It’s hard not to form friendships after hours spent slaying orcs, grinding rep runs, or collecting gil. The friendships we forge in the storytelling and dungeon-crawling fires of gaming can be just as profound—if not more—as those from other sources, and some of the WWAC writers have come to share their stories of triumph, camaraderie, and conflict created over dice rolls and WIFI connections.
How did you find your first gaming group, whether tabletop or online? Did you stick with them for a long time?
Melissa Brinks: I met most of my current friend group through the writing club of my community college. After spending some time workshopping stories, I tentatively threw out there that I’d always wanted to try Dungeons & Dragons. A couple of people seemed interested, so I said I’d host another game, Dread, and while the first group didn’t stay interested, one friend brought another, that friend brought another, and now I have a pretty tight-knit group of five that all get along and have similar ways of enjoying games.
Al Rosenberg: My first gaming group was in Elementary School, probably around age five or six. Essentially we LARPed (Live Action Role-Played) Power Rangers for hours after school. We stopped playing when we left for middle school. Then there was my LAN (Local Area Network) group in middle and high school. We played a lot of Starcraft, Guitar Hero, and Gears of War. My departure for college brought an end to that. My most recent gaming group was in college. A bunch of philosophy students getting together to play Dungeons & Dragons, but graduation again ended the fun.
Carly Smith: I didn’t really have a core group growing up. I had a couple friends I played video games with sometimes in elementary school when we were in the same class. My first actual group is the group of people I play Dungeons & Dragons with now. My boyfriend heard from a friend who was looking for people in the area to play together, and I ended up joining in. I hadn’t played D&D before this, and everyone else was a bit rusty, plus we’re very light on the rules, so it’s been a welcoming experience for a new player like me!
Wendy Browne: My first official gaming group was in Final Fantasy XI. It was my first MMO, and I was pretty nervous about the concept, because I’d heard horrible things about what experienced players will do to noobs. But after a few sessions of wandering through La Theine Plateau on my own and dying horrible deaths, I met a gentleman who would become my Linkshell leader. And over the next few years, the reigns of that group would be handed over to myself and some of the other people he’d taken under his wing. There was a drift after a while as our levels increased and we sought high level Linkshells to appease our high level adventure needs, but there was still loyalty to our original LS. Some of us eventually drifted back together, and even now, a long long time later, I’ve returned to the game once in awhile just to say hi.
What are the dynamics like in your average gaming group? Do people tend to fall into particular roles? What role do you play?
Melissa: I am always, always group mom. My tabletop gaming group calls me “mom.” I also typically take on the role of gamemaster, because I’m the one with all the books, and I don’t mind leading, but I’m a softie when it comes to the rules, so I’m not the ideal GM for everybody. Back when I played MMOs, I tried to solve everybody’s problems for them to save the guild from drama. That meant going back and forth between party, guild, and whisper chat, trying desperately to keep everybody civil to one another. If you’ve seen The Guild, I was Codex. It’s not a position I would suggest to or wish on anybody—as much as I love gaming and the people I meet doing it, gamers are just as prone to drama as anybody else on earth.
Al: Historically, I’ve been the mediator. I’m fairly level-headed in tabletop and role-playing games, because I’m still not super comfortable in those mediums; however, put a controller in my hands and I become a she-devil. This may be why I don’t currently have a gaming group.
Carly: I’ve never ever been the leader and never want to be. I don’t think I’m ever stuck to a specific role. Our group is only five people, and we’re all pretty low-key. I have a feeling I’ll always end up playing characters who poke fun at my boyfriend’s characters though, haha.
When I joined my group, I only knew one person, but at this point I’d call all of them my friends. The experience has introduced me to new people I might not have talked much with otherwise.
Wendy: I inevitably fall into the role of leader and, like Melissa, have also been granted the title of “mom,” particularly after I had my first child and was breastfeeding while playing or interrupting events for diaper changes. I am super fortunate to have somehow always found groups where, no matter how old the players were, they all understood that real life priorities came first. Anyway, I’m the one who likes to read up on things and organize and am not afraid to tell people what to do and deal with all the disagreements and lay down the law when I have to. There were some massive, month long, hair pulling endeavors that I led people through in Final Fantasy XI and was so proud when I let my kids go to the final boss, and they came out on top (okay, the fact that I refer to them as my kids, might relate to the “mom” thing). Now that I’m playing tabletop RPGs though, I’m content to take roles that are not at all leadery. I figure this is because I’m brand new to the medium and am learning as I go, so it’s a great opportunity to just relax and have fun and hope the dungeon master doesn’t kill me.
How, if at all, does playing games in a group change your relationships with one another?
Melissa: It’s hard to say whether I would have stayed friends with my current group if I didn’t keep inviting them over to play games—I graduated community college shortly after meeting them and gaming gave us a reason to keep hanging out even as we changed schools, got jobs, and moved to different areas of the state, because it’s something we can all enjoy doing together as a group. Several of us are also writers, and it’s a great way of flexing our creative muscles and seeing who can make things the most difficult just because of our sheer love of conflict.
Al: I “dated” a boy in my Power Rangers LARP group, then someone in my LAN group, then someone in my D&D group, then a woman in my D&D group. There’s so much passion in gaming for me; it’s hard not to start feeling the feels. Mary Ann Mohanraj in her essay “Refuge” for the collection Chicks Dig Gaming writes, “My parents do not allow me to date, and even if they did, no one has actually asked me out. But I am allowed to play games, which must seem harmless to them, even childish. I am not really ready to date, but games offer a framework for safe interaction with boys.”
