Making Friends & My Alter Ego

Dormon Horfitz is two and a half feet tall, two hundred years old, and never seen without his cane–though he has enough pep in his step that you’d expect he doesn’t need one. This is because he does not in fact need it. It is his magical staff–his focus. Dormon is not real. He’s my character in an ongoing Dungeons and Dragons campaign I’m in with some people from the University College Dublin. Due to the current restrictions in Ireland, I haven’t had a chance to meet any of my classmates in person. However, I had the opportunity to join a remote D&D campaign. We meet over Zoom once a week for several hours to track down demonic cultists, battle wyverns, and capture Nightmares.

The thing about meeting people remotely for D&D is that they don’t know me, and I don’t necessarily know them either. Instead, we’ve gotten to know each other’s characters. A resourceful and paranoid rogue, an upstanding and gullible cleric, a flute playing bard who’s always chasing down her four children. They’ve had meals together in dingy

taverns, camped out deep in the woods, and gotten fair food at the annual spring celebration. Through these adventures and misadventures, we’ve created friendships and connections.

D&D has offered me a unique opportunity in these times. I can let my own insecurities go and step into a new world. This fabricated world has allowed me to make connections with people I would never have otherwise met. You’d be hard-pressed to find a group of strangers who’d be willing to sign up to sit on Zoom for two hours every week with each other. However, that’s exactly what I’ve found myself doing.

I won’t lie. It’s been taxing. I’ve moved to a new country where restrictions keep me from meeting anyone, just to sit in a bare dorm room watching video lectures all day, eat, sleep, and repeat. I’ve found myself falling into my shell. However, I haven’t had to do it alone. My dear friend Dormon and his loyal companions are there for me every Thursday for a couple of hours to dispel the dreary mundaneness.

Beyond the joy that this D&D campaign has brought to me in these times, it has also further shown me the power of technology to foster and maintain connections. D&D on Zoom feels in many ways like an odd mashup of the old and new. I can see and talk with people from six different locations all at once, and yet we play a game where we roll dice to deal damage and tally our health points on a piece of scratch paper. However, I think this is when technology is at its best, because it is unobtrusive. It brings us together but lets us forget it exists. As someone who does research in computational creativity, I think this is a crucial lesson. Computers do best when they stay out of our way. Software that allows computers to create on their own behalf can toe the line between competition and collaborator. As a developer of such software, I must keep in mind that the best tools lay in waiting until called upon, and don’t stray too far from the artist’s intent.

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