Gaming opens doors. I've often said this. I know situations where gaming has helped people overcome depression, substance abuse, and more. Gaming can be a great help to teach autistic people about social skills. Counselors use it to build trust in their clients. It's a great way to unwind after a hard week of work, and it's fun to get together with friends. It allows you to meet new people, to have adventures you wouldn't in real life, and more.
USA Today bestselling author Elizabeth Vaughan is not just a writer and lawyer, but also an avid gamer as well. She wrote an essay about what doors gaming helped open in her life. Please welcome her as our guest today! --Melanie R. Meadors
Without gaming, I would not be an attorney.
Law school is the mind-numbing, soul-devouring, energy-sucking marathon that everyone says it is. It’s designed to train your brain to think in certain patterns by over-whelming you with reading, writing and research. The Socratic method of questions and answers teaches, yes, but it teaches through a combination of intimidation, embarrassment, and brutality. By Friday afternoon, all the average law student wants is a drink in their hands.
All I wanted was a sword in mine.
Well, if not a sword then a d8 at least, once the gamers at the University of Toledo showed me which piece of colored plastic that was. They welcomed me, sat me down and pulled out a character sheet. "Give her a fighter," my first Gamemaster said. "Best way to learn."
And so they did. They shared their dice, explained what "stats" were and under their expert tutelage I rolled up Demetria, a kick-ass human warrior with a bad attitude and a thirst for treasure. They told me to give her high strength and con, and not worry too about my intelligence and wisdom. "You’re job is to hit things," they said.
I could do that.
From that day on, from my first class Monday morning at eight am until Friday at five pm, I would work and read and study to learn the structure of the legal system, the codes and rules that a civilized, democratic people use to resolve disputes in a rational, organized, fair manner that allows society to function smoothly.
But on the weekends, I reveled in the brutal destruction of my enemies beneath the strength of my blade. Laughed as they cowered in fear from my blood-soaked weapon. Gloated as I looted their still cooling corpses and their treasure vaults. Cheerfully trudged through the depths of the mires, and the heights of the mountains, questing for gold, magic and enough "experience points" to level up in the never-ending quest for more power. I was an adventurer, born with wanderlust in my heart and a sword in my hand.
At least until dawn broke on Monday morning, and I dragged my sorry tuckus back to the law school for class.
Without gaming, I would not have found my people.
Oh, I’d probably have friends. But what gaming gave me was a community, a family that thought the same way I did, read the same books, watched the same movies, laughed at the same obscure jokes. Friends who read historical books to improve their gaming experiences and poured over books of ancient weapons and their uses. Friends who thought in terms of military strategy when navigating a crowd at a concert and spent hours discussing the arcane intricacies of gaming systems and rules.
Friends, either seated at the table or logged on to the same server, who always had my back.
Friends who’d think nothing of gaming until the wee hours of the morning, and then go out for food, to continue the heated debate on the best strategy to defeat a red dragon - leaving the waitress shaking her head in confusion.
Friends who’s voices provide companionship through my headset as we wander the digital wilderness of my MMO, and cheer when we finally defeat Lolth and her evil schemes.
Friends who struggled to teach me to place my fireballs for optimum damage against the enemy, and who died in those same fireballs when I didn’t get it right.
Friends who rued the day they let me play a rogue, because I never met a trap I didn’t like. I had to know what it would do, ya know? Someone put it there for a reason, and I had to find out the whys and wherefores. Which usually meant blowing the disarm role and killing half the party.
Friends, that even after twenty-some odd years, who are still at the gaming table with me along with their children. And while the Doritos and Coke bottles have been replaced by bottled water and carrot sticks, we still play on.
And after all the adventuring I have done over the years, the greatest treasure I gained are the friends by my side.
But don’t tell that to Demeteria. She’s in it for the gold.
Without gaming, I would not have developed into a good attorney.
Listen, law school might teach you how to think, but it sure as The Lower Planes of the Abyss does not teach you to deal with people.
Gaming, on the other hand, is all about the people at the table. Their quirks, their desires, their personalities. Gaming is also about solving problems, yes, sometimes with a sword, but more often through role-playing, negotiation, and arguments. Which path will we take through the mountains, how are we going to meet the requirements of our quest, how can I bluff, deceive, or use my diplomacy skills to get us out of this situation?
