When I was 25 years old, I struggled in vain to form a punk rock band, considered myself a “political outsider,” and dreamed of becoming the next great American poet. I’m almost 30 now, and all I want to do is play Dungeons and Dragons.
People say, ever so frequently, that your 20’s are about finding yourself. And after years spent struggling, I found my nine-year-old self sitting alone in my room drawing boxy future-guns on a legal pad. I’ve lived the past few years much happier for the discovery that this dorky little kid is both who I am and who I want to be. So I spend Sunday afternoons drawing maps of fantastical landscapes to use in my home campaign rather than pretending like I’m enjoying some social outing. But I’m beginning to wonder if I may have taken it a step too far.
Is the next step in the natural progression of life to slowly recede from everything? I mean, I probably should care what people in the real world do, right? It would be nice to know what art is being made and be able to make small talk about the news, I guess. I don’t want people to know that I no longer listen to NPR. But, I just can’t seem to muster the desire to hear about things that are happening halfway across the world when I can roll weird shaped dice with my friends instead. Am I slowly becoming the worst type of person? Am I set firmly on a path towards middle-aged ignorance and a life of insignificance?!
I wouldn’t call the exploits of Ya’leh Yessir, mystical knight, secret agent, and champion of the underdog, insignificant. I would say she’s a pretty rad level 3 fighter/wizard with a fully fleshed out backstory and a tricked out character sheet. She’s already defeated a primordial god and defended a small island from a demonic pirate ship. So, you know, not very insignificant at all.
I once worked in a shipyard, surrounded by old men clinging to a previous generation’s ideals of machismo. And while working there, a particularly hot-headed, ex-Navy chief told me this: “Young men are liberal if they have a heart and old men are conservative if they have a brain.” I’m sure he read it on a presidential quote calendar that one of his likely estranged children bought for him (birthdays are always real head-scratchers when your dad’s a dick). I’m afraid to even approach understanding that quote or siding with this particular guy on anything. He also once sent me a cartoon of a crying Kleenex box with the caption “Here’s a tissue for your issue.” But I don’t believe I can change the world anymore. I feel defeated when I admit that to myself. But it’s stupid to think otherwise, isn’t it? Somewhere between Bush and Obama, I didn’t become a pessimist, did I?
At the pizza place I worked at during college, I remember being so passionate about the things I would hear my delivery driver listening to on talk radio as we closed for the night. I remember the drawn-out arguments we would have about immigration as he mopped the floor and I counted the money in the register. I remember coming to agreements rarely. We don’t talk anymore and at my new jobs I avoid talking about politics as much as possible.
When I was young, I played role-playing video games by myself to cope. I used my imagination to distract myself from reality. It was a defense mechanism. Is that something I should embrace? Self-acceptance is wonderful. But should I have ever created Python the trike-riding green-and-black-robed ninja warrior to begin with? I probably should have joined a baseball team like my dad had hoped for.
I don’t want to be one of those types of people who is only concerned with their house and their car and their neighborhood. I don’t want to be a Reagan Youth. And I don’t want to be distracted by the life of comfort I have. But I am easily the happiest I’ve ever been. I have a good job. I have money in the bank. My girlfriend buys me flowers. I am now the type of person who is capable of flossing his teeth on a semi-regular basis, for God’s sake. So how do I be true to myself when all my heart earnestly wants is to indulge in the utterly insignificant and fantastical?
I read recently that dragons in the D&D mythos have a hierarchy based on age. The older a dragon is, the more powerful it becomes. For example, an ancient red dragon will have survived thousands of years of pillaging and grown to a gargantuan size. It will have collected a legendary hoard of treasure which it cherishes above all else. Such a dragon is all-but-impervious while sheltered in its lair, surrounded by its fortune. And why go outside where there are bands of adventurers waiting to kill you, when the cool feeling of golden coins and sparkling gems can keep you happy for eternity?