Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The ordinarily calm and salon-like Bookery has been frenetic this evening as people do their holiday shopping. Which is okay, because all the energy I'm expending makes me feel like less of a loser for accomplishing so little with my dissertation today. I think I wrote a single footnote.

The D&D thing is getting out of hand. I've bid for three items on eBay and won two of them--a 1977 Monster Manual just like