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The Boston Globe

Opinion

ALEX BEAM

‘Saved my life’: Can it be that easy?

A fan dressed as a dwarf from “The Hobbit” arrives to re-enact a battle in a Czech Republic forest.

AFP/Getty Images

A fan dressed as a dwarf from “The Hobbit” arrives to re-enact a battle in a Czech Republic forest.

A few weeks ago, I hied my tired bones out to Lexington to hear Globe contributor Ethan Gilsdorf lecture on the subject “Hobbits, Heroes, Gamers, Geeks: What Explains the Rise of Fantasy, Gaming and Role-Playing Subcultures, or How Dungeons & Dragons Can Save Your Life!”

It was the final, understated phrase that caught my attention. Can playing D&D, the famous fantasy role-playing game enjoyed by the San Antonio Spurs’ elfin-eared forward Tim Duncan and millions of others, really save your life?

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Gilsdorf makes a powerful case: “For me, a kid who was shy, introverted and insecure, D&D was a training ground to try out more daring versions of myself — powerful wizards and death-dealing warriors — that I could never be in real life,” he says. “A roll of the dice guaranteed that even the tiniest hobbit might find a chink in the armor and have a chance to slay a dragon, bring home the treasure, and be the subject of great legends.”

My friend James Parker is working on a similarly titled book, called “How Heavy Metal Can Save Your Life.” It’s an ambitious undertaking, given that two lawsuits filed in the 1990s alleged quite the opposite: that heavy metal’s death-obsessed, guitar-shredding cacophony was driving teenagers to suicide.

Parker is having none of that. In full-throated rhapsody mode for his beloved Metallica and Black Sabbath, he writes: “When it starts to get heavy, dilating your blood vessels and stirring the roots of your hair, you know you are approaching the primary vision — of man besieged, man pulled apart, man suspended over gulfs of penal fire.”

Somebody get that boy a Diet Coke and a Xanax!

“Save your life” is a fascinating catchphrase, to be sure. Reading a daily newspaper can save your life; everyone knows that. So can a diet that limits your intake of [pick one: dark chocolate, saturated animal fat, kale, cicadas]. Religion has its salvific claims, indeed. But, so does — roller derby!

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Yes, roller derby, according to former derby gal Pamela Ribon, who was hyping her book “Going in Circles” at Oprah’s Book Club. “In roller derby, if you give your team everything you have, they just might give you your life back,” Ribon writes. “We fight together as a league of extraordinary women, ready to hit back and win.”

“How Starbucks Saved My Life” was a fairly well-received book by cashiered 63-year-old advertising exec Michael Gates Gill, who rebuilt his life by rebooting as a green-aproned barista. I read a bit of it on Amazon — you know, the Darth Vader of bookselling we are all boycotting.

I guess you haven’t read the essay “How Amazon Saved My Life,” by Jessica Park of Manchester, N.H. She includes herself among a large number of authors earning a living by self-publishing on Amazon and other websites: “Say what you want about this company,” Park writes, “but it’s because of them that I can continue writing.”

The self-described “Ninja-cardio-thoracic-engineering-writer” Okechukwu Ofili has written two “saved my life” books: “How Stupidity Saved My Life,” and the sequel “How Laziness Saved My Life.” I won’t claim to have read these books, and I don’t plan to read them. I’m so unenterprising, I barely glanced at the first line of Ofili’s “Laziness” tome: “For months, I knew I wanted to write a book about laziness.”

I’m probably too lazy to bother saving my life at this point. But of all the proposed solutions, I think a game of Dungeons & Dragons might do the trick. Defeat powerful wizards, win the princess, and be the subject of great legends? Yes, count me in.

Globe contributor Alex Beam is the author of “American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church.”
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