I’m a successful business owner and entrepreneur. For the last decade, I have been a CEO, boot-strapping a professional services company into a multi-million dollar enterprise. I don’t write these details to boast in any way; a lot of my success is pure luck. No, I just want to let people know I’m a business professional who takes his position seriously. So it may come as a surprise for some that for the last 35 years, I’ve also been a secret tabletop role-playing gamer.
As So It Begins
Introduced to Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) in high school, I was attracted by its combination of classic fantasy and history. These were both areas of great interest for me due to my love of reading. Authors like J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert Howard, and Terry Brooks fanned the flames of my imagination. Marauding dragons, magical weapons, dark citadels and epic battles held my interest far longer than algebra and gym class.
I also loved that D&D was a cooperative game where you played with your friends instead of against them. Add in the creative process to keep good D&D campaign flowing, and I was hooked. Living in rural North Carolina, finding fellow gamers was difficult. I often resorted to “creating” gamers by recruiting my friends and family members. Older people didn’t understand the game. They didn’t see the point of it since you didn’t “win.” But younger people liked it because it was different, had cool polyhedron dice, and books of nasty monsters to slay. At that age, with no real jobs, spouses or kids, we were free to play all the time. Marathon gaming sessions of 12-14 hours were common. We would spend almost as long talking about the game as we did playing it.
But I soon discovered if you were a gamer, you were labeled a devil worshiper, freak, or nerd.
With all the ancient deities, demons and devils found in historical fantasy, there was the inevitable backlash against gamers by religious organizations. D&D developed an unfounded reputation from Christians for promoting Satan and witchcraft. Add to that the fact I lived in the Baptist Bible Belt, and one would understand my reluctance to identify myself as a gamer.
Being a role player wasn’t helping my social life either. Thanks to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, being a geek these days isn’t so bad. But in the early 80s, a geek was among the lowest rungs of the social ladder, just a little higher than inbreeders and grave robbers. Since I was already an introvert, my dating life was painful enough. So with all those concerns in mind, I made the conscious decision never to let people know I played role-playing games. I became a “closet gamer.”
Years In the Closet
I followed that plan throughout college and well into my professional career. If anyone asked what I had planned for the weekend, I kept my descriptions neutral. I was “hanging out with friends,” or “sticking close to home.”
I dated my (now) wife for six months before I let her know I was a gamer. She did not understand what D&D was or how to play it, but she overlooked my “idiosyncrasies” since I was normal in most other ways. Unlike her previous boyfriends, at least she knew where I was and who was with me. To see if she was “wife” material, I let her tag along to one of the gaming Meccas: DragonCon in Atlanta. Although impressed by the creativity and friendliness of my fellow RPGers, she made it known in no uncertain terms this would never be a hobby we enjoy together. Luckily for me, Atlanta has two huge malls.
Fast forward a few more years; I’ve co-founded a company and am the CEO. While I don’t care what people think of me, I require they respect the position I hold. It is like the old military axiom; you salute the uniform, not the person. Since I still felt stigmatized by the label of “D&D player,” I never wanted my staff to know I enjoyed role-playing games.
To Quote Jimmy Buffett, Changes in Attitude…
So why am I writing all this? In the last few years, I’ve realized that I wasn’t honest with myself and it was affecting my emotional health. I got caught up in trying to act like a CEO, instead of being a CEO, whatever that means. I also realized I was demeaning a hobby which has brought me lots of joy through the years. Thanks to gaming, I have strong friendships with fellow gamers most of my life. The best man at my wedding was a friend I met at the gaming table in high school. My college roommates were all D&D players, helping to make my college years the best time of my life.
As Hollywood has recognized the moneymaking potential of superhero movies and has brought comic books into the mainstream, role-playing games are enjoying a nostalgic renaissance of their own. Most experts assumed gaming consoles would eventually kill the RPG tabletop industry. But people quickly realized the game and social limitations of RPG console games. Instead, consoles have driven interest to tabletop RPGs. It also helped that many famous people, like Vin Diesel, Stephen Colbert, and Mike Myers felt comfortable enough to acknowledge they are long-time gamers. Hollywood helped too. Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings movie trilogy brought high fantasy to the movie public, making gaming just a little more “cool.”
True story: My wife and I went to see The Fellowship of the Ring movie in 2001. As the movie credits finished scrolling and the theater lights came on, my wife turned and looked at me and said, “OK, I finally get it.” So while she still has never sat down and rolled up a character, she now understands while this hobby continues to keep my interest for almost 40 years.
So I officially announce to the world, “I’m a gaming geek.” Once a week I gather with my friends around a table. We play imaginary characters, roll dice, drink beer, eat crappy food, and create a world and a story entirely our own. And I don’t care who knows it anymore because gaming has enriched my life for almost four decades. People should be so lucky to have something like that in their lives.