Somewhere around 2010, I read an article talking about how older adults are slower to make friends than young adults, teens, and children. This confounded me because I was definitely an older adult but I had a whole swath of newish friends I’d become close with around that time. And then it hit me. I made all of those friends because of roleplaying games.
There’s a lot of talk lately about what is being called the Loneliness Epidemic. While it seems new, this is something that has been building for many years but was made worse and abundantly clear during the early days of the pandemic when isolation was encouraged to protect everyone. That time exposed how vulnerable we are as a society to feeling disconnected and alone. Between a fast-paced world that seems like its careening from disaster to disaster and the devices we lose ourselves in for distraction, there are many reasons why loneliness is becoming a massive societal problem. It’s such a prominent issue that the United States Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, recently wrote an editorial about it in the New York Times.
I’m no doctor or psychologist. I’m just an artsy nerd who works with photography and computers for a living and then spends most of my off hours obsessing about playing pretend with my friends. What I can speak to on this subject are my own experiences and how I believe staying active and involved with roleplaying games is an excellent way to build friendships and community to help push back the loneliness hovering ominously in the shadows.
Connections with new people take time to grow into meaningful friendships. Psychologists have written studies on the amount of time that needs to be spent creating that bond, but it basically boils down to regular blocks of time together and shared experiences. When you’ve got a busy job, a family to care for, responsibilities around the house and any other number of the obligations you pick up as an adult, it can be hard to make new friends. Busy adults just don’t have the time to invest in creating those needed shared experiences. But hey look, roleplaying games can give you that!
Whether it’s finding a group through your friendly local game store, online through a focused RPG community, or attending a convention to try out new games, roleplaying games let you spend a few hours with like-minded folks playing games together. Do it on a regular or a semi-regular basis and it is pretty much guaranteed you’ll make a friend or two that can last beyond the game itself. Gaming gives us both time together and shared experiences, both important ingredients in brewing up a friendship.
Twenty years ago, I was fed up. While I was still close with my college group of friends, we didn’t game together anymore. I was heavily involved with Everquest and had some friends from that game, but it wasn’t quite the same. I honestly just missed gaming. So, I tentatively started trying to find a regular game to play. I’ve told this story before, so I won’t get into the nitty gritty details, but through some twists and turns, I found three guys that I enjoyed gaming with and we started the core of a regular gaming group that is still going strong today. Over the years, we’ve picked up some other folks along the way and I can confidently say we are a close-knit group of friends.
Around that same time, I also started going to conventions to experience new games. Almost instantly I started making connections with other gamers I would regularly see at conventions. It’s been long enough now that some of those friendships have come and gone, but more have taken their place. Heck, I wouldn’t be here writing this article if I hadn’t met John Arcadian at Origins way back when. I even just spent the last weekend in Ohio at a hotel with 30 beloved convention friends having a fantastic time gaming and hanging out.
Now, what worked for me may not work for everyone. I know plenty of people who do not enjoy gaming with strangers and conventions are not for everyone. What I can say is that if you know you enjoy gaming and you are struggling with a lack of connection in your life, it is worth reaching out to your local or online gaming community. Gamers, for all our awkward nerdy natures, are social creatures. We thrive on creating that shared experience at the table.
Life is kind of a lot right now, and we need the kinship we get from a shared love of games. Whether you’re looking for making some new connections or meet someone looking for the same, roleplaying games can make bonds and friendships like almost nothing else.