Dungeons and Dragons. D&D. The granddaddy of them all (by 'them' I mean role-playing games, or RPGs). I have been playing this game since 1989. That is a fairly long time -- longer than just about any of my other hobbies or leisure activities.
This post is not about the game, or its history, or the controversies it has sparked, or its recent re-emergence in popular culture (though on this point, the show Community recently had a D&D episode, and Freaks and Geeks featured one with James Franco playing Carlos the Dwarf a little while back), but rather my history with the game. As I said, I started playing in the summer of 1989, when a friend of mine invited me over to his house to play. He introduced me to another friend of his, someone I would quickly befriend in middle school, and away we went. I started with the famous Mentzer Basic rules (in the red box):
I quickly collected the rest of the BECMI series, but soon I had 'graduated' to 1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Sometime in middle school the 2nd edition of AD&D was published, and we started playing that. Beyond just playing the game, I also became interested in fantasy and science fiction literature, for example reading the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the first time in 6th or 7th grade; I was fascinated by mythology, not just Greek but also Norse and Mesopotamian, because of Deities and Demigods; I expanded my vocabulary just to understand what Gary Gygax was talking about in the books, learning words like "dour" and "taciturn"; and perhaps most importantly, I learned what a Lucerne hammer, Bohemian ear spoon, and lochaber axe are (thanks to the infamous Appendix T: The Nomenclature of Pole Arms in the back of Unearthed Arcana).
Then there was a long hiatus, and I did not roll a single d20 (that's right, we use an icosahedral die!) again until graduate school. I sold all of my old books (which I really regret now) because I did not think, at the time, that this was something adults did. Boy was I an idiot. As luck would have it, one of my best friends in graduate school played D&D and had joined a regular group. I managed to weasel my way into that group, and never looked back. I played for the rest of graduate school (D&D was now in its 3rd edition), and when I moved to Switzerland, I started searching for a group.
Since I needed an English-speaking group (my French and German are far from being good enough for simple conversations, let alone for gaming), I had to hunt around a bit, and once again I got lucky and found a group in Zurich -- a two hour InterCity train ride from Lausanne (where I was living), but it was worth it. This brings me to my biggest point: the best part of playing D&D has been the people I have meet. I have made great friends from my graduate school and Switzerland gaming groups, and recently I even met up with the friend that introduced me to D&D oh so many years ago. D&D has been a vehicle for me to meet really exceptional people, that I would have otherwise had no business meeting. Even today, I have joined a fantastic group (playing the 4th edition of the game!) in Philadelphia made up of varied personalities, and I really enjoy it.
Basically, what I am trying to say is that, while the rules, mechanics, and history of the game interest me greatly, the reasons I have stuck with D&D for so many years are that the game is mentally stimulating and socially rewarding. Simple as that.