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New Essay: “For Those About To Roll…”

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Categories: Essays, Gaming, Geek Stuff, RPG, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This essay is an edited version of my first required essay this semester in my Composition 1 class at Rock Valley College. It is the first essay I’m making available online. I hope to add more as coursework and time allows.

Some of my real-world friends may recognize themselves in the essay. Be advised, I’ve fictionalized you where needed. Names have been changed to protect the innocent (or guilty). Enjoy!
 

For Those About To Roll, We Salute You

Eli walked down the stairs into the basement. His hands were full: a case of Coca-Cola in his left hand, a grocery bag full of snacks in his right. On his back, a burgeoning, grey knapsack threatened to burst its seams. As he made his way down the stairs, the small, gold crucifix around his neck bounced out from under his T-shirt. The shirt itself was black, a gaming-inspired riff on a classic rock band design: an isosahedron (the twenty-sided die ubiquitous in fantasy role-playing games) appeared with the phrase “AC/HP” in a heavy-metal font.

Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, Eli set down the soda and tossed the bag of chips on the octagonal, faux-wood table dominating the room. Eli took his seat at the table after unloading his backpack. Though the sack was heavy with books, pencils, and dice, Eli seemed happy to haul it. An easy smile came to his boyish face as he considered his cohorts in turn: Rob, Josh, Jenny, TJ, Carlton, John, and Tom.

Rob leaned back in his chair. His shaved head glistened under the track lighting in the basement. Tan skin belied Rob’s mixed Haitian and Mexican heritage. Rob flipped through some pages in a legal pad, the handwritten notes printed in meticulous, all-capital letters.

Josh was a tall, broad man with a booming laugh. His hands were as large as oven mitts, dwarfing the mechanical pencil he held. On his finger, a size 15 ring emblazoned with a pentacle proclaimed his pagan spirituality. Josh reached over to turn the volume down on his laptop. A Megadeth song had been playing.

Jenny was the picture of soccer-mom suburbia. Her brunette hair hung to her shoulders, and she dressed in casually conservative style with jeans and a sweater. A tasteful diamond ring shimmered on her left hand. Her pale, blue eyes flitted to and fro, following whomever was speaking like a hawk tracking prey in the underbrush.

TJ was pure gothic-punk. Two rings intersected her lip, and countless hoops and studs lined her ears. The lacy, black tank top she wore revealed no fewer than a dozen tattoos decorating her arms and shoulders. A purple, velvet skirt covered TJ’s snow white legs.

Carlton (like Josh) was tall, but his frame was loose and lanky. His ebony skin stretched over ripcord muscles. Unlike his fellow males, Carlton did not wear jeans. Instead, he had on neatly pressed khakis. A proper broadcloth shirt completed his simple – yet classy – ensemble.

John, a slight man of Korean descent, was quiet and unassuming. His soft voice and gentle laugh made his small body seem even smaller. A faint odor patchouli (or something else?) clung closely to John’s skin. The Fu Manchu mustache he kept was, perhaps, the only thing about him designed to draw attention.

Conversely, Tom went out of his way to get attention, at least from the fairer sex. His hands worked the keys on his cell phone as though possessed. When not absorbed in texting, tweeting, and Facebooking, Tom’s gaze bounced between Jenny and TJ (and not exactly their faces, either). He barely acknowledged Eli’s entrance.

After greetings and pleasantries were exchanged; snacks and sodas situated; books and dice readied; Rob brought the game to order: “You find yourselves in a dark and dank dungeon…”

In the 1970s, when the first fantasy role-playing games appeared, gamers were almost without exception white, teenage males. This homogenous group was perceived as isolated, insular, and immature. Poor hygiene and poor social skills went hand-in-hand with those early gamers. As the hobby has grown, however, the base of players has likewise expanded and old trends no longer apply. Just as the games have changed, so too have the players.

Contemporary gamers are a diverse bunch. Blacks and whites, Asians and Hispanics, males and females all engage in the benign escapism that is role-playing. Catholics join forces with pagans in vanquishing dragons. Democrats and Republicans plot together to overthrow the evil sorcerer-king. High school dropouts ponder ancient glyphs with graduate students.

