let’s not overplay this thing. It’s not like my merry band of buddies were thrust into a pocket space between universes where we battled goateed versions of ourselves for the very fate of our alternate futures or anything.

But my halcyon days playing RPGs as a rhino-man were not nothing. Role playing games absolutely contributed positively to my development as a human being, and certainly to my becoming a life-long geek.

I am introverted and when I was a kid I was extremely shy and withdrawn as well. Like any other kid I wanted to fit in and be normal, and I awkwardly and embarrassingly accumulated a list of failures when I tried to be cool. I was a nerd, plain and simple. I was more likely to get a wedgie than get invited to a party, which was well enough, as I was too scared and shy to cut a rug anyway.

Not us. But I'd get along well with these kids.
Not us. But I’d get along well with these kids.

Spending a Friday evening rescuing Princess Zelda or pretending to be a rhino-man was more comfortable to me than a school dance. I found my people among nerds.

Plus, I had my video games and I had my RPGs, and they taught me a lot about life and about myself. Through my high school years playing Warhammer 40K and Dungeons and Dragons, I learned that any obstacle can be overcome through some very simple principles: creative problem solving, understanding systems, imagination, and perseverance.

Sure, those principles were buried behind piles of discarded soda cans and empty Doritoes bags, but I learned them while surrounded by loyal friends, all while facing creatures likes dragons and beholders. Oh yeah, and while roleplaying a rhino-man.

In the meantime, my “normal” peers spent their weekends getting drunk, getting high, and taking part in other activities that were seen as much more mainstream and normal than playing games in a basement.

But by playing “childish” games, my friends and I became adults.

These games of wholly imaginative scenarios have had a tangible benefit on my life. Rather than mere escapism, there is a benefit of the fantasy world in daily life. Not only is D&D fun to play, but it is a source of great meaning.

No Longer A Rhino-Man: The Importance of Role Playing Games

My daughter, playing an RPG with her dad.
My daughter, playing an RPG with her dad.

Nowadays I don’t have the flexibility to devote an entire weekend to role-playing games, but if I had my druthers, I’d play RPGs until the cows come home. But at some point we can’t have the cows do that. Those cows need to get jobs in the big city and become self-sufficient. Grow up, cows. Quit playing games in your friends’ basements.

Alas, I largely had to quit playing games in basements, even if I am fortunately able to host the occasional game in my own basement. But to do so I have to rearrange my kids’ toys to make room for a gaming table.

As that happens, I look at my kids and I hope they have a childhood were they can play childish games that teach them lessons about what it means to be an adult.