I’ve spoken often about the power of storytelling. Of course I’m not the first to talk about this and surely won’t be the last. Storytelling is part of being human, after all. Every culture tells stories, and many a book has been written, without irony, about the impact of stories. As interesting as those dissections may be on an intellectual level, I’ve been pondering what that phrase, “the power of storytelling”, really means in practical application. What does that power look like when you see it in the real world?
Worry not, dear reader. I don’t intend to take the magic away from stories when I speak of practicalities. In fact, I have found quite the opposite occurs and the magic and wonder I feel about stories is increased when their power is set loose on the world. I’ve been open to story and in turn it has affected me in ways I never anticipated. In fact, I have a perfect example of what I am talking about and it was this situation that inspired me to write about this topic in the first place.
Currently I’m going through a rough patch in my life. The details don’t matter so much, but suffice to say that it is causing enough upheaval that am writing this surrounded by boxes and with no knowledge of where I’ll be living in the next month. In addition, this change is completely unexpected and much sooner than my planned move this winter. Not exactly the recipe for stability and comfort, to say the least.
In this struggle, I was seeking a way through the challenges I’m facing on a daily basis. I knew it was going to be a long haul, a couple months of deep uncertainty. While I talk often and at length about self care, I was having trouble finding a foothold, a source of comfort and strength to keep me grounded in reality rather than the infinite horrible potentials woven by my over-active imagination.
Unrelated to all of that, yet with a hint of kismet, I had started watching Critical Role. For those of you who have not seen the show, Critical Role “features seven popular voiceover actors diving into epic Dungeons & Dragons adventures”. It streams live on Thursday nights and all episodes are archived on YouTube, which is where I’ve been watching it. The show is currently a phenomenon, not just among the usual nerds, but also with those who’ve never rolled a twenty-sided dice in their life.
I could have hopped into the second campaign, currently in progress. But when possible, I like to understand a thing as a whole and I was curious to see how this group got where they are. So, I went back and started at the beginning. As I watched, the show evolved. They got better sets and better cameras. The fandom grew, the subscriber count climbing steadily with every episode. They moved from under Geek & Sundry’s wing to their own stand-alone company. These are all indicators of success, but that’s not why I was watching, of course.
The folks involved have presented themselves as kind, warm, generous people who care deeply about each other and their fandom. That warmth shines through with every dice roll and message to the audience, and yet this was also not the whole of why I was watching, either.
What has kept me going through this rough patch in my life has been the story. No, not just the story. Despite how engaging, well-crafted, and interesting it is in its random, wandering, sometimes chaotic development, it’s the characters that are the heart of this tale. Do not dismiss this as “just” Dungeons & Dragons. The characters go through adventures together as you would expect, but they are also a found family, one of my favorite kind of character portrayals. They laugh, cry, fall in love, and would die for each other and the lands and peoples they quickly come to love and protect.
The fact that they do all this, and are portrayed in-character by a group of excellent improvisers, would be enough to keep my mind occupied in those spare moments of down time. Yet this story is doing more than that. In addition to all the fun and much-needed escapism, there is deep wisdom to be found here.
When one character talks to an inexperienced young man who idolizes the group and wishes to run away from home to join them (this being one of many non-player characters handled by the dungeon master, Matt Mercer) , the wisdom that is passed along by the player echoes my own fears about where my life is and where it is going. The characters display courage that inspires me to dig deep for my own strength. They speak of fighting through the fear as I must do now myself. They laugh and pull pranks and drink heady wine and it reminds me that I too must take time to appreciate the joy and beauty in the world right now that I cannot afford to miss, else the sadness and fear will overwhelm me.
Call it synchronicity, magic, or just wild chance, but each time I sit down to watch the next episode, through this story I am given messages, receive the words I need to hear, and am buoyed by the power of the story being woven before my eyes. Anyone can read what they wish into a story, of course. To me, that is not a detriment, but a mighty tool. Being able to take something so simple, created with no intention other than to entertain, and pull that which you need from it like the sword from the stone, is nothing short of magic.
I’ve found healing, wisdom, guidance and strength in watching a self-proclaimed bunch of nerdy voice actors play Dungeons & Dragons. If that’s not a compelling example of the power of storytelling, well, I’m not sure what is instead.
Perhaps for you it’s in one of the stories in this very issue. I hope you’re able to find what you need in these tales. It may not even be the thing you are seeking, but if something is there waiting for you, I hope it brings you what you need. And if you are doing well and are happy and whole and at peace? Then I hope you enjoy the tales within these pages and they brighten your day. We could all use a little of that and, on those bright and shining good days, that’s what the power of storytelling looks like, too.