Tabletop games help those alone at home during COVID-19

Here there be monsters: Aidan Smith poses for a portrait in Okotoks on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. The Monster Manual is intended for use by those running games of Dungeons and Dragons, providing much-needed information on various enemies players may encounter. (Photo by Anna Smith/The Press)

For those left isolated by the COVID-19 pandemic, a resurgence of popularity in games from 1974 may be an unexpected answer.

Dungeons and Dragons, the household name for many when considering tabletop role-playing games, has been a much-needed excuse to make social connections for those stuck at home. This has been the case for Mathew Gore, a local tabletop game enthusiast.

I have been so starved for social activity during this pandemic,” said Gore, “but this gives me something to look forward to every week.”

Gore’s interest in Dungeons and Dragons began when he was 14, with local clubs, and later organization of high school friends around lunch tables and after classes.

Having since graduated, and current restrictions imposed, these games have moved online, primarily hosted over video meeting and instant messaging services, such as Discord.

“It’s not the same, but it’s given me some different avenues,” said Gore.

“When something in a session happens that’s exciting, or different, people react. And that reaction is more powerful when you’re in the room with people.”

Despite the limitations imposed, by hosting a series of sessions online known in the tabletop community as a campaign, Gore said that the ability to speak with old friends and connect with new ones over the shared hobby has been incredibly important for his mental health and feelings of isolation.

Finding a group, however, is more difficult than it seems.

Aidan Smith, who currently works part-time at the Okotoks Kentucky Fried Chicken, has been trying and failing to put together a club for the game since 2015.

Despite never actually playing Dungeons and Dragons, Smith has remained persistent.

“I just don’t have people to play with. My friends aren’t interested in that sort of thing, but I really like the creativity aspect, so I’ll keep trying. You can just sort of do whatever you want.”

While Smith cites social anxiety preventing him from seeking out a group online over the many forums available for those seeking a group, there are several avenues, such as Dungeons and Dragons’ own Adventurer’s League, or the virtual tabletop Roll20, which allows players to list what games they are actively seeking to play in their profiles.

Wizards of the Coast, the publishers of Dungeons and Dragons, have hosted their “Stay at Home. Play at Home” archive since early 2020, sharing free resources for both new, and returning players to use around kitchen tables, and Zoom meetings alike.

The Dungeons and Dragons website has a statement from the company which states that they believe the connection of playing games can be helpful for those dealing with the isolation of being alone in their homes.

As such, they have released multiple pre-written adventures for free, as well as a guide for those looking to begin their journey without transmitting COVID-19, for both older and younger prospective gamers.

“As cliché as it sounds,” said Gore, “tabletop games are a medium through which your wildest dreams come true, and that’s very important right now. So… let it be so.”

Your turn to roll: A trio of 20-sided dice sit on a table in Okotoks on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. People who are avid fans of tabletop games often collect several sets of dice, in a variety of shapes and colours. (Photo by Anna Smith/The Press)