You’re standing at the threshold of the dragon’s layer. The stench of sulfur and rotting meat wafts from inside the cave. You can hear the faint rumblings of the dragon’s deep breaths. The battle will be dangerous, but the treasure from the dragon’s hoard would be enough to live off of for 10,000 lifetimes.
What will you do?
If dangerous adventures like this one appeal to you, you aren’t alone. Tabletop games such as “Dungeons & Dragons” (D&D) have experienced a sharp resurgence among young adults, according to The New Yorker.
Meet Megan Hendricks, a D&D player and future engineer
Megan Hendricks, junior mechanical engineering major, began playing D&D during her time at Georgia Southern University, but the game always had a place in her childhood.
“I always had a passing interest with it because of my dad. He’s a huge ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ [player]. He actually has the first edition books, so those were very ‘Do not touch,'” Hendricks said. “But they were very big in our family. He always tried to get us into it.”
When Hendricks came to GS, she met a group of friends who enjoyed playing tabletop games like D&D. The game has been a huge part of her life ever since.
Through D&D, Hendricks and her friends move beyond the boundaries of normal conversation and enter a world of imagination. She said the game brings out her friends’ creativity and problem-solving skills.
“You don’t normally try to problem-solve some kind of mythical fantasy problems, like dragons or goblins,” Hendricks said. “In our friend group, we do. It allows you to build a closer friendship because you guys are creating something together.”
At GS, Hendricks focuses on aerospace engineering in her studies. Between study sessions, playing D&D provides her stress relief and she gets to make new friends.
“[D&D is] one way to get out of your shell,” Hendricks said. “I know when people picture D&D, they picture the huge nerds who sit in Mom’s basement and don’t come out much, but it really does give you a whole new exploration. It’s the best escapist reality.”
From niche activity to popular fun
When the first version of the game was published in 1974, it became the center of a massive controversy. People decried the game for its supernatural elements, while others worried it would cause teens to lose touch with reality. D&D remained in the realm of the niche, sparking little interest in the mainstream.
The fifth edition of D&D debuted in 2014. Stores found it difficult to keep the print addition on shelves. In an interview with Polygon, lead developer Mike Mearls said “…More people are interested in D&D than we thought.”
In a world filled with technology and everyday responsibilities, some people find the idea of escaping into a realm of magic and adventure appealing. The New Yorker reports that therapists now use D&D to help children face their problems and develop social skills.
In 2016, GS’ own theatre department featured the play “She Kills Monsters,” in which a girl uses a D&D game to cope with the loss of her sister.
The incorporation of D&D into traditional media might have had something to do with this recent spike. The Demogorgon-fighting kids in the Netflix series “Stranger Things” play the roleplaying game and the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” features an episode where the character Sheldon runs a game of D&D to help Bernadette forget the stresses of pregnancy.
The biggest contributor to this renaissance, however, may have been the internet. Online programs such as “Roll20” now enable players to hold their sessions online. Rule books, player’s guides and adventure paths are now available in PDF form, making them easily accessible.
Millennials and escapism
Universities across the country have D&D Adventure Leagues and Pathfinder Societies devoted to creating and running games for students. Other tabletop role-playing games, such as the horror game “Call of Cthulu” and the superhero-inspired “Mutants and Masterminds,” provide a different gaming experience for those who want something other than a high-fantasy experience.
The Washington Post reports that Millennials have higher rates of depression and mental illness than previous generations. Forbes also reports that Millennials experience Imposter’s Syndrome at higher levels than their older coworkers.
With these compounding problems, is it any wonder that Millennials are looking for a means of escape?
Will you be a beautiful sorceress who is descended from a long line of arcane heroes? A half-orc brawler who survived on the streets with his wits and fists? An elven druid whose only companion is their loyal wolf?
“[D&D] is escapist in the extreme,” Hendricks said. “It’s better than a movie, it’s better than a video game, because you can literally do anything you can imagine.”
In a world that tells you to get a job, get a degree and pay your bills, “Dungeons & Dragons” is there to ask a single question: what will you do?