One of the most profound and integrated things in my life is role playing. From age 11 to now at 39, I have been deeply embroiled in playing Dungeons & Dragons for about 15 years and then fell deeply into improvised theater for another 14. These forms of collaborative play have led to very deep and sincere relationships that grew from the amazing sense of communion that arises from these forms of cooperative and imaginitive play. It allowed for a free-flowing exploration of how relationships, personalities, beliefs, cultures, societies, and ecosystems can be examined and understood through imaginitive play and experimentation.
This playful exploration of social, religious, and ecological fantasies led me to channeling that same curiosity and sense of fun in exploring life away from the board and screen. In my late teens, one of the people that led a game that I was in required that I research mythology in order to better know what my character might know. For a month after that, I poured through about 10 different books on mythology both in English and French (my French was far better in those days).
When I was running a game in the Forgotten Realms(TM), they had numerous supplements about game regions that included detailed ecologies and regional creatures. At the same time, in another game, I was playing a Ranger. So I began reading Tom Brown Jr.’s The Tracker. Because of that I headed out to the woods near my parents’ home as well as to the far reaches of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan to observe the patterns in plants, animals and forests.
My fascination with the medieval led me to research weapons and armor, and ultimately led me to studying archeology in order to understand ancient ways of life (and ultimately socio-cultural anthropology to understand ways of life that are here and now). Meanwhile, improvised theater continued the context in my life where I could break down and play with the chemistry of human relationships through characters in practice and onstage. I have lived as Kalanar the Ranger, Wynde the Druid, Baltimore the Fop, Clyde Winston head of Generic Hospital security. Even though it began as escapist fantasy for a suburban white boy, role-playing has led me down a colorful path for the betterment of my imagination and relationships with people. It has given me glimpses of the paths of others, and sometimes it has taught me much about what makes people shine.
Those shining moments (onstage, around a gaming table, in the woods around a fire) were fraught with the pinnacle of joy shared with my fellows. Moments whose character were poised squarely between poles of vulnerability, surrender, trust and play (and some smack talk too). Which, in my mind, is characteristic of the best in human relationships. It brought me to a point where I feel that the best thing I can do in my life is to try to help people get to this experience in their own lives through improvisation and anthropology (which bleed into one another on many levels). We should not forget that the sincerest and deepest moments in our lives take place face to face. Role-playing brings us back to our most ancient form of play, each other.