I clearly remember the first time I played Dungeons & Dragons. It was the summer between sixth and seventh grade and I was over at my friend Steve’s house and he and a few other friends were about to start a session and one of them loaned me a character to play with. I had no idea what I was doing, but I loved the fact that this game (right at the dawn of home video gaming — not even sure the 2600 was out yet) required someone to tell the story we were in and all we had was some paper, pencils, and colorful dice, along with our imaginations, to be able to enjoy it. And, of course, our destinies weren’t fixed since we had to keep making decisions along the way.
Decisions such as mine to try and pick a lock on a door with this other dude’s character. I guess I was playing a thief, but not a very good one, because the lock was booby-trapped and the character was poisoned. I had to roll an icosahedron (fancy word for a twenty-sided die) and get a 20. Rolling a twenty is a very difficult thing to do since, obviously, you only have a one in twenty chance of doing it. I remember how all the other kids leaned over me to see what I rolled (and how the Dungeon Master in particular had a gleam in his obviously sadistic eye) and how the dude whose thief I was playing was especially sweating it (since once that character was dead, it was dead…for the most part). I, as I said, had no idea what was going on except all of a sudden I was expected to do this thing that everyone told me was just not done.
But I did it. Twenty.
And I was hooked. I played pretty faithfully well into high school, made a bunch of my own characters, bought little lead figures, all the various books (which I still have), multi-colored dice, and even played the role of Dungeon Master myself from time to time. I remember going home that night and enthusing to my mom about this awesome new game and the monsters in it and the weapons (like the vorpal blade — I specifically recall telling her about the vorpal blade) and how I suddenly knew what I was going to be doing for the rest of the summer (besides watching Price is Right). She gave me a lot of those “yes, dear”s and “uh-huh”s that moms are occasionally required to give their excited kids (whereas my dad eventually told me how D&D was a tool of the Devil, but that’s another story).
I also remember two girls named Anne and Pam. They were best friends and had attached themselves to the circle of guys I was hanging out with. We’d get together to play D&D at one or another’s houses while our parents were at work and Anne and Pam would always seem to be around so they got sucked in. Not that they wanted to. I have to admit I have no idea what they would have rather been doing since I was a self-absorbed teenage boy and they were outnumbered by a bunch of others just like me, but for some reason they decided to half-heartedly play along (we also played a lot of Diplomacy which they also soldiered through without enthusiasm, but I’m not going to talk about that because I’m trying to make a point here).
And the other day it occurred to me how much kink is like Dungeons & Dragons. I suppose I cannot be the first person to make this connection, but they both involve fantasy sessions where one person is in charge and others willingly submit to their authority. They both are replete with rules and traps and interpersonal dynamics that are only clear to those with experience or a willing guide. They both have friggin’ costumes and personas their players use to escape from the mundane world. Really, it seems to me, the same source of energy that feeds one’s involvement in a game as deep as D&D is where kinksters go to energize for their play sessions.
And, of course, there are adult, real-life versions of Anne and Pam involved. Namely, for me and those like me and many reading this blog, I’m talking about our spouses. My mom didn’t need to get all that into D&D to appreciate how much I liked it. She was on the outside. Our wives, though, (or partners or whatever you have), like Anne and Pam, do. And there’s no reason to think they’ll be any more enthusiastic about it than Anne and Pam were. Except Anne and Pam could have just walked away (they did, eventually) whereas our spouses don’t have that as such an easy option. To them, we’ve suddenly discovered a vast and compelling obsession with a complicated game they previously had no interest in playing (or maybe that it even existed) and, worse part is, the rules are obtuse, unclear, and often being generated on the fly by their suddenly enthused partner.
Imagine that from their perspective.
If you’re lucky (like I am), your partner is willing to learn the rules (or, more correctly, establish them with you). If you’re not, they aren’t. But in either event, rushing into it and trying to go from Vanillaville to a fantasy sex slave cuckold in permanent chastity has about as much chance of success as my rolling a perfect twenty almost thirty years ago. It could happen, but nobody can remember seeing it for themselves.
So anyway, think about that. Think about how much guys like us expect our partners to digest and change and how impatient we generally are about it because we’ve just found this awesome new game! No, really, you’re going to love it! Really! There are no Player’s Handbooks (well, there are some that try to be, but the rules aren’t so well defined). There are no Monster Manuals. This shit is complicated and often unexpected with its arrival in a relationship. At least from their perspective.
You can drop a guy into a D&D session without guidance or warning and tell him to roll a twenty and it’ll be OK. You can’t do that with the person you share your life with. You need to go more slowly.