My Shrinking World

Some days, it feels like the world is shrinking. So many pillars of my life are disappearing or crumbling before my eyes. The recent Open Gaming License (OGL) debacle by Wizards of the Coast has shaken one of the foundational pillars of my modern life, revealing the growing cracks that were hidden from my eyes (largely due to privilege and my frequently tangential involvement in the Tabletop Roleplaying Game section of the internet). The way that Twitter is slowly dwindling as it is likely on a path towards being mismanaged into irrelevance (as evidenced by the recent changes to the app’s feed system). Old apps and websites I used to go to for entertainment have already boiled the frog and it took major highlights of the difference between my recent experiences and the reasons I used to spend my time on them to make me realize I needed to move on. Sure, I’ve managed to find a lot of new things to fill the gaps in my life (at least mostly, anyway), but it still feels like my world has shrunk.

I have mainly played Dungeons and Dragons over the last decade, but it actually wasn’t my first introduction to TTRPGs. Back in the days when I occasionally had good times with my brother, we made up a game that involved drawing maps on graph paper and describing the story of a triangle moving through them as it eliminated a series of X’s in pursuit of some goal. Later on, in high school, when I wanted to recapture the fun of this game without the association with my brother, I wound up creating an entire TTRPG based on a story I’d started writing. It was rudimentary since I didn’t really understand statistical ranges or that there were dice other than the six-sided kind, but it was my first real foray into the homebrewing world.

When I eventually got into Dungeons and Dragons, I still modified the rules a lot, since a bunch of the people who got me into the game also played Pathfinder. We all usually wound up playing a fusion of the two we called “3.P” that brought in our favorite parts of both, though it tended to rely more heavily on the content of 3.5 rulebooks (mostly since that’s what we had in abundance). As the years passed and I wound up moving on to 5e, I started to look at other games entirely. After all, the whole point of these games is to have fun, so why not bring in things from other games that me and my players will enjoy? From there, I moved on to evaluating games that just seemed like it’d be fun to try them out on their own. I rarely got the chance to, though, since most of my players were dedicated to Dungeons and Dragons since it’s a system they already knew and understood. They felt more comfortable playing in that arena and weren’t as excited by the idea of trying something new as I was.

Nowadays, they don’t get much of a choice (though I will add that they’ve seemed more interested in trying new things than they used to be). As the giant pillar that is D&D begins to crumble (though it remains to be seen if it will entirely collapse or if it can be repaired), it feels like a major part of my life is disappearing with it. Nevermind that I’m more prepared to play a wide variety of RPGs than ever (especially now that my players are buying in to them as well). My world has grown slowly but steadily over the last few years thanks to these games, but it’s still startling to see it shrink so much in such a short period of time.

I’m running into this problem in a lot of other places as well. It happened to my social life in 2019 and 2020 as I eliminated toxic relationships. It has happened to my time-waster apps on my phone as I finally signed out of imgur for the last time after a full week of being unable to load posts while the Ads coating every inch of the app were still appearing just fine. At this point, as Twitter circles the drain thanks to a bunch of my active friends leaving the app and the slow disintegration of basic functionality (like notifications and the appearance of tweets by the accounts I’ve followed), I just use my phone for texting, sudoku, music, alarms, checking my email, and monitoring the weather. I don’t really have any apps I use for short or long-term entertainment anymore, not since they all got increasingly unusable unless I wanted to pay for a premium account of somekind, a new phone every year, or old games going pay-to-win. Even the number of webcomics I follow has dwindled as creators have increasingly shown their entire metaphorical ass about dumb issues or as they’ve withdrawn from the internet for a variety of reasons. I used to check an average of twenty comics a day and now I’m down to three or four.

I’ve also found a lot of great new authors, found a trove of excellent podcasts, and refocused myself on creative expression rather than media consumption, growing my life in a lot of healthy and personally fulfilling ways. It just feels like I’ve been slowly expanding in some areas as major pieces of my life vanish. I used to be the memes person in all my friend groups, but now that I can’t stand most of the places I’d go to get them, I don’t have anything interesting or funny to share anymore.

You don’t need to look very far to see the number of things shrinking. Video game companies getting bought out and brought under a single roof. Streaming services and media production companies getting absorbed by ever-larger media giants. Services cutting down on what’s available in order to maximize their profits. Modern political discourse further siloing into the “fuck everyone, I got mine” group and the “nothing needs to change because everything is fine right now” group. The open horizons of life shrinking as debt and income inequality limit people’s abilities to do anything but service. Climate change making seasons smaller (at least for me, living in the Midwest). Everything seems to be shrinking, and that’s without even mentioning how the physical world I inhabit feels like it is shrinking as I feel more and more like the only person around who remembers that we’re in the middle of a pandemic.

I understand that a better understanding of the world tends to make it seem smaller. The more we understand about the world around us, the more it seems like stuff we thought was unreachable is actually something we could grasp if we wanted to. I get it. This level of shrinking just feels like it’s more than just a better understanding of the would could account for, especially when my main two happy places on the internet, my Twitter feed and my homebrewing/campaign sections of DnDBeyond, are quickly becoming unpleasant, rotten, and unaccessible. It might just be the speed with which WotC and D&D imploded over the past few weeks, but is really difficult to push back against the feeling that the world I live in is slowly dwindling until all that will remain is work and some of my video games.

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