Carly: When I joined my group, I only knew one person, but at this point I’d call all of them my friends. The experience has introduced me to new people I might not have talked much with otherwise. With people I already know well, it’s important to remind myself that what happens in the game is separate from reality. I don’t think the concept of the Magic Circle is a bad one, but I do think it’s a bit unrealistic to completely separate your experiences in a game from reality. Regardless, I use it as a goal not to get mad at anyone, for their character doing something my character doesn’t like.
Wendy: I have always had a strong affinity with online friends, so the move to playing online with others worked well. That doesn’t mean I made friends with all of them. There were some I liked more than others, some that were just game friends, and some that have come all the way to my house for a visit and even made my daughter an awesome hippo cake for her very first birthday. I’ve also got friends that I meet outside of gaming or offline that I end up gaming with because it’s just another way for us to hang out. I don’t know that our relationship necessarily changes, but rather that gaming is or becomes a part of it.
How do you know when you’ve found the right group?
Melissa: I think it largely depends on what your aims are with gaming. I tend to mesh well with people who are in it for the social or storytelling experience, less so with people who are more invested in rules and mechanics. This goes for both tabletop and video games—some of the best moments I remember from playing World of Warcraft were the ones I spent with guildmates exploiting glitchy areas of Orgrimmar and ending up running around beneath the city, messing with people outside the front gates. In tabletop games, you have a lot more freedom to bend the rules because you’re not technically restrained by mechanics, so you can end up using a board or cards or other pieces in entirely new ways, which in itself is a fun group activity.
Al: I don’t know! I’m currently seeking a women’s tabletop gaming group, and haven’t had any luck yet. I don’t particularly enjoy video gaming in groups usually, so it would have to be the PERFECT situation to convince me to do it.
Carly: For me, it’s important to have a group where I feel safe. This means no comments behind my back about my level of skill and gender (which has so far only happened with adult men—this never happened to me when I was a kid). So I tend to feel more comfortable gaming with other women. There’s only one man in my D&D group, and that’s my boyfriend (who doesn’t care much about his gender), so it’s been nice to see lots of variety in our group. Like Melissa said, it depends on what you want out of your experience. My group recently had a discussion on whether we were okay with inter-party conflict in our game just to make sure everyone involved thought it’d be fun and interesting.
For me, it’s important to have a group where I feel safe.
Wendy: My first priority is having fun with the understanding that real life priorities come first. I have never cared for the elitist play style and avoid groups that judge people on skill and gear. Again, I’ve been very fortunate to initially find groups that are like that—even if there is a focus in a particular group on skills and obtaining the best gear, there is no pressure for everyone to be l33t, as long as everyone pulls their weight and can have fun. Now I have a pretty solid group of online gaming friends so I know they always have my back in whatever we play together, which is great because I hate grouping with random people and risk having my limited play time wasted in various ways. For D&D, I was very concerned about playing with others and had similar fears about the treatment of newbies and women as I did initially in joining FFXI. My nephew has been playing it though and got me into it. In turn, I dragged in my posse of trusted friends, some of whom have experience in tabletop RPGs, while others are noobs like me. It’s a great vibe of fun and learning and a lot of laughing.
Do you play games with your family members, or is gaming an activity only done with friends?
Melissa: I’ve played some simpler games with my family before, like Love Letter, but most of my gaming is done with friends. Everybody I know has different tastes, so my husband prefers games without a story element, my gaming group is usually up for anything, and my family likes things that are quick and easy to pick up. Part of introducing people to games, I think, is being sure that you’re picking the right game for the group—I could never get my family interested in something like Arkham Horror, but you can get just about anybody invested in One Night Ultimate Werewolf.
Al: I used to game with one of my brothers (for many years this meant he would watch me play single-player games, as he is six years younger than me), but our tastes diverged and now we just chat about gaming from time to time. My youngest brother though just turned six, and we play age appropriate tabletop and video games together when I’m down for the holidays.
My first priority is having fun with the understanding that real life priorities come first. I have never cared for the elitist play style and avoid groups that judge people on skill and gear.
Carly: My sister and I grew up playing lots of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 together. (We revisited it a couple years ago and were shocked to discover we’re much worse at the game now.) My dad played some N64 games with us when we were little, but at a certain age it became just my sister and I playing together, but that caused some friction whenever she won because I was a sore loser. Now that I’m out of my parents’ house, I play video and tabletop games with my boyfriend (and I found out in a tense game of Twilight Struggle that I still have a bit of a sore loser in me), and I play games with my friends. We’re working on getting my dad into playing some more tabletop games with us, but we have to make sure to pick games that are easy to learn, like Dominion.
Wendy: I play board games with my daughters and husband from time to time and my girls have been looking at my D&D guide book and want to play. My husband was into stuff like that before, but tends to be more serious about gaming than I am. We do play online together sometimes. Our most recent adventures were in Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic. But he tends to get caught up in the crafting while I prefer the random adventuring and socialization. Meanwhile, my main group of friends moves from game to game as the mood strikes, documenting our adventures as we go along.
Readers, how did you find your gaming groups?
Melissa Brinks is Sidequest’s editor in chief, co-creator of the Fake Geek Girls podcast, author of The Compendium of Magical Beasts, and an aspiring beekeeper. She once won an argument on the internet, and tweets at @MelissaBrinks.