Monday, February 10

New DND experience

A couple of my ideas and plans for new experiences this past week fell through, so I broke a rule and had my new cultural experience with my husband.  He has played the game Dungeons and Dragons for 6 or 7 years, but I had never even heard of the game until I met him.  Even after I married him I had not played, or even witnessed a game.  So this week, I accompanied him and participated in my first ever DND game, immersing myself in this subculture.

It was a very strange experience, to see how intent they are on being their characters.  I haven't played pretend since I was a little girl, and so I had a hard time playing the game as my character instead of as myself.  At times, I thought the players made very strange choices in the story, but they then explained their characters' back story and it made more sense.  As a newcomer, I hadn't developed a back story, so I had nothing to base my decisions on except my own logic.  Their obvious love for the game and passion for this version of playing pretend was hard to understand, especially how they could spend so many hours doing it.

The dynamics between the Dungeon Master (in charge of leading the story and playing the bad guys as necessary) and the other players are interesting to witness, as they ask him for permission to do things, or try things.  And where sometimes they can automatically succeed, and just continue telling the story, other times they are required to make what seem to be arbitrary dice rolls to use certain abilities.  For example, I might be able to see a jewelry merchant in a market with out a check, but to perceive that there are thugs tailing us, I have to make a spot check dice roll.  These were interesting and different ideas about how a game should work, and a clever way to integrate storytelling by the players.

The most confusing part, and where I felt my otherness and inexperience most was in navigating the character sheet and dice rolls.  There are a lot of numbers involved and modifiers to certain dice rolls that regulate attacks and defense and speed (because what fantasy game would be any good without a few fights?).  I didn't even know there was such a thing as a four-sided or twenty-sided die before this.  Keeping track of my life force with Hit Points was somewhat difficult, and even figuring out where to write the numbers down on the complicated character sheet.  I was just not well equipped to handle such a convoluted game situation.  In my mind, games should be fairly simple and fun.

Reflecting on this recent experience, and this assignment, I thought of many other situations where I have been the other.  I attended a Muslim prayer service at University Mall last year, went to a physics class with my then boyfriend (now husband) and was one of 3 girls, attended Presbyterian church services and did not participate in Communion, and shopped in an Aruban grocery store where everything was written in Dutch or German.  I have also been to many experimental restaurants and had many good and not so good dishes.  But here's the kicker: all of these are isolated incidents, usually one-time experiences; for some multicultural students that will be in my classroom, schooling in the U.S. is a 40-hour-per-week "other" experience.  They will feel confused, and not know the rules of the situation, written or unwritten.  They will be overwhelmed, because their other experience will be so immersive. They might worry about looking like a fool, even though there is nothing they can do about it.  It is bad enough that they are required to experience a foreign place, but on top of that, prejudices and discrimination abound and add to their difficulties.  I want to be a helpful teacher, instead of more of a hindrance for my students.  I want to teach them how to be comfortable in school, so that they can learn either at school or at home.  Foreign experiences and otherness are difficult to navigate, but I ant to make it worth the effort for my students, to help them learn and excel at school and life.