It’s a quirk of the early 21st century that everything that’s doesn’t involve a microchip is suddenly being called “analog.” It’s as though 99.999 percent of human heritage is now relegated to being the exception in our shiny new digital world.
But there are some surprising countercurrents to that. Note the comeback of the vinyl record and the comic book, for instance. It’s as if the generation that grew up with digital being the norm is now beginning to make some a la carte choices about what to consume, and why.
We’re even seeing glimmers of new interest in tabletop gaming, of all things. In fact, next week, a role-playing game publisher is releasing a brand-new version of the 1970s game dreamed up by Gary Gygax: Dungeons & Dragons.
It might seem odd to some that people would set aside Tactics Ogre on the PSP for several hours of rolling dice and manually subtracting hit points, but these games have their passionate adherents among the twentysomething set.
For instance, we spoke with 22-year-old Marcus Schwimmer, an employee at Ann Arbor’s Vault of Midnight, and he practically grabbed us by the collar in his defense of tabletop role-playing games, and made an eloquent case for it.
“I’m a big supporter of D&D,” he said, “because it gives people the opportunity to be the person they want to be. Whether they’re struggling with a disability or image issues or any kind of sexuality or gender role, D&D lets you be person you want to without any limitations. And it lets you be in a world where you have power to change things. And that’s really important for kids, to be able to stretch their imagination and use their brains and be with other people physically, using teamwork to face challenges. But the big thing is that D&D lets you do a lot of self-exploration, and that’s a powerful thing for kids and adults alike.”
Schwimmer also told us how the new gaming system is much easier than in the past. It requires about 40 minutes to lovingly roll up a character, and that even newbies can join the fun.
“D&D is intimidating to a lot of people, because there are all these rules,” he said. “But with fifth edition
, they’ve taken all the rules from the previous editions and they’ve streamlined them, so it’s easier to pick up, easier to learn. I think they’ve done a good job of making the game enjoyable and playable, but at the same time incredibly accessible.”
To prove it, Vault of Midnight is hosting a D&D release party at 2 p.m. on Aug. 30. The event, which costs $10, includes a DM, custom Vault of Midnight dice, food and snacks, and a chance to learn the game if you’ve never played it before. Schwimmer says even veteran tabletop gamers will get the chance to meet others in the gaming community and play a game.
He stresses that, unlike most games, in which the point is to accomplish one goal, in D&D “the point is to create a character that you love and that you invest in, and go on and adventure with your friends, and whether you accomplish the goal or not, you’ve gone on this kind of journey.
“It just really breaks my heart when people have these preconceived notions about Dungeons & Dragons. For me, and people like me that I know, D&D was our outlet. It was our form of self-discovery. So I just can’t say enough good things about it.”
[Note: A previous version of this article stated that the release party would be Aug. 23. The Vault of Midnight informs us that they had to reschedule to Aug. 30.]