• Daniel Kephart

My City - How Dungeons & Dragons Made Me Love Pittsburgh

Today's article is a contribution from guest author Anthony Corkos, a graduate student in Psychology at Waynesburg University.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: City of Champions

Terrible roads, hills everywhere, obnoxious "Yinzer" culture, overly fanatic sports fans, horrible weather, and generally poor city planning. Welcome to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

For most visitors, the drive through the Fort Pitt tunnel and the resulting view of Pittsburgh's skyline is the only redeeming quality of the Steel City.

After years living here, though, I've fallen in love with so much more than the view. Just beneath the grey-skied surface and plethora of potholes lies a city rich with culture, art, and history. A city populated by a strong and steadfast people, enterprising immigrants, and champions who poured their love and passion into every needlessly complicated road and city block.

We gave the world Mr. Rogers, Carnegie Steel, and the radical new thinking of Andy Warhol. Today, Pittsburgh is one of the most advanced cities in the fields of medicine, delicious food, and NFL football (well, maybe not this season).

My real love for Pittsburgh, though, sprang from a game of Dungeons and Dragons.

In the summer of 2017, a close friend approached me about a Dungeons and Dragons campaign he wanted to run. Instead of the typical medieval fantasy setting, he wanted to run it in a futuristic science fiction world, with the main setting being Pittsburgh, 100 years in the future. We'd play superheroes (that's right, we're entering real nerd territory here). It seemed like a simple but engaging enough premise for me, and so I signed up. The characters that my friends and I played were an odd crew, but one that meshed together well after a few sessions.

Our goals as players was to join a vigilante group of heroes who were based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (still in-game, relax). We got together to play every week, and as our characters grew closer in-game, our friend group grew closer in reality. Most of our characters were not from Pittsburgh in the game, but as they fought to protect the city, they grew to call it their home. The pride I felt from defending the city in a fictional world echoed in the real one, and my love for Pittsburgh grew in reality.

I articulated a vision--and over time I realized that vision was something I treasured.

The scale of our missions grew in the game. We fought powerful gangs, saved a rebuilt Fort Pitt from being destroyed by hidden explosives, took down super-powered villains, protected the Bishop of Pittsburgh from assassination, and reclaimed the Cathedral of Learning from a group of villains. 

The final mission that took place in Pittsburgh involved a full-scale defense of the city during the beginning of a war. The city was besieged. With hope dwindling and no countermeasures to speak of, our band of tenderfoot heroes was ready to give up. Just then, a voice broke through our radios,

"This is Lieutenant Flynn. Come face me and show me what this city's strongest fighters look like. I am waiting for you on the Boulevard of the Allies."

It was the enemy commander looking to defeat us in order to humiliate Pittsburgh in its darkest hour. So we accepted the challenge and faced this genetically-enhanced, heavily armed and armored super soldier in mortal combat (as long as we don't use the "K," they can't hit us with a copyright suit). 

The battle was arduous, brutal, and bloody. With only one party member still on his feet, and the emerald glass of the PPG Place raining all around the flaming city, the final blow was struck to Lieutenant Flynn. By our hands, Pittsburgh retained its honor, and with the arrival of reinforcements, it retained its existence as well.

That fight with Lieutenant Flynn stands out in my head as the moment my love for Pittsburgh grew exponentially through a couple dice rolls and great role playing. 

It is this moment taught me that, at times, fiction can possess a truth missing from daily experience. When you rediscover your inner child and allow yourself to make-believe once more as an adult, then you can discover things that you may never have thought of. Role playing, video games, TV shows, books, and movies have convinced me that when we truly dive into it, fiction can allow us to grow greatly as people. Actively participating in a story allows us to play within a fictional space without real-life consequences. We are able to experiment, try on new masks, and see things from a new perspective. We can learn things about ourselves and others. We can even resolve internal conflicts and come to terms with difficult or unfair aspects of our own lives if we really put the time into it.

A simple game of Dungeons and Dragons taught me that Pittsburgh isn't just the nearest city to me geographically. It is also the city closest to my heart and will probably stay that way. Now, whenever I exit the Fort Pitt tunnel, get hit by that blast of sunlight, and see the gorgeous Pittsburgh skyline, a little voice rings out in my head, 

"I protected this place. This is my city." 

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