Is This a Hobby Anymore? Reflections on a Decade of Dabbling in Tabletop Roleplaying Games

My blog crossed the 10-year mark earlier this year to no fanfare. I knew about the milestone (and even tweeted about it) though the moment lacks any sort of significance other than a reminder of how much time has passed since I was eager to share my thoughts with the world about combat speed in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. At that time, my motivation for writing was to fill a perceived gap in the flourishing online discourse about D&D; I felt my background as a mental health provider and researcher could be unique, and that first article was enjoyable to write!

The community enjoyed the article, which provided me with reinforcement to write about other topics. A pleasant feedback loop started as I was playing D&D regularly, which would spark ideas for articles, which would get me to write for the blog, which would result in others in the community discussing or sharing those articles, which would result in me being more interested in playing D&D and other games.

My enjoyment of tabletop roleplaying games such as D&D took on a bigger role in my life. I went from not playing at all to playing with a consistent group 3-4 times each month. And not only was I devoting time to LONG sessions each weekend (4e combat speed, am I right?!), I spent a good portion of other free time writing, editing, and promoting my blog on social media – primarily Twitter. Looking back, that time was such a luxury!

I am proud of the blog, which has accumulated the following stats in the past 10 years (and two months):

  • 276 Posts
  • 319,380 Visitors

The busiest day for the blog was on December 1, 2016 after Patrick Rothfuss shared an article I wrote about The Slow Regard for Silent Things on Facebook. That was cool!

And while I am far from the only person to get interested in podcasting, I figured again that I had a unique perspective as my clinical skill set helps me interview and move discussions in specific directions. I created Ego Check with The Id DM in 2016 without really knowing what I was doing (I probably still don’t).

I asked people if they wanted to come on the podcast to talk about a topic of interest and most individuals agreed. I had the mindset that asking people to be interviewed could not really go wrong; they could ignore me, say no, or agree. This process was enjoyable AND it took up a lot of time. For any one episode of the podcast, I’d have to do the following:

  • Brainstorm a guest
  • Contact guest
  • Schedule with guest
  • Ensure technology cooperated
  • Study for interview
  • Record interview
  • Edit interview
  • Write summary of interview for blog
  • Post interview
  • Promote interview

It is a significant amount of work, and again, I’m proud of the podcast, which so far has 64 episodes that have resulted in over 24,000 downloads.

The podcasting bug continued as my friend, Chris, and I decided to start another show, Childhood Ruined, in June 2017. We still have not locked in on a format for the show though it has been fun to experiment over the years – highly recommend the episode on Yacht Rock as an entry point! We comically cannot stick to a consistent schedule though have released 43 episodes tallying 1,815 downloads, which are mostly from our friends!

I appreciate all the support from friends and followers over the years. I think about some of the statistics above and feel pleased that articles I have written have reached a few hundred thousand people and the podcasts have reached thousands more. That part of this is rewarding, and there is another piece of me that finds those number quite meager for all the time, effort, and energy I have invested in the past 10 years.

My favorite page from Go, Dog. Go!
How can I get back to gaming with *this vibe!?

What else could I have been doing with that time?

And that brings me to my current state where I find myself struggling to know what I want out of tabletop (and other) games – and the changing community that I previously spent so much time floating around with. Much has happened to me in the past 10 years from all ends of the spectrum:

I never thought I would turn my enjoyment of D&D into a part-time gig or a full-time career, though I kinda-sorta spent my time over the years trying to cultivate an audience. When you create something, you want others to find it. I often wrote articles that made me laugh or cry, and I thought that if something got an emotional reaction out of me then it might get an emotional reaction out of others. In recent years, I have written more often about my brother’s suicide – whether the spark was A Star Is Born or Cobra Kai – than about anything related to tabletop games. I write better when things are coming from the heart, and lately my heart has not been in tabletop gaming.

I tried to steel myself to focus on “creating content” and went through stretches where I committed to releasing Ego Check with The Id DM every two weeks to see if that built a greater following. I started a Patreon at one point with the thought process, “Well, if people like my stuff and are willing to support it financially, then I should try to make that work.” And some people did, which was amazing – though I have been conflicted about taking that money since Day 1 – and rarely promoted it. I have a full-time career that I have no interest in walking away from, and there are folks light years more knowledgeable and deserving than I of financial contributions to create content.

Playing tabletop games like D&D was so much fun 10 years ago that I started writing about it. And writing about it was rewarding for a few years that it teased me with the idea of “doing something more” with my writing. Social comparison is a helluva drug and it can increase motivation or completely crush your soul. Every day on social media it is a rapid-fire succession of promoted content and people hustling to break through. I have rarely put in the required effort to make a dent, and I’m not sure I want to. And when I do put in the effort (some podcasts and book reviews in recent years come to mind), the reward is so short-lived and fleeting. That is not a critique of anyone else; it’s a critique of me.