Most gamers now are adults: parents and workers. They have active lives outside of the hubby. They own cars and homes, with the bills that accompany them. They have real-world responsibilities. Gaming provides these adult players with a safe, inexpensive way to escape the stresses of daily life. Many other role-players are young: middle- and high school students. These younger gamers have new ideas to challenge older players. The only factor common to modern gamers is that they are gamers. Shared love of the hobby binds these disparate people into a common clan.

Diversity is crucial to the continued health and vibrancy of the hobby. Without new and flesh perspectives, the stories told in role-playing games will become as stagnant and cloying as the musty basements many gamers still congregate in.

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Osama Would Play A Paladin

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Categories: DDO, Gaming, LARP, President Obama, Randomness, RPG, Shadowrun, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I believe in the power of gaming.

By gaming, I mean console and computer gaming as well as pencil and paper role-playing games. To a lesser extent, I would also include board games.

When I look at the impact this hobby has had on my life, it’s a bit overwhelming.

If it weren’t for gaming, I would not have met most of my friends. Specifically, my friend Mike Diamond and I would not have met if it weren’t for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition. (We had an ongoing AD&D2E game that we played in junior high by writing on a desk [in pencil!]. It was play-by-post before there was play-by-post.) Mike and I graduated from from junior high, and graduated from D&D, together. We spent hours playing all kinds of other games: Star Wars, Starfleet Battles, Marvel Super Heroes, Rise of the Dragon (Oh my God, Shandi!), and my favorite RPG of all time, Shadowrun. We still play Shadowrun together, every Saturday night.

Without Vampire: the Masquerade, I would have never met Travis Legge. My friend came from a very different world than I did, but we shared a love of gaming. Travis was the best man at my wedding and we even ran our own game publishing company for a time. We met at a Vampire LARP, but we played plenty of other White Wolf games together: Hunter, Trinity (taint in the Tesser!), Aberrant, Wraith, and one of the most influential games I’ve ever played, Mage.

I met my wife at the same Vampire LARP that I met Travis at. We had seen each other in passing before then, but never really met. Through some boneheaded moves by other people, she ended up playing a character with a direct connection to mine. The time we spent together in-character led to meetings out-of-character, which led to her ending a dysfunctional relationship with her longtime boyfriend and starting a new dysfunctional relationship with me. We’ve been dysfunctional together ever since. Tiffanie and I have played a ton of games together, from D&D3.5 to Zombies. We still play Dungeons & Dragons Online together, when time allows.

The breadth and depth of people you meet through gaming is sometimes astounding. By playing games, I’ve had the pleasure of chatting for hours with a couple of guys from Chile (¿Cómo están, amigos?), been guild-mates with a carny (Luv ya, Bernie!), called people by some strange nicknames (Shaggy and Little Shit top the list, I think), watched someone laugh so hard they puked (indirectly due to gaming: a gaming buddy was over for Bad Movie Night. Blackula + well-placed one-liner = puke!), had the cops question me about “having an orgy in the street” (actually a mob combat in the aforementioned Vampire LARP), and so much more. Gamers have been some of the kindest, friendliest, and most genuine people I’ve ever known.

I don’t want to overstate the point, but games can be powerful tools to bring people together that never would have met or seen eye-to-eye before. Where else can you bring together an atheist with a devout Catholic, a radical feminist with a staunch Republican, a high-school dropout with a graduate student, a teenager with a pensioner, or a cop with a drug dealer? Not only have I seen these disparate people gaming together, I’ve seen them working toward common goals and having fun doing it.

So, here’s my proposal: I’ll run a game. Kim Jong-Il, Osama Bin Laden, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Hu Jintao, Hamid Karzai, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, and Omar al-Bashir (along with many others) are invited to play D&D with me some time (3.5: I don’t care for 4E). Perhaps, when they’re faced with the World’s Largest Dungeon, they’ll realize their countries and causes are pretty small. Maybe, when confronted with the alien nature of a great wyrm red dragon, they’ll realize people have more commonalities than differences. Maybe, when they’ve reached level 20 together, they could usher in a new age of peace and prosperity for humanity.
 
And I bet Osama would play a paladin.