A Note from the Dramaturg: The Devil On Your Shoulder

By Grace Burns, Dramaturg, The Devil On Your Shoulder

The transition into collegiate life can be isolating and tumultuous for many new students. Striking the class-life balance, living away from home for what’s likely the first time, and creating a new social circle are all new changes that students have to navigate within their first few months at school. These experiences can be challenging, especially when it feels like you’re doing it alone. While many students may turn to befriend their hall mates or join organizations to help ease the loneliness, one thing that most students haven’t turned to is summoning the devil—or in this case the devils—in order to find companionship. The Devil On Your Shoulder, the recipient of this year’s Rod Parker Playwriting Award that opens this Thursday, March 14, follows Nikki, a college student who summons demons Lucifer and Satan to help curb her lonesomeness. The unlikely trio bond over everything from their mutual feelings of isolation to Dungeons & Dragons, a game that coincidentally emphasizes the importance of collaboration and teamwork.

Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop role-playing game invented in the 1970s that quickly expanded into a cultural phenomenon. It rose to popularity in the 1980s and quickly garnered a reputation for being a nerdy yet enticing game that gives players the opportunity to be their authentic or desired self. Players create characters with both chosen and randomized attributes. All of these characters are overseen by the Dungeon Master, who essentially acts as the curator and facilitator of their journey. These characters work together to complete “quests,” or adventures created by the Dungeon Master. The Dungeon Master takes the characters on goal-driven quests that can lead them to solve a variety of problems and hopefully save the day from villains or monsters. Throughout the quests, the Dungeon Master describes to the players the situation they’ve found themselves in and the dangers involved, and players collectively decide how they will react, then roll a twenty-sided die to see how successful their plan of attack is. This cycle can continue until players solve the quest, but this can continue for hours, days, or even years if players are passionate about playing the game together.

While it may seem monotonous or repetitive to the untrained eye, it’s a game that gives its players a sense of agency, escapism and creates trust between themselves and their fellow players. It’s also been known to create valuable, life-long friendships and is a great way to quickly bond with others. All of these reasons and more are why the show’s playwright and lifelong Dungeons & Dragons player Caleb Palmer included the game into Nikki’s story. When asked about the values that the game teaches, Palmer noted that “Dungeons & Dragons is such a great way to meet people, because you’re never more vulnerable than when you’re doing a silly voice around a table with a bunch of pieces of paper and pencils and other people. And it’s a great way to build up friendships and relationships that already exist, so I highly suggest to everybody that they play.” The strengths of Dungeons & Dragons make the game a perfect catalyst for our protagonists to show their vulnerable sides and bond about something outside of the power of the Necronomicon and the dangers of spirit summoning.

Devil On Your Shoulder is unafraid to let its characters indulge in their geeky sides, especially if it leads to a bond that transcends human reality. It also shows us the power of companionship and connection, especially between those who are unafraid to trust and be themselves around each other. Even if it’s through the use of outlandish costumes and fantasy stories, the closeness and connection that the game creates are not negated. The ability to let loose, be open to new experiences and take whatever life, real or imaginary, throws at you are all great skills to ease the lonesomeness of college life and ones that both Dungeons & Dragons and Devil On Your Shoulder celebrates.

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