How do we resolve a dispute about the rules? Who gets which part of the treasure? What will my paladin do when the rogue in the party is caught thieving . . . from a blind, elderly widow and her four orphans? [No names - but you know who you are.]
After arguing with my fellow players and GMs about rules, resolving legal disputes seems relatively easy. After worrying about the wording of a wish for hours, the worst contract boiler plate seems like child’s play. After listening to the evil villain’s monologue rationalizing his baleful activities in a perfectly logical manner . . . .
Well, okay, that still makes me want to pull out a sword.
Without gaming, I would not have started writing.
I am a terrible gamemaster. I’ve tried a number of times, and I just don’t have the necessary skills, or patience or flexibility. The players are all ‘lets go this way’, and I’m saying ‘but the adventure is over here’ and well, it all ends in misery.
I did learn not to send dire wolves after first level characters in their very first adventure, and the very first encounter, when they were naked and fleeing from slavers.
I still feel bad about that one. Tore through them like tissue paper.
So I started writing things down, putting my own characters through adventures, making things go the way I thought they should go, controlling the story instead of trying to control the players.
But it wasn’t until a friend I met through gaming challenged me to ‘put up, or shut up’ about my writing that I got serious about putting words down on paper. Oh, I’d talked about being a writer since high school, but I didn’t ever really believe, even after I was challenged, that I’d get published.
I mean, that kind of thing doesn’t really happen to ordinary people.
Without gaming, I would not have tried to get published.
It was the aforementioned gamer friends that said "let’s go to GenCon."
"What’s Gen Con?" I asked, and was promptly stuffed into a van with more people then sense--or money--and it was off to Milwaukee.
It was overwhelming. All those people, all those games, all those dice. Twenty-four hour anime, movies, costumes, I’d died and gone to paradise.
Then I stumbled on the writing workshops.
I found a new community of friends, who shared my passion for telling stories, putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard to try to get the words down on paper and share them with the world.
Here were people, who were published, mind you, willing to talk, willing to share, to tell me what not to do, what mistakes not to make, how the industry worked. In the early years, those workshops were geared more for the role-player, for writing dungeons and gaming materials. But there were kernels of information for tie-in books and short stories. Once I found the workshops, you couldn’t pry me away. I was glued to those rooms for the entire four days, and came home energized and ready to write.
The workshops taught me about the actual business behind writing, the process of querying, the existence of the slush pile. Who the publishers were, the mysteries of agents, the professionalism of the profession. From actual, normal, living, breathing human beings who seemed to think it could happen. Even to me.
Without gaming, I would not be published.
When I attended GenCon in 2001, I worked up the courage to approach two of the writers that were giving seminars on writing and getting published. One was Jean Rabe and the other was Janet Deaver Pack. I waited until everyone else had cleared out, and then walked up to the table and asked if I could buy them lunch.
They both said "no." [A fact that I remind them both of on a regular basis.]
The negative response was because they both had prior commitments. But Jean asked me to walk with her to her book signing in the dealer’s room, and Janet offered to meet me about an hour later for lunch. Since then, they have both become dear friends and wonderful mentors.
Jean suggested, pushed, then demanded that I go to World Fantasy Convention. She told me that I had to get more exposure to the writing world, and World Fantasy was a great place to network. So, with a bit of hesitation, I decided to go.
Now, I am a morning person, and I exercise in the mornings to try to keep my blood pressure down. So I am usually awake at 5:00 am. With the time change, I was awake at 4:00 am.
Since there was no getting back to sleep, I threw on my exercise clothing and grabbed my swim suit and went to the hotel’s exercise room. I did my treadmill and weights routine and then changed and paddled around the pool until I was tired. I floated, letting the pool get really still, looking at my toes, because I don’t get to see my toes that often. . .
Then a woman came into the pool area, took off her robe and stepped into the water. I was fairly sure she hadn’t seen me, and since I didn’t want to startle her, I said "Good morning”.
I startled her.
But she laughed, and got in the water and paddled over near me. “Good morning!” She said, in a lovely British accent. “Are you here for the convention?”
“Yes, I am.”
“In what capacity?”
“I’m a writer. Well, I’m a wanna-be writer. I am here with my friend, who’s published.”
