Growing up in the 1980s, I knew there were kids like the ones from “Stranger Things,” which returns Friday for its fourth season, who spent their after-school hours playing Dungeons & Dragons. I was not one of them; I played with Barbies. I thought what I was doing with dolls—acting out scenes involving homework, school dances, and what happened last weekend in the plastic pool—was a far cry from the secret world of the D&D table, with its arcane myths and complicated rules.
It wasn’t until 2000, when an episode of the show “Freaks and Geeks” featured kids playing D&D, that I got a glimpse of how RPGs worked. In essence, it wasn’t all that different from what my friends and I were doing with Barbies: imagining and then inhabiting characters, writing stories collaboratively, escaping reality while developing real-life social skills.
While I retired my Barbies around puberty, the Dungeons & Dragons universe is intricate and expansive enough to have ongoing adult appeal. In fact, it emerged so completely from geek-dom that it became “a kind of social flex — the antithesis of the popularity contest that was in the 1990s and early 2000s, an antidote to our most basic tendencies,” writes Amelia Diamond. in The Times this morning. Vin Diesel plays. Just like Tiffany Haddish.
I’ve written about how socializing is awkward lately. D&D offers a way to alleviate some of the anxiety. Rules govern interactions, and a dungeon master who acts as narrator and arbiter enforces them. In the safety of this container, players explore, improvise, and co-create worlds.
“All of us sometimes feel a little inadequate to deal with the modern world,” said Gary Gygax, one of the creators of D&D, once. “It would be so much better if we knew we were a superhero or a mighty wizard.”
D&D and other role-playing games, improv comedy, murder mystery parties where each guest is assigned a role in a mystery, even escape rooms: these are all creative, rule-based forms of fun where scenes are created in real time and success requires teamwork and trust.
They are lo-fi ways to socialize through performance, a relief to social media venues that insist we present ourselves to an audience of friends and followers. These activities give us permission to play, let go of our inhibitions, and try out new personas. They let us escape to another world for a while.
Ideas for structured fun that you recommend? Drop me a line.
WEEKEND IS FOR…
🍿 Films: Five action movies to stream.
🎧 Audiobooks: Six choices.
👟 Exhibitions: The sneakers that were among designer Virgil Abloh’s final designs are on display in Brooklyn.
Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins
I’ve always been a strong advocate of having dessert for breakfast, which is part of why Jordan Marsh’s blueberry muffins have been on my radar for a while. I finally made a batch last week, using thawed frozen fruit as suggested in the recipe notes. And I’m here to report that these purple-flecked beauties are truly deserving of their 11,000 five-star ratings. Yes, they are distinctly cupcake-like: fluffy and sugary and completely delicious with your morning cup of coffee or tea. But if the idea of a pre-noon cake puts you off, serve it as a mid-afternoon snack or even as a dessert — the after-dinner kind of dessert.
Carolina Hurricanes vs New York Rangers, NHL Playoffs: Rangers are hot. Losing 3-1 in the final round, they beat the Penguins three straight games to win the series. “They have the best goalie in the league this year, Igor Shesterkin,” said David Waldstein, a Times reporter who covered the playoffs. “They are a lot of fun to watch and are becoming a big story in New York. A lot of people are jumping on his bandwagon.” Game 3 is at 3:30 pm Eastern Sunday on ESPN.
NOW IT’S TIME TO PLAY
Yesterday’s Spelling Bee pangram was bold. Here’s today’s puzzle – or you can play online.