Illustration by Kjell Reigstad, based on cartography by Dyson Logos.
Adrian Daub | Longreads | August 2017 | 20 minutes (5,033 words)
“The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars […].”
— Jorge Luis Borges, “On Exactitude in Science”
I spent my adolescence around maps of places that didn’t exist. An older cousin read The Lord of the Rings over the course of a hot summer when I was nine, and I watched in fascination as he traced the Fellowship’s progress across the foldout map that came with the book in those days. This, I decided, had to be what grown-up reading looked like.
Maps were my entrée into geek life, and they remained the medium through which geekdom moved: beat-up paperbacks handed around between school friends, boxed sets at the local game store — we probably spent about as much time poring over maps as we did reading or dreaming up the stories that took place within the worlds they represented. The science fiction we read did without them, but any cover featuring a dragon, a many-turreted castle, or a woman in a leather bra suggested you’d find a map the moment you peeked inside the book. Read more…
When Tom became sick in the winter of 2003, we revisited the subject of quantum entanglement. It was early winter, and we sat in his small, comically messy apartment in Toronto, surrounded by jagged lightning-bolt towers of piled books. Dead insects and tendrils of cobweb and cat dander were heaped up in giant fuzzy swaths along the baseboards; the carpet erupted with geysers of dust at the slightest touch. The windows admitted only a diffused glow even at midday.
He wanted me to understand the concept of entanglement — how, once two subatomic particles have been part of the same nucleus, even if they’re subsequently separated by an enormous distance, they remain in a kind of sympathy with each another. A change in one produces an instantaneous change in the other. The notion captures the attention of quantum-physics enthusiasts because it suggests a kind of indivisibility of matter. It also seems to contradict Einstein’s insistence that nothing, not even information, can travel faster than the speed of light.
What may remain obscure, even now, is why people would choose to play D&D, all night, night after night, for years. Why intelligent human beings would find the actions of imaginary fighters, thieves, dwarves, elves, etc., as they move through a space that exists only notionally, and consists more often than not of dimly lit corridors, ruined halls, and big, damp caves, more compelling than books or movies or television, or sleep, or social acceptance, or sex. In short, what’s so great about Dungeons & Dragons?