March of 2020 was the month I changed my mind about playing Tabletop RPGs online. One or two other events occurred around then as well but that was a big one for me.
I remember the start of the pandemic very well despite the fact that time has gained an elastic quality since then. It feels like yesterday and yet I can hardly remember the before times. I was inside of a grocery store at 7am for my day job when panic started setting in among the vast populace. I remember walking out of that store at 9am as lines of people extended back and away from the check stands with piles of toilet paper, cases of water and a nervous energy powered by fear of the unknown.
Wash your hands.
Don’t touch your face.
Wear a mask.
Wash your hands.
Don’t go outside.
Don’t leave your house.
Wash your hands.
The world changed in March of 2020.
I went from seeing my friends and playing games of D&D two to four times a week to only once. It was a brutal shift in my normal social practices. The only thing that didn’t change was Material Components and it laid the groundwork for everything that would come next.
Material Components, or Mat Com as I affectionately call it, is my Actual Play TTRPG podcast (released weekly wherever podcasts can be found) and from its beginnings in 2019 it was an entirely digital affair. This was mostly a matter of logistics, as bringing the entire cast together on a weekly basis when some of them didn’t drive nor had the space in their homes required for a larger recording setup would have been a nightmare. We decided to do it all via Discord. So when covid reared its ugly head it did not really change our production schedule at all.
I had never liked online gaming though. Recording Mat Com in this way was a concession to logistics and scheduling, not a preference. But then the world shut down.
The initial covid lockdowns made me realize just how much I relied on Tabletop RPGs to be with my friends. They offered a structured environment to hang out and share in fantasies beyond the increasingly frustrating real world. They were an escape, but they were also how I kept in contact with a lot of people I care about. So when all of that was suddenly taken by a virus that (at least initially) we knew almost nothing about, it was a deep wound to my mental health.
Friends are the family you choose and I couldn’t be in the same room as them anymore. This could not stand.
Within the first couple months of lockdown I started three new regular games that I was the game master of and attempted to get at least two others off the ground. I wasn’t always successful. We couldn’t play every week. We still don’t. But Discord and I now have a grudging respect for one another as I used it to attempt to lasso my friends back into my social orbit in a time where I might have just as easily dropped off the face of the earth.
It’s easy to disappear socially when you’re an introvert. Plucking up the will to spend time with your friends or even just leave the house can be a challenge sometimes. Gaming helps with that, tabletop gaming doubly so in my opinion because until recently it forced you to sit down together to participate. So when I say that I changed my mind about playing TTRPGs online in March of 2020 and that it was a big deal, I’m only kidding a little bit.
Roleplaying games are there for me to put structure on my social interactions. They provide a framework for interacting with friends in a group activity. The pandemic forced me to reconsider what that looked like.
I know I’m not the only one with a story like this. I know that the last year and a half has seen a spike in the already meteoric popularity of TTRPGs. And I want to tell some of those stories. Stay tuned to this space as I explore how this hobby has evolved and adapted over the pandemic.
For those interested in TTRPGs, be sure to check out Mike's other articles!