There are two notable life experiences that I managed to avoid during my first 50 years of life. The first ultimately did come to pass in 2022, just before my 51st birthday. It was brought to my attention by my current dentist, who dejectedly informed me that I had a cavity. It was my first (and hopefully only!) cavity, held at bay for so long by diligent flossing, brushing, regular dental appointment cleanings, and will power. Sparked by encouragement from my childhood dentist at a memorable appointment in 1983, I had been determined to live a cavity-free existence and succeeded for 38 years. I embrace the opportunity to dissuade all other dental demons and am delighted to report no further incursions to date.
The second notable life experience that I’ve managed to circumvent, right up to this day, is Dungeons and Dragons (DnD). But does DnD have anything in common with dental cavities? Is it similarly something to be avoided?
My lack of participation in DnD in my pre-college years is easily enough understood. I recall being aware of its existence from overhearing male peers at grammar school discuss aspects of the game, yet I was not in a social situation with direct exposure to it. I only understood that unusually shaped dice and what seemed to be an open-ended adventure were involved. I may have heard my younger male cousins referencing “campaigns” or my much-younger brother chatting about “hit points”, but by that time our individual interests had diverged, and so an opportunity perhaps went missed. I was not aware of any female peers’ involvement, and since none of my close friends were boys, DnD remained a distant mystery.
When I arrived at college I was eager for new friendships and new social experiences, and while I anticipated forming friendships with females, I also found myself forming friendships with males. It happened that a large percentage of them were avid DnD players, and through them I learned that DnD was but a facet of the larger pursuit of role-playing. My immediate interests and hobbies lay elsewhere, however, and I’m fairly certain an invitation to join in with DnD was never extended to me. (To be fair, my friend Jonathan did attempt to arrange for a post-college role-playing experience– not DnD– for myself and a mutual friend of ours, although conflicting schedules and distant home bases prevented us from advancing much beyond a sketchy discussion of character development. In fact, I barely remember this occurrence, and needed to be reminded of it recently by Jonathan. Imagine if we had Zoom back then!)
DnD ventured further into the periphery during my post-college existence when I focused my attention on graduate school and gainful employment, and when I eventually became a parent. My focus shifted from academia to diapers seemingly overnight, and as we phased through Sesame Street to superheroes and Star Wars, DnD kept its distance. Truly, it wasn’t until I began watching the “Stranger Things” series in 2017 that DnD re-entered my consciousness. When I began listening to the “1980s Now” podcast in 2020 and eventually joined in as a co-host– 28 years after college graduation– I learned that not only is DnD still going strong, but folks from my age bracket are currently still enjoying it!
Nowadays I find myself bearing witness to the presence of Dungeons and Dragons in our regular podcast discussions, in the surprising news that my 21-year-old daughter has joined a friend’s campaign, and even in the following unexpected message from my old (but still young!) college buddy, Eric:
“I’m listening to your episode from this week and I have to ask. Have you played D&D before and if you haven’t how did you avoid it given the nerds you hung out with? I will, of course, immediately volunteer to run a D&D game for you and any 3 other people.”
Will I ever get to join in on a DnD campaign, or will I circumvent that experience more skillfully than I fended off that cavity? I suppose there are some that might call me lucky for having escaped both for so long, but I must admit, I am curious about what it’s like to play. At the very least, I find myself looking forward to seeing the newest Dungeons and Dragons movie. It may be the closest I can get!