Connection in Isolation
Isolation seems to be the perfect time to pick up new hobbies. I have seen friends learn how to knit, bake bread, garden, sew, paint, and much more. There are so many opportunities to learn that certain skill and now, we finally have the time. But there’s one age-old, tried and true hobby that, in my opinion, reigns supreme: getting together with a group of friends through digital means and settling in with fuzzy blankets to tell stories.
These aren’t traditional stories where one of us speaks and the others listen. No, these are interactive, collaborative stories. Together, we build the narrative, roll some dice, and see where our imaginations take us for hours on end.
With the majority of people now working from home for the foreseeable future, there is suddenly so much more free time. We aren’t spending the majority of our day commuting to and from an office. Not being around our friends can feel isolating, lonely, potentially even creatively stifling. We humans are natural storytellers, working together to paint grand adventures with our words. That’s what we are constantly striving to accomplish. Whether it’s written or spoken, we string together words, phrases, sentences, details, applying our verbal brush to the awaiting blank canvas of our imaginations.
In the past decade, such storytelling has experienced an unprecedented boom in popularity. Roleplaying games exist in the hundreds, ranging from mainstream games like Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder to indie games like Monster of the Week and Monsterhearts, each bringing unique twists to fantasy, science fiction, horror, and more. And while Dungeons and Dragons maybe be one of the most well-known systems, having been around since Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson sat down and devised what would become the 1st Edition in 1974, it isn’t the only choice. Say you want to tell a story that isn’t centered around high fantasy adventures of magic, wizards, elves, and gods – you want something more flexible, more modern. The Powered By The Apocalypse system, designed by Meguey and Vincent Baker, has welcomed dozens of unique settings while still using the same rules system. While the “Dungeon World” setting is still based in fantasy, “Monster of the Week” takes a more Scooby-Doo twist to investigating modern monsters and mysteries. Then, of course, there’s more cosmic horror adventures like Call of Cthulhu and The Dresden files, where players can experience the incomprehensible terror of H.P. Lovecraft and Jim Butcher. Whatever mood you want to set, whatever tale you want to tell, there are dozens upon dozens of options to help you and your friends create an immersive experience.
The best part of trying out a roleplaying game comes from gathering the resources to play. You don’t need to invest in pricey rulebooks or accumulate a hoard of dice – although that’s arguably the best part of getting hooked. Many systems offer free, downloadable PDFs and basic rules available on their websites. There are online resources like Roll20 that function as online databases of ready-to-play games complete with customizable systems and settings, including assets to build visuals and background music to accentuate your tales. And when it comes to actually coming together, nothing is more important than being able to see and hear your fellow storytellers. Google Hangouts, Discord, Skype, and Zoom are just a few programs that can allow you to be with your friends almost as if you were there in person.
I like to think that everyone has a story to tell, whether they know it or not. As is the nature of roleplaying games, the person in charge of running the game doesn’t have to know the whole story from the beginning. If anything, all they need is a good idea and a basic outline – and the players take it from there. Everyone involved helps to craft the story, learning how to cooperate, troubleshoot, and improvise in real-time situations to determine what happens next. And most importantly, the stories you and your friends tell are entirely unique. Even if you follow a published module or stick to pre-written story beats, there’s always bound to be an errant dice roll or sudden character choice that throws the whole plot out the window in the best, and most chaotic, way possible.
It is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to bring together a group of friends who want to have some fun and be together as much as they can in the face of isolation and social distancing. Together, we can burn off some of that pent-up energy from not being able to leave the house. We can laugh, cry, fail, and succeed together, forging and strengthening our bonds before, during, and after our games. As distant and digital as it may be, when we’re in the moment we forget that we’re not actually sitting around a table side-by-side. Distance doesn’t have to be a factor in when and how you see your friends and spend some time together. So, go ahead and tell that story you’ve always wanted to. And get your friends in on it too, while you’re at it.
Aysel Atamdede is a MA/MFA student at Chapman University and Assistant Editor at Anastamos. She graduated from Santa Clara University with a BA in English and minored in Studio Art, specializing in fiction and animation.
You can follow her on Twitter @AyzPlz