When I was little, I was the weird kid who went to my school library to read the encyclopedia for fun. Most other books bored me because they were too linear. My school’s encyclopedia, however, was interactive. I could instantly move from one topic to the next without feeling bored. I always got bored reading regular books because they were too linear. As a kid in the 80s with undiagnosed ADHD, I wasn’t a linear thinker. When I was about eight years old, my mother tried to encourage me to read by introducing me to Choose Your Own Adventure books. This series of books allowed me to read them over and over again. The adventures in these books were designed to be short, nonlinear, and interactive. I could read them over and over again without getting bored. This was my first experience with interactive media that shaped my love for Tabletop Roleplaying Games like Dungeons & Dragons.
After reading many, many Choose Your Own Adventure books, I was introduced to the world of text-based adventure games that I could play on my home computer. It was 1985, I was 9 years old, and I had not yet been introduced to Dungeons & Dragons. However, my parents bought me a TI-99/4a, a home computer that I could call my very own. I hooked it up to a spare television set and I started creating my own role-playing game worlds after teaching myself to use the BASIC programming language. There was one adventure game called “The Hermit” that I found in a copy of Compute! Magazine. I remember painstakingly typing it into my computer, one keystroke at a time. Often, I would find other games like this one, written in BASIC, and modify them. A few other times, I forced myself to write games from scratch. Over the years, as technology evolved, I became interested in creating content for internet-based Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs), which were the predecessors of the modern MMO. By this time, I still hadn’t been introduced to the concept of tabletop roleplaying yet, but I had nonetheless been adept at generating maps, puzzles, and narratives for interactive computer games I created.
The first tabletop roleplaying game I ever played was the already out of print Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game by FASA. It was 1993, I was 17, and I had just joined a group of roleplayers that had been playing Dungeons & Dragons, along with a plethora of other TTRPGs since the late 1970s. This group became my source for some of the oldest and closest friendships of my life. Every week, we visited what became an openly shared office space that we affectionately called, The Office. For years, office space was rented for the exclusive purpose of us having a neutral place to play anytime any of us wanted. To this day, this group has become a steadfast legacy of the late highschool math teacher, JJ Garza, who always ensured the gaming community he founded and cultivated had a place to play, ever since he started an after-school D&D club for some of his favorite students in 1977.
For me, games like D&D are more than just collaborative stories. They’re opportunities to deeply connect with friends in the same way lifelong bonds are forged in real life situations. Through a game’s rules and structure, we will develop a story that is uniquely our own that we can share with one another. We will experience shared glories through our successes, and shared trauma through our failures. And with a little luck, the fortunes that we earn are ones of life-long friendships, and the empires that we build will be with those we come to call family.