Aaron Archer and I have been bouncing art (him) and words (me) and storytelling (both of us!) and ideas back and forth since middle school – almost four decades ago.
In December 2019, we met up for a long afternoon lunch, bringing bags of books and notes and drawings, and Aaron told me about an Ohio-themed comic anthology he was working on a piece for. He was inspired by the old Marvel comics guides that featured single-page dossier-type profiles on characters or places or events. Being from Canton, Aaron wanted to do something based on the idea that the sword-shaped grounds of the McKinley Monument are, in fact, an actual gargantuan weapon magicked and forged and secreted beneath the grounds.
“Think you’d want to write something like that?” he asked.
That evening and the next day, I spent a handful of hours enthusiastically reading and writing and banging out a first draft, and I had a blast doing it. And Aaron said it was just what he’d been hoping for. (Which look – the guy knows a thing or three about shaping a story, so even though we’re basically brothers and I knew pretty well what he was going after, hearing that I’d delivered what he wanted made me feel really good.) I made a few edits on my own re-reads, and he sent it off.
In late March, I went to Gary Con XIV in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where I enjoyed about 25 hours of tabletop role-playing games over four days. I played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (first edition), Dungeons & Dragons (fifth edition), Marvel Super Heroes, Achtung! Cthulhu, Traveller, and my friend Alex‘s homebrew game set in the bronze-age fantasy world of Azor.
It was a lot of table time.
During the drive home, I had a realization: I find playing RPGs creatively fulfilling. (This is a “Well, duh” moment for anyone who knows me, because it doesn’t take much to get me rolling about how RPGs are a form of collaborative storytelling, and about their value in weaving together different perspectives and all of that.) But this time, the thought crystallized into something very personal:
I find role-playing games creatively fulfilling and I am allowed to recognize that playing time as creative productivity.
Why the emphasis? Because over the past few years in particular, I haven’t felt like I’ve been creating enough. I’m fortunate to have been writing professionally now for more than 25 years – but wording for work is different than wording for fun, and I have regularly felt like I haven’t done enough of the latter.
But you know, for all the times I’ve thought, “Dang, I didn’t write anything this week outside of work,” I could just as easily say, “After work this week I spent eight hours immersing myself in characterization, considering roles and plans and motivations of protagonists and foes, weighing story possibilities and outcomes, selecting plot directions, and – ultimately – making art with my friends.”
The stories we tell at our tables – both physical and (these days) virtual – are the result of everyone’s effort, everyone’s imagination, everyone’s skill and creativity and passion and ideas. We put ourselves into them and make something fun and worthwhile that we enjoy in the moment and can look back on and smile.
So, yeah: I can definitely count that as creatively productive time well spent.