2022, Jan 05    

I encountered Baldur’s Gate when I was a teenager. I found it hopelessly complex to grasp, but I persevered and made some progress through the game over the years. Eventually, I gave up and found my way to other, easier games which were nevertheless still challenging. I didn’t start playing the original, tabletop role playing games which served as inspiration for Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights and so many others until I had been at Google for a few years. I enjoyed the board game and card game culture at Google Cambridge, though I was only an occasional player. I ended up gathering a few people to run a Call of Cthulhu game during lunch, which was quite fun though a bit stressful since everything needed to happen in 1 hour. Later on, I played in a Fate Core game run by the inimitable Colin McMillen with a few friends from the office (who are notoriously hard to keep in touch with).

I ran my first actual Dungeons and Dragons game with an ex-coworker from Google Singapore and his friends back in early pandemic days. I was thrilled to break out my dungeon master hat once again and do some collaborative storytelling with a few strangers. As preparation for my role, I started watching HarmonQuest. I left it behind in season 1 some time in 2017 and I kind of regret it. It’s a very enjoyable show and it showcases what good roleplaying looks like. The players bring their acting talent and imagination to problem-solving in a very real way. The dungeon master is the enabler of happenings, and so this role is uniquely suited to me. In many situations, I like to hang back and subtly nudge the pieces so that things roll and collide to a climax that’s surprising even for me. In a game like League of Legends, I love to play support and help the damage-dealers build up to become ever-more powerful. It’s the perfect little hole for me.

At Google, I carried a “pager”, which is to say, I would receive a call when a service went down, and I would need to log on and fix things. One of the fun aspects of carrying a pager is you never know what kind of situation you will encounter. You have to often improvise a response that has an unknown chance of working. To practice for this, the reliability engineering team created playbooks and an honest-to-god tabletop roleplaying experience where you can try out your improvisational capability. Software engineering in the corporate world has a culture, in addition to being a discipline based on computer science. The culture often includes various activities and status structures that help individuals balance the inputs they receive during the day. I think tabletop gaming is one such activity. It supplements the lecture and book-derived knowledge and nurtures a creative spirit to tackle the unforeseen elements of the job.

Or perhaps, the same minds that enjoy learning about arbitrary rulesets in machines and keeping track of state in their heads tend to enjoy learning about arbitrary rulesets involving dragons and keeping track of state on a pencil and paper. Or perhaps…tabletop gaming like D&D has a much broader appeal but hasn’t yet broken through to the mainstream.