This article tries to explain the link between trepidation and fear, The Duffer Brother’s ‘Stranger Things’ and its cultural ally; Dungeons & Dragons. It does this in order to say something important about tabletop gaming, of which Dungeons & Dragons is an example, more generally.
Fear comes in different formats. It is a plastic concept and experience. Things that left us awash with fearfulness as children might now make us laugh. To be fearful is a concoction of uncertainties, anxieties, suspicions and presumptions; yet is also deeply real. Exploring the formats of fear can give us tools with which to embrace it, and others to fight against it. The mutability of our fears is, in many ways, a hallmark of how we change as people. The fears we conquer, the fears we forget, the fears we fabricate. Stranger Things is about many things; but for now, it’s about fear.
The way fears are unraveled by the story of Stranger Things speaks to the many layers and facets our fears have; the fears of our immaturity, our maturity, the fear of supernatural forces, and of real ones. The concoction bubbles over. The chief way in which fear is negotiated in Stranger Things is through companionship. We are less easily scared away when we aren’t alone. This is a principle that the very youngest and the very oldest humans on earth understand well. It’s explained through symbols of teamwork, foremost amongst which is ‘the Party’. Whilst no one wants to stay the night on their own in ‘Stranger Things’, the fabric of companionship of the ‘Party between Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will is the talisman of togetherness versus fearfulness.
The ‘Party’ is, of course, forged in the fires of adventure and combat. An unshakable bond wrought in the imaginary of Dungeons & Dragons. The magic of tabletop gaming lies both in the companionship that it fosters, and in the way the lessons and mentalities we create through playing translate into the real world. In Dungeons & Dragons the trepidation that players feel is both imaginary and real. The two are indistinguishable. This is reflected, metaphorically, by Stranger Things’ use of the game. Tabletop gaming can be an important part of how people engage with fear. Building a companionship around the imaginary of tabletop gaming can give us very real assets outside of it.
Has role-playing and tabletop gaming helped you to engage with fear?