“Oh, you will have a marvelous time. It’s a great convention.”
“So, you’re here for the convention too? In what capacity?” I asked innocently, treading water.
“Oh, I’m an agent.”
I splashed around for a minute, trying not to drown. “An agent? Do you know how dangerous it is to tell a wanna-be writer that you are an agent? In a pool?”
We talked a bit longer, exchanging names, and then I had to get out of the water, since I was turning into a prune and meeting Jean for breakfast.
The convention was great. I enjoyed the panels and meeting lots of people whose names I knew. Everyone that I talked to was warm, friendly and encouraging.
And I kept running into the agent. She’d be in the same panels, or eating at the table next to me. So much so, that we ended up sharing a cab to the airport, and after we got through security, sitting and talking for about an hour.
As we got up to go to our gates, she handed me her card, and offered to read my book, IF I wanted an honest opinion. I was flabbergasted and asked if she was sure? She laughed, and said yes, but cautioned me that she was going to give me an honest opinion. I told her that more than anything, I wanted to know if I was wasting my time.
So, I over-nighted the manuscript to London. [Do NOT ask me how much that cost!] I kept checking the tracking number to make sure it got there. The darn thing went to TENNESSEE? What was doing in TENNESSEE? [It’s our hub, ma’am. Please calm down.]
When it arrived in London, I got an email from the agent, saying that she had it and would get back to me in ninety days. So I only checked my email every half hour.
Thirty days later, I got an email. She said it was a wonderful book. . .
. . .I just about died . . .
and IF I was willing to rewrite it to fix some major problems, she’d be willing to represent me.
. . .I was crying and dancing around the house and scared the cats half to death. . .
So I spent four months rewriting the entire manuscript from a thirty page revision outline. And three months later I had a three book contract with Tor.
I still tear up when I think of it.
Without gaming, I would not be an adventurer.
You should always roll the dice. Take a chance.
When your back’s against the wall, and your party is laying at your feet, and the orcs have flanked you, you can still roll a critical, still win the day. Never, never give up, until the last die is thrown, the last bit of magic cast from your fingers, the last hit point bled out onto the cold stone floor of the dungeon.
But having said that, I must also say this: You always fail on a one.
For gaming has also taught me that sometimes the dice are against you. Magic sword, magic shield, magic plate and all the protective spells in the universe can’t save you from a bad roll, at a bad time, for a bad result.
Sometimes you fail. And there are consequences to that failure. Sometimes you lose items, stats, gold.
When it happens, (not ‘if’, mind, but ‘when’) you don’t crumple the character sheet, or throw the dice against the wall, shouting obscenities. (Well, maybe that one time - but it was completely justified. Honestly, it was.)
No. You roar against the inherent unfairness of the universe. You mourn, you grieve, then you move on, hard as that might be. You deal with it.
Gaming has taught me to take chances, my eyes wide open to the perils and rewards.
There’s a theory that life is really a game. We are spiritual beings that choose to play in mortal shells, picking our attributes and stats, our advantages and disadvantages. A swift throw of the die and it begins, as we learn and grow in the game we call life. Until the Ultimate Gamemaster calls for the final saving throw, if you will. When we sit back and contemplate the lessons we have learned, the dice rolls we’ve made, and all of our choices.
Until such time as we pull out a new character sheet, get the dice out, and start the next game, the next quest.
So, you’ll pardon me if I bring this essay to an end. I have a gaming session tonight. I need to make sure that my character is ready, and that my dice are in my bag. Sure, it takes time and effort to maintain a gaming group these day, both table-top and online. But I make the effort.
Because without gaming . . . . well, where would I be?
Elizabeth Vaughan is the USA TODAY Bestselling Author of Warprize, the first volume of The Chronicles of the Warlands. Her father introduced her to sci/fi and fantasy, and she’s never looked back. She loves fantasy and romance novels, and has played Dungeons and Dragons since 1981, both table-top and the online game. The Chronicles of the Warlands stretches over eight books, with more to come. The latest in the series was Wardance, 2017. Beth also has a number of short stories published in various anthologies.
Beth is owned by incredibly spoiled cats and lives in the Northwest Territory, on the outskirts of the Black Swamp, along Mad Anthony's Trail, on the banks of the Maumee River.
You can learn more about her books at www.writeandrepeat.com.