Locals gamers slay COVID-19 boredom

OKEECHOBEE — Clayton Brown and six of his friends had a weekly ritual. Every Friday the group would meet up either at a local hobby shop in Okeechobee or in one of their homes and they’d play Dungeon and Dragons. Every week they followed the same routine. Meet up, go on adventures and slay dragons.

Every week, that is, until COVID-19 hit.

Not wanting to expose themselves or their families to more risk as the coronavirus pandemic was starting to hit its stride, the group quickly put together a makeshift plan to continue their gaming adventures online.

“The very first thing we looked at was going digital and doing the games online somehow,” explained Mr. Brown. “The solution was pretty quick. One of us already had an app that let us use maps and tokens to represent the player characters. As far as an app or program for communication, we went with Discord. It is a little different. At the table you have everyone in the same room and it’s easier to convey the things you want to do because everything and everyone you’re playing with is physically in front of you.”

An example of the setup the Dungeons and Dragons group used to stay connected during the stay at home orders.

Clayton is the dungeon master or DM for his group of friends. A DM is like the storyteller or narrator of the game and is in charge of setting up things for the players to interact with like places, characters, enemies, as well as the overall plot line.

Through a combination of apps, laptop computers and a few rulebooks, the group kept the game going in the midst of the pandemic.

Being able to play a game online is almost an afterthought at this moment in time. But Dungeons and Dragons was born in a time before there was a computer in every home and smartphone in every pocket. Forty years ago, the game was played much like Clayton and his friends play today. A group would meet up, a dungeon master would run the game while the players worked through puzzles and fought monsters.

Although it is still played in the same way as it was back then, the game’s reputation has evolved tremendously during that time period. In the 1980s, Dungeons and Dragons was mired in controversy from parents who fretted that it was introducing their kids to the occult and turning them into satanists.

In the end that “satanic panic” was about as real as the dragons in the game. It turned out that Dungeons and Dragons players were more likely to win a literary award or an Emmy than they were to turn to the occult. Authors such as George R.R. Martin and Cory Doctorow, entertainers like Stephen Colbert and Vin Diesel and writers like Matt Groening all played and enjoyed the game growing up.

Faced with staying inside to help stop the spread of COVID-19, Clayton says Dungeons and Dragons has been a good escape from the madness.

“It’s a game with limitless potential,” said Mr. Brown. “All sorts of things await people that play. All you need is a set of dice for the game and the main rulebook of whatever system you end up choosing. These games aren’t locked into a Tolkien fantasy, either. There are all sorts of genres to choose from.”

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