From the dawn of our species, humans have enjoyed good stories. In present times, the COVID-19 pandemic has dulled our lives, leaving behind a chilly longing, like a hug over too soon.
Whether it’s to bear witness to gushy love stories or to strap up with a band of adventurers, the brain releases feel-good chemicals like oxytocin when you hear a particularly engaging tale, keeping us coming back for more.
Pandemic-induced isolation exacerbated this need painfully. Unable to connect with others like usual, humans turned to alternative ways to participate in stories. Book and board game sales both rose drastically and the video game industry hit record heights, all in 2020.
Nik Porrelli, a third-year drama student, says that what makes stories exciting for him is how it makes him feel.
“Hearing a story gives you a little bit of the experience. You haven’t lived in the story, but a good storyteller can make you feel like you have,” Porelli said.
Actual play podcasts, a type of podcast on the topic of tabletop roleplaying games, are another storytelling medium that has gained traction during the pandemic. They are a listening experience for those who are fans of Dungeons & Dragons, as well as those who are not.
Involving a crew of players and a charismatic Dungeon Master to lead them through the world, actual play podcasts have quickly become a favourite genre among podcasters and story-enjoyers alike.
Rude Tales of Magic is one such podcast, combining Academy-Award-worthy acting with a high-octane and even-higher-emotion-filled plot, and with enough absurd improvised bathroom humour to spoil rotten your inner seven-year-old.
Truly, these tales are rude.
Porrelli says that as an actor, any story that grabs his attention motivates him to participate.
“I’m not even really that into Dungeons & Dragons. I checked out the show because my friends were talking about it,” Porelli said. “The game is such a tertiary thing — I’m just there for a good story.”
In a media landscape saturated with content, it takes a fresh angle or unique aspect to be the diamond in the rough. The cast of Rude Tales of Magic have concocted a strong brew of equal parts relatable, nostalgic spirit and outstanding world-building and narration.
Reflecting on his own experiences with Dungeons & Dragons, Porrelli likens the show to how it felt to play when he was younger.
“Rude Tales reminds me of how my friends and I would get together in elementary school and play D&D — if we were actually good actors and storytellers,” Porelli said.
“It has that same energy — having fun, being crazy, but with awesome emotional payoffs.”
Perhaps it’s the nostalgia that appeals to the over 1,500 Patreon subscribers the show has amassed. It could be that the “carefree, go-with-the-flow, crazy, zany, funny spirit,” as Porrelli puts it, reaches through the speakers and prods at our childish funny bones.
From Rude Tales of Magic and the countless other famed actual play podcasts, it is clear that the tickle of wanderlust deep inside of listeners has them begging for more.
Humans are naturally empathic — listening to stories that make us laugh or cry or express any other multitude of emotions nurtures a connection, a sense of kinship. To listen along to the ridiculous and perilous japes of excessively-animated characters brings up these feelings in a way only elite storytellers can.
“Good storytelling is at the core of most art forms,” Porrelli elaborates.
In a pandemicked society, those with stories to tell have an imperative role to play in curating such a connection. For when we have no rude tales of our own to embark on, nothing fills the void like listening to someone else’s.