Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Approaching Doom

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

- Bill Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

Tomorrow night, I will step into the car, and every passing mile marker will be as the footsteps of doom.

For tomorrow night we head to Illinois for Julie's bridal shower being hosted by her family. The ladies will be opening presents.

The men will be playing golf.

No longer will I be able to avoid the fell day where I must take to the links with men far better suited to such a game. No longer will I be able to flee past memories, like a child afraid to go back to sleep because he knows the circus clown in his dream is waiting to kill him.

No, I must face my fear. I have practiced for this day. Friends have prepared me as best they can, one of them going so far as to bestow upon me a set of clubs. Like Arthur receiving Excaliber I shall wield them in battle, making sure to turn over my wrists with every swing. I shall not fear men who hit the ball further than I, choosing instead to focus on hitting it straight. I shall unabashedly play the 4-iron off the tee. The woods and sands of the place shall remain a mystery, unexplored.

I'm ready for this. I am ready to play golf.

I am so dead.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Once a Nerd, Always a Nerd

I originally had this post wrapped up with the CraigCon 6 post, but I decided to break it out in its own separate space. I didn't want it to get mixed up with the great fun that was had there.

While hanging around outside discussing a game with some of the folks at CraigCon this year, some people drove by and actually screamed "NERDS!!!" out their window at us.

Now, being almost 29 at this point, I figured it wouldn't bother me.

But I saw some of the folks, old and young alike, clearly wince a bit. Obviously they laughed it off with some remarks, but you could kind of tell that it still stung to hear the word, to be called a name for no reason by somebody you didn't know.

It would actually happen a few more times during the weekend, including one tirade that was checkered with plenty of profanity.

I continued to maintain it didn't bother me until I started writing this.

One of the things that makes tabletop gaming fun for me is the idea of crafting stories, keeping your imagination in shape. When you're a kid it's very easy and natural to use your imagination, but as you grow older it really takes some work. I like tabletop games because the rules exist to help put you in that space mentally, the same sort of space you need to be in for any creative endeavor.

However using your imagination to "play" starts to go out of style at a certain age. Playing real sports starts to take the place of playing Cops and Robbers. Hanging out at the mall (or whatever it is kids do) takes the place of getting together and pretending to slay dragons.

The moment you step onto a basketball court and don't say "I'm [insert favorite player]" is the moment you have irrevocably grown up, gone to a different headspace. And once that happens it can be hard to get back, to go from serious to play, from malls to spaceships, from offices to castles.

Somewhere along the line the pursuit of dragons changes you from just another kid to a "nerd". And when you're a kid it can really hurt to get made fun of for something you enjoy, because it's difficult to understand why it's happening.

Now of course we're older and wiser. Those old barbs don't hurt like they used to, don't open up fresh wounds.

But sometimes they can remind us of the old ones.

So let me conclude by saying this: I'm Michael Jordan.

Update: Almost uncanny in its timing, but Penny Arcade has a story today about entering a Pokemon tournament after intense preparation... and finding a bunch of little kids who just like to play. It's the post called Pokemon, second one down, and I encourage you to read it.

CraigCon 6

This past weekend I headed up to New Jersey for the sixth annual CraigCon.

Back in college, I made a few great, lasting friendships playing D&D on a regular basis in the old "Conshohocken House". I lived in this house with 4 other people, 2 of which were gamers like myself. We started a game that I ran for close to a year.

One thing you have to understand was we played this game in the basement of that crowded house. The basement was such a mess by the end of that game that I was literally using a pile of old pizza boxes as a table to keep my books and dice. In retrospect it's amazing we didn't contract bubonic plague.

Even though I've played many games since, all a lot of fun, there was something about that particular campaign in the "Conshy House" that made it special. It was the perfect storm for a lot of us: we were at a transitional point between college and trying to figure out what the hell we were going to do with the rest of our lives (for my part I was in between college attendance at all). There were a lot of other things people were working through, things that put us squarely, forcibly in the realm of "adulthood". It was quickly becoming clear as these realities mounted that "things", whatever they were, were changing, and once they did, there would be no going back.

The characters in the Conshy game were an outlet as we coped with that. I'm sure if we had recorded those games and had a psychologist take a look at them now it would be an absolute treasure trove of analytic goodness.

Eventually the game ended, and time marched on. We all gradually moved away to various parts of the country. Whenever we talked we all agreed we missed gaming together. But more importantly we missed our friends.

Thus CraigCon was born (named for my pal Craig, who essentially hosted the first one at his hosue).

Now, many CraigCons later, the thing is a full fledged event. This year it was hosted by an honest to goodness gaming store (thanks go out to Reality's Edge), complete with a CraigCon discount on D&D goods. There were tons of new faces, and although turnout from the old Philly crew was minimal this year (only 3 of us counting myself), turnout was very good in terms of sheer numbers. It's pretty amazing to think this thing started as an excuse for old friends to hang out.

Altogether it was an absolute blast. It was great to see some younger faces in the crowd as well. Even though a lot of kids were in the store just to play the Magic card game, it's still cool to see people gaming and talking to each other face to face, especially with MMOs and their like gaining increasing popularity. I can't help but feel like something gets lost when these types of games get moved to a computer.

At its best CraigCon provides a chance to introduce people to different playing styles. At its worst it gives you a stomachache when you are walking into IHOP for your sixth straight meal.

The highlight for me was getting a chance to introduce Burning Empires to a new audience. The gents I ran the demo scenario for really took to it quickly, complete with a tremendous monologue by one of the players that had to be one of the best pieces of RP I've seen in that kind of environment for awhile.

Here's to six more years of gaming (and no IHOP for a year).