A few years ago, I got an idea for a book in my head and it has weighed on me since that time. I know it is something I could write well. I believe there is a niche for the book; I believe it could be a “hit” and an important product. I even reached out to Wizards of the Coast to pitch it (though, again, I didn’t know what I was doing). They politely declined and instead of plowing ahead and writing it anyway, it’s still sitting there as an outline.

And my brain will mentally file it away for days or weeks. I’ll accept that I have a good life, solid employment, and family and friends to keep my attention. And then the thought returns to me that I should just say, “Fuck it!” and write the damn book. Writing takes time, and time is not something I have as much of these days. My workday demands are significantly higher than they were even two years ago. My son is four and I want to spend as much time with him as mindfully as I can. I continue to grieve the death of my brother and likely have a level of depression that ebbs and flows depending on a variety of factors in my day-to-day life.

(I meet with my therapist every few weeks.)

I have not been putting in the effort on my blog, the podcasts, or my “social media presence” or even making as much time to play games with friends. I have other priorities now. And for the most part, I’m okay with that.

I think.

Meanwhile, D&D and tabletop gaming has zoomed along ahead of me and partially left me behind. Streaming caught on and I side-stepped opportunities to play in streamed games; mostly due to anxiety. The one stream I did play was with some other acquaintances in the mental health & gaming realms, and I psyched myself up to play a character. The session started and I immediately felt out of place – like, holy shit, these people are acting and hamming it up and I’m doing a dull, gruff human. I talked myself into being the “straight man” in the group while everyone else performed dramatically during the game. I’m glad I did it though I was completely out of my element.

Watching other people over the past 10 years discuss tabletop roleplaying games including D&D, I realize that I’m an interloper. I played a bit of D&D in my teens and then skipped editions until 4e, which I enjoyed. I figured my background in mental health gave me an opening to speak to dynamics in the game that others might miss. Now there is a thriving community of mental health (and associated professions) making a living off incorporating tabletop RPGs into teaching or therapy; I have been pleased to interview several of them. Not that Mental Health & Gaming was ever “my” corner, though it certainly isn’t now!

I am also incredibly aware of my privilege and status as a straight, white male. Do I think I have a unique perspective on things given my upbringing full of chronic health issues and family trauma? Sure. Though outward facing I am another boring white guy with a blog and not one – but two! – podcasts.

I’m a cliché!

The hobby of tabletop roleplaying games would seem to be in a better place now than it was 10 years ago when I started the blog. I’m happy about that! Hopefully my blog contributed to that in some very small way. Gaming (and other hobbies) should work to become more inclusive. I think getting together with people to create stories, solve problems, and make each other laugh is a wonderful way to spend time. It can be hilarious and magical. And it can also be frustrating to balance the experience of playing a game with the mental burden of pondering how you might turn that experience into content and/or a paying audience.

I am not a victim; I actively participate in this cycle!

I accept that I’m not going to grow “The Id DM” and move on with my life. That’ll last for some time and then I get anxious/agitated/depressed that I am not creating content, and I start to brainstorm about what I could create, which then results in some excitement about creating content again. Then I either throw myself into a project or put it all on the back burner. When I have invested time and energy into a project, the incredible speed of online discourse means you can bask in the positive vibes of bare-minimum acknowledgement or feedback from others for maybe a few hours.

Then everyone is on to something else, and I’m back in that decision tree, “Do I create more content or not?”

And if I did create more content, then what do I get out of it? Does gaming need to be a sort of side-hustle, or can I go back to doing this for fun?

I still don’t have the answers.

Let me know where to find them!

Author: The Id DM

The Id DM is a psychologist during the weekdays. He DMs for a group of fairly loyal and responsible PCs every other Friday night. In the approximate 330 hours between sessions, he is likely anxious about how to ensure the next game he runs doesn't suck.

3 thoughts on “Is This a Hobby Anymore? Reflections on a Decade of Dabbling in Tabletop Roleplaying Games”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. It really echoes a lot of what I feel in my own head. I love RPGs, especially D&D. They have been my primary hobby and outlet for fun since I was an adolescent. Playing for almost 30 years now I feel like I should be doing something to contribute back to the hobby. Blogging, sharing content, just anything. But my feelings of self-doubt always creep in and not only stop me from sharing, but stop me from creating in the first place! Especially when I see some of the incredibly talented folks in the hobby today, sharing some amazing content. It doesn’t help that I’m not only a grognard (I skipped 4e and only dabbled in 5e) but a cis-het white dude as well. My perspective has been dominating the game since its inception, so who cares what I have to say? If I can ever overcome this imposter syndrome, I think I’d like to just go back to blogging like I did back in the day. And if anybody actually sees it cool. If not, well I know my family and friends will always ‘like’ my posts out of obligation. 😉

    1. Thank you for reading. I think the allure of the possibility that your hobby could be turned into something profitable is always lingering, and that’s different than 20-30 years ago. And the market/community is flooded with talented people creating really cool stuff. It’s a challenge to mentally navigate it all.

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