Fun, but With Structure

Fun, but With Structure

Growing up in the 1980s, I knew there were kids like those on “Stranger Things,” which returns Friday for its fourth season, who spent their after-school hours playing Dungeons & Dragons. I was not one of them; I played with Barbies. I figured what I was doing with dolls — acting out scenes involving homework, school dances and what happened last weekend at the plastic pool — was a far cry from the secretive world of the D&D table, with its arcane mythos and complicated rules.

It wasn’t until 2000, when an episode of the show “Freaks and Geeks” featured kids playing D&D, that I got a glimpse into how role-playing games worked. In essence, it was not so different from what my friends and I were doing with Barbies: imagining and then inhabiting characters, writing stories collaboratively, escaping reality while developing real-life social skills.

While I retired my Barbies by the time puberty hit, the universe of Dungeons & Dragons is intricate and expansive enough that it has continuing appeal for adults. In fact, it has so fully emerged from nerd-dom that it has become “something of a social flex — the antithesis of the popularity contest that was the 1990s and early 2000s, an antidote to our more basic tendencies,” Amelia Diamond writes in The Times this morning. Vin Diesel plays. So does Tiffany Haddish.

I’ve written about how socializing is weird lately. D&D offers one way to alleviate some of the anxiety. Rules govern interactions, and a dungeon master who acts as both narrator and referee enforces them. In the safety of this container, players explore, improvise, cocreate worlds.

“All of us at times feel a little inadequate in dealing with the modern world,” Gary Gygax, one of the creators of D&D, once said. “It would feel much better if we knew that we were a superhero or a mighty wizard.”

D&D and other role-playing games, improv comedy, murder-mystery parties where each guest is assigned a part in a whodunit, even escape rooms: They’re all creative, rule-bound forms of fun where scenes are created in real time and success requires teamwork and trust.

They’re lo-fi ways to socialize through performance, a relief from social media venues that insist we perform as ourselves for an audience of friends and followers. These activities give us permission to play, to drop our inhibitions and try on new personas. They let us escape into another world for a little while.

Ideas for structured fun that you recommend? Drop me a line.

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I’ve always been a strong advocate for eating dessert for breakfast, which is part of why Jordan Marsh’s blueberry muffins have been on my radar for a while. I finally whipped up a batch this past week, using thawed frozen berries as suggested in the recipe notes. And I’m here to report that these purple-speckled beauties are truly deserving of their 11,000-ish five-star ratings. Yes, they are distinctly cupcake-like: fluffy and sugary, and completely delightful with your morning cup of coffee or tea. But if the idea of cake before noon puts you off, serve them as a midafternoon snack or even dessert — the after-dinner kind of dessert, that is.

Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Rangers, N.H.L. playoffs: The Rangers are hot. Down 3-1 in the last round, they beat the Penguins three games in a row to win the series. “They have the best goalie in the league this year, Igor Shesterkin,” David Waldstein, a Times reporter who has been covering the playoffs, tells us. “They are really fun to watch and are becoming a big story in New York. Lots of folks are jumping on their bandwagon.” Game 3 is 3:30 p.m. Eastern on Sunday on ESPN.

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The pangram from yesterday’s Spelling Bee was raunchy. Here is today’s puzzle — or you can play online.

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