[Editor’s note: This is part of a series of articles by Chandra Reyer and Timothy Connolly examining the relevance of analog games in a digital world and the first in a series regarding the Long Island sandbox Timothy runs.]
It’s a hobby first. It’s a game second.
Where I come from, hobbies are thought of as the tangible making of something, to keep oneself busy during leisure time, in the pursuit of the pleasure derived from it. Building model cars and making stained-glass art are two such examples of hobbies that I was exposed to at a young age.
Games that I was exposed to at a young age included western chess (older Asian styles of chess would come much later,) and Mille Bornes (a card game that my Mama enjoyed, seeing as we lived just a few minutes south of Quebec, and I reckon she enjoyed exposing me to French culture, in a way that was both educational and fun.) Thinking of tabletop RPGing as a hobby 1st, and a game 2nd, paved a golden road for me to immerse myself into it all, in ways that were both meaningful and memorable.
The importance of in-person tabletop RPGing is well-documented. Tabletop RPGing boosts social skills, math skills, problem-solving, and reading comprehension. Tabletop RPGing builds friendships, teaches teamwork, broadens horizons, and stimulates creative thinking.
And, when is a tabletop RPG more than a tabletop RPG? When it’s a collaborative hobby, of course. Coloring. Drawing. Mapmaking. Painting. Playtesting. Worldbuilding. Writing.
Even tabletop RPGing of the “cheap thrill” variety (as disposable as it can be,) still offers different kinds of benefits for hobbyists than digital gaming does, and that’s fine for what it is. Tabletop RPGing can be so much more than simply just getting together with a few jaded friends, throwing some dice around while shooting the breeze, and it ought to be much more than just that. In your heart of hearts, you know it to be true. My own hobbyist experiences since the 1970s have taught me well. After years of having been affiliated with gaming/hobby shops on Long Island, I’ve seen that the tabletop RPGing groups with notable longevity are driven by those who approach it as a hobby 1st, and a game 2nd.
Discovery of the 1e AD&D hobby in 1978/1979 showed a certain circle of my grade school pals (myself included) the power/potential of imagination/inspiration in ways that hadn’t been shown to us before. We had a skilled DM in Paul Mule, and we had time to kill. None of us were too sure of the rules. We were young kids. I was 7, and I was the youngest of the bunch. We knew the difference between a good time and a great time though, and the 1e AD&D hobby was a great time. We didn’t use minifigs. We didn’t have a sandbox. What we had was trap-laden dungeon crawls on blue graph-paper maps, created and hand-drawn by Paul. Our adventures were meat-grinders. Fond memories of a PC named Slivil the 19th still swirl around inside my mind today. If you’re guessing that the PC’s name was Slivil the 19th because it was the PC’s 19th attempt to survive another one of Paul’s murder castles, your guess would be correct. We learned that PCs are little more than wheat beneath a harvest moon. This hobby can be humbling. It can teach us life-lessons if we pay careful attention to its whispers.
Far more than simply just another children’s game of pretend, 1e AD&D taught us another way to co-exist, another way to learn about eachother, and another way to learn about ourselves. One by one, almost all of my 20th century D&D comrades outgrew the hobby (for as many reasons as there are stars in the sky.) A few of us still do enjoy the hobby today (including Paul Mule, my very first DM from 1978, who DMs a newer edition of it online today.) We understand the importance of its teachings. And, each time we enjoy the hobby, in any of its aspects, our minds grow a little bit stronger.
Tabletop RPGing isn’t just for grown-ups. Today’s younger generations can also reap the rewards of all that this hobby has to offer. It’s no longer the 1970s, but the hobby’s lessons are still there for us today, waiting to be learned, and waiting to be taught by those among us who still enjoy, practice, study, and teach. Other hobbies in the mainstream (such as acting, cooking, cosplaying, crocheting, hiking, fantasy sports, gardening, golfing, knitting, reading, and swimming) all have their redeeming qualities too. Is there room for tabletop RPGing in the mainstream? It’s a good question, especially with D&D having recently been given a real boost from STRANGER THINGS S01. One answer to the question is “Yes, there’s room for it in the mainstream. Of course there is. See it for what it is. Enjoy it for what it is. Don’t get carried away with it, of course, not unlike the way that you wouldn’t get carried away with any other hobby. Do set time aside for the enjoyment of it from time to time though.”
To celebrate (and commemorate) my 30th year of the hobby, a sandbox was created on Long Island in 2008, intended for the enjoyment of the classic G1 module. The sandbox was named Benchleydale. A hastily-drawn map on one simple 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of copy paper is all it was. It would later come to be known as “the little map that could,” and these were the humble beginnings of something which would come to mean so much to so many of Long Island’s younger tabletop RPGers. It became a real window into the past; into the 1970s, when the hobby was just coming into its own. Together, we had become curators of a living, breathing museum or time capsule.
Join us for Part Two of Long Island Sandbox next week!