A survival guide for millennial thirty-somethings.
Having experienced the social validation of the bizarre niche-interest Mecca that was a tournament, I enthusiastically accepted the epitaph of “nerd”. I embraced it wholeheartedly – I would proselytize for the culture, given the opportunity. A dangerous move for a boy in middle school, granted, but I was socially insulated by the gifted program. Plus, I already felt like a social pariah, so why not dive in whole-hog?
And dive in, I did.
My mom worked as a nurse (still does, actually), and the doctor for whom she worked had two sons, close enough to my age that we could entertain each other without much mischief. I have many memories from my visits to their household: delicious chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, Tomb Raider, Dark Reign, Tribes. But mostly, this.
I remember it vividly. The older brother had another friend over and they began to reminisce over old stories: fantastic heroes on wild, chaotic adventures! I had to know what they were talking about, being intrigued by the subject matter as well as being two years their junior and ready to fit in. They introduced me to AD&D, which to me was a brilliant adaptation of the concept of the game. It was social and allowed for human interaction, but it was still structured play – a world and set of rules to explore together. The dice held me in rapture – glittering gems, inscribed with reality arbitrating runes.
My first character was, admittedly, a bit of a total trainwreck. The dungeon master recommended I play something straightforward – a fighter. However, I wanted my character to be representative of me, to better ease my transition to this fantasy world. And so it was that I ended up playing Gavin, the human fighter with a 17 intelligence. Luckily, my teammate was Groggy the dwarf, who could in fact deal and receive damage, skills I would later learn were somewhat important.
It didn’t matter. We stormed castles, drank ale in taverns, and fought the undead horrors of Ravenloft as heroes. Bigger and better than we really were, and together as friends.
Over the course of several more sessions, I had been donated my own set of dice and core rulebooks. I tried my hand at running games with my own friends. At my next birthday party, my nerd friends and I stumbled our way through an adventure I had based on the novel The Illearth War. Things definitely didn’t go as planned, as I was unprepared for the inevitability that player characters will never do what you want them to do.
But we had fun. And my takeaway was that I didn’t want to retell old stories; I wanted to create new worlds as backdrop for new adventures. It was at this point that I started work on The Arkan Project, a world setting I’ll certainly talk about more elsewhere.
It was also about the time that these two things happened:
Through high school, my analog gaming time diminished. My close group of friends were less into games and more into music and coffee. Those friends who were gamers primarily played video games, and it was there that I went for social gaming. Games like GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark, Unreal Tournament, and later, Halo, would dominate my social gaming time. Trouble was, I wasn’t (and still am not) very good at these sort of split-second reactionary games. My love of strategy and story drew me to games like Final Fantasy and Disgaea, but these sorts of games supported only one player at a time, with no room for social interaction (sorry, Aeris).
I still played Magic and D&D occasionally, mostly with my brother. But this was a time of learning to deal with real-life social situations and trying to figure out how to get people to like me. Mostly girl people.
It would not be until college that gaming kicked into high gear once again.