Sartre, Dungeon Defenders, and the Human Condition
Meet Sprinkles, one of the apprentice characters I helped during this weekend’s Dungeon Defenders marathon. Because wyverns, folks. Because wyverns.

Have you ever found yourself dealing with feast or famine when it comes to the company you keep or the entertainment with which you surround yourself? This weekend was a testament to that very concept to me, personally. It was an exercise in understanding who I am and what I bring to the people around me — when I choose to bring it.

“If you’re lonely when you are alone then you are in bad company.” — Jean Paul Sartre

Growing up, yours truly had been taught to entertain herself with a myriad of options like books, art, writing, and video games. I had been given a dozen things at any moment during my childhood that would keep me happy even when I was left to my own devices. I was urged to utilize my time that I had to myself wisely because “keeping the peace” in my household was always optimal. Mother taught me there was a balance between being a social creature who could display eagerness to engage in activities with my friends and taking that time to have solitude on my own. Honestly, that woman taught me everything as a child, but most of all, she taught me that I didn’t have to be one thing or the other. I could easily ride the line on being content alone with my own time and being able to socialize with groups of friends from all walks of life. The dance between being a butterfly and a caterpillar looking to form a cocoon was a constant one, and it was effortless.

As an adult raising a child, I see the need to form those things within my kid, too. I’m forever working to show my daughter that it’s okay to be into those things that you do in order to feed your mind. At 32, I balance things like work and new college courses as well as time with my kid and a handful of friends. You have to, you know? Sometimes things have to get pushed to the side as you work on those that are most important and, once in a while, the fat needs to be cut away in order to keep focus.

Sadly, I was leaving socializing out more and more to put my heavy focus on work and my kid. Suddenly I was looking around and becoming overwhelmed and laden with guilt because even my escapism was becoming a quiet, single-person activity. Something was in need of change and it was on Thursday of last week that I did something about the solitude that was starting to overtake my life. The silence had become deafening, oddly enough, and when my written work had hit a fever pitch of attention from both positive and negative camps, I decided to break away from it all. Social media got pushed aside and video games got picked up — but not just any game, my friends.

Dungeon Defenders

Yes, Dungeon Defenders. Dungeon Defenders is a game with which yours truly is known to be addicted. Trendy Entertainment’s action/RPG-style tower defense game has had me as a steady player since its console release in 2011 and there hasn’t been any slowdown. The amount of people for whom I have either purchased the game or urged the purchase of the game is probably within the 30 to 40 range by time of print and I’ve even helped with a (mostly foul-mouthed) “Let’s Play” video to the game that ended miserably. At least a dozen times I’ve been told “I would’ve never played that game if you wouldn’t have convinced me to try it,” because it is just one of those titles. The cover art looks cutesy and whimsical, but the real meat to it is when you get in there and it truly holds something for everybody. I love showing it to people and getting them excited to level up and take on every level that Trendy releases to the public on Steam where it proved that you could give love back to the community and bring quality DLC out at a steady rate and not overcharge for it.

Sartre, Dungeon Defenders, and the Human Condition
The map, our defenses, and the chaos behind it. This was our weekend.

Basically: it is easy to break into Dungeon Defenders and close the rest of the world out for a while. I did that this weekend. From Friday to Sunday, I stayed up and just absorbed the game and taught two people the ins and outs of it that had never played it before. By the end of the weekend, we were all standing there with our new heroes, ready to see just what fresh hell we could get into. Suddenly, my time was spent rushing back to my computer — not for work, like usual — for actual enjoyment! I was putting my headset on and calling up a couple of friends and working out strategies and tactics to levels, working out percentage of success with the hero builds we were all using, and being completely entertained by the personalities of the people we gamed with. Before I knew it, more and more people were hearing how much fun we were having and coming into the fold as well, buying the core pack and then having me run them through leveling. Saturday was spent, on the whole, in the game. Honestly, it was the best use of a Saturday I have had in ages.

Sure, it could be argued that I should’ve gone out, but I had my reasons for not breaking out into the world: I just didn’t want to. Every day is usually a balance between running errands at the drop of a dime and getting my work done, and it was nice to have a couple of days where I absolutely didn’t need to do any of that. I didn’t need to work, I didn’t need to go rush and get anything, and my daughter was spending the night elsewhere. What else did I need? Nothing. So, while the majority of my usual company was off doing their own thing, I got to spend some much-needed time with my very good friends online, playing a game I loved, and introducing them to a new thing.

What more can one ask for?

It urged me to take a look at my strengths and everyone else’s in a soft, cushioned environment. Here we were, setting up strategies for defense with these brightly colored, happy characters, and yet they were facing true danger in each level. I became a diplomat at the start of each new wave when I would float over to key points in our defense, urge my friend Britton to place down a new tower, and then post my friend Greg at another area since he was our ranged hero. My experience in the game mechanics and level design gave me the sense that I was of use to guiding these two people through this new game and by teaching them the ins and outs, they were able to help guide another new person — Stasia — into the game without much help from me at all.

It sounds like what I chose to do in my off-time was more work, but it truly wasn’t. I’m at my best when I’m teaching people how to do things — especially when I really enjoy what I’m teaching. Dungeon Defenders is this perfect bubble of how the human condition works, where you can see all forms of a person and their personality in one game. You have the hardcore players who want to win at all costs, the ones who want to merely set up towers and watch from a distance, and those who enjoy the simplicity and sweetness to the whole thing. It’s even better, as I see it, when you’re playing with people who are a mixture of all three things. Honestly, I haven’t laughed as hard as I did on Saturday… in weeks, maybe months. Watching the horror and hearing the gasps of surprise when our seemingly strong defenses got overtaken by Insane level red ogres was something that had me in stitches.

So, come Sunday when I was winding down from my weekend and curled up in bed with some old movies, I had time to reflect on it. How, with just teaching and playing Dungeon Defenders, visually “alone” in my room and with little physical company, I still had the chance to relax away from the outside world while being social all at the same time. My strengths were put on display when it came to problem solving and it left me feeling quite good about myself. Crazy, right? Dungeon Defenders is a video game that showcases your strengths as a team leader without the dirty and sticky business of it being “only on a video game,” since these are things you march around with every day — not just when Steam is logged in.

What do you guys do when you need to relax, and what games do you find yourself playing in order to socialize from the comfort of your own home? Do you kick back with some Call of Duty and lead your squad to victory, or are you the raiding type in World of Warcraft? How do you express your inner leader while getting some decent R and R?

Images: from the author’s Dungeon Defenders marathon this weekend