Paper Over Plastic

Ever wonder how Dungeons & Dragons might save society? Me neither, but I had an epiphany while I was blowing the leaves from my yard today and it came to me in the form of a shameless hashtag: #PaperOverPlastic

The message isn’t new—paper is better for the environment than plastic. Paper bags biodegrade and can easily be recycled. Plastic bags take eons to break down (I think there might be some, still floating around from the Big Bang), and they choke fish and other cute (and not so cute) animals. If we want to keep the planet hospitable to human life, we have to cut down on the amount of plastic we use. We all know this, or at least should, and society seems to be on an increasing trend to mitigate the amount of plastic (especially single-use, nonrecyclable) that is used.

Yeah, okay…but what does that have to do with Dungeons & Dragons, saving society?

D&D is to paper bags, what video games are to plastic bags. I got into D&D when I was in high school (back when we chiseled our homework onto boards of slate). Second edition had just come out and everyone was excited about the new rules and system. My friends and I would meet up and someone’s house and throw some dice. It was great! We’d spend hours, making our character, rolling stats, creating a backstory, really bringing him/her to life. Video cames were up and coming, but they were still pretty simple and just inching into the realm where kids would spend entire days playing a game.

When I got older, I joined the Army as a scout (reconnaissance specialist), the most forward operating job, the eyes and ears of the Army. Lucky for me, there was no shortage of D&D nerds. Only now, we did things a little different. We didn’t have parents to beg for permission. We had spouses. But we didn’t beg them for permission. We convinced our spouses to play D&D with us and dragged them along for the fun. We stayed up all night, of course, living vicariously through our characters as we spun such amazing tales that could rarely be found in a book. We laughed, we cried, we choked on pizza.

When I deployed to Iraq for combat, one of my friends had a set of D&D books (v. 3.5) sent to us. I created a campaign for us, and in our downtime between patrols, we threw dice. We even convinced a few naysayers to try, and they fell in love with gaming.

I look at how far video games have come since the 8-bit Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy and I am truly astonished. The graphics on are spectacular and so vivid compared to the blocky games I played in high school. Now, kids can join in on games with people from across the world, and talk to people of different cultures and nations. In one aspect, video games are bringing those cultures and peoples together in a similar way to social media; however, just as with social media, the nature of its vast network is also very isolating. People can spend hours (or even days), holed up in their rooms with little to no physical contact with the outside world (other than the people holed up in their rooms, playing the same game). Friendships can form over gaming networks, but meeting and playing online is as pseudo as the game itself, and few people feel a true sense of accomplishment after playing a video game for hours or days on end, gaining a level, acquiring a rare item, making that trick headshot. We want that time to feel meaningful, and when we’re children it may feel that way; however, as we get older we never sit back and regale our families with tales of all those hours and days spent shooting Nazi zombies. Excluding Leroy Jenkins, there are very few moments when video games make the list of a person’s fondest moments in life. They’re mostly just fun and laced with dopamine-releasing stimuli.

Therein lies the main differences between D&D and video games. It’s easy to spend hours and days, playing either; however, Dungeons & Dragons brings a few friends together, to hang out and enjoy each other’s time and company. Video games isolate people in their rooms. Some video games like MMORPG’s and first-person shooters are multi-player, but they can also be played solo. D&D requires that people come together to play. It demands that friends and family eschew their electronic devices and spend active, engaging time with one another. Some of my fondest memories involve a paper character sheet, a set of D20 dice, and a group of people (some friends, some newcomers) huddled around a table.

As society diverges more and more along its split path, where people have become hyperbolic with their judgments of others based on a single post or knee-jerk reaction, we are forgetting what it means to belong to a society and culture. We state things on the internet, or while gaming, that we would never tell someone in person; things that are hurtful, demeaning, or otherwise rude; things that drive a further wedge into society. Personally, I blame a lack of physical interaction that social media and video games have exacerbated. But it’s difficult for tabletop games to compete with video games that trigger dopamine releases like a Facebook “shares”. People don’t have to wait until the end of a chapter or travel all the way to a friend’s house anymore. Instant gratification can be had from the comfort of your chair.

More and more children (and adults) are spending more and more time alone, pseudo-socializing across a digital network of ones and zeroes. We are spending less and less time in each other’s presence, doing things together, creating fond, lasting memories that we are proud of, and want to share.

So, how can D&D save society?

By choosing #PaperOverPlastic.

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