Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2020

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Returning to a childhood pastime brings escape from pandemic’s social isolation

Dungeons & Dragons

Wade Vandervort

Dungeons and Dragons player Levi Harbeson, shown Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, says role-playing games have kept those in his social circle occupied during the pandemic.

Adam Bishop, the owner of War Room Games on Sunset Road, said there has been demand for gamer products during the pandemic, including Dungeons and Dragons and two-player, kid-friendly board games.

“A lot of people who come in will say, ‘Oh, I played D&D when I was younger, when I was in high school, but I haven’t played in 20 years and I thought it’d be something cool for my kids to learn how to do,’” Bishop said. 

Julian Aldag, an aerialist in the now-closed “Michael Jackson ONE” show, and schoolteacher Levi Harbeson are among a group of Las Vegans engaging in Dungeons and Dragons — the fantasy tabletop role-playing game — to keep in touch during the pandemic. 

Games are contested on a virtual map through a game website, Roll20. 

“Playing a game every week satisfied that kind of social side, at least to me because I’m kind of introverted, where I didn’t feel the need like ‘oh my god, I need to talk to someone today,'” Aldag said.

Dungeons and Dragons is widely considered the godfather of tabletop roleplaying games. First published in 1974, the game has experienced a surge in popularity recently due to references in pop culture touchstones like Netflix’s “Stranger Things.”

The game allows players to create characters from preset races — think humans, elves and orcs — and play through a story controlled by another player known as the Dungeon Master. This story can be an official adventure published by Wizards of the Coast, the game’s developer, or something the Dungeon Master has created himself.

The game’s rules are sometimes meant to be broken. Want to play a race that doesn’t have official stats? If a player writes it up and the Dungeon Master approves, it’s good to go.

Even before the pandemic, Harbeson hosted multiple game nights each week, including for a group of friends living in New York and another with many Strip performers.

“It was kind of fun because my Wednesday night game was all locals, it was all Las Vegas people,” said Harbeson, who teaches at Southwest Career and Technical Academy. “My Saturday night game was all people that I wouldn’t normally get to play with because they’d be in New York and they had jobs, but because of the pandemic everyone got laid off because they were all theater people.”

Online games have become a great — and COVID-19 safe — way to stay occupied during the pandemic, Harbeson said. Having someone to socialize with helps fill the social void caused by the pandemic, he said.

“Playing games online is definitely the safest, and the nice thing is I think it’s really allowed a lot of us that wouldn’t normally stay connected or be as connected to just be in touch with people,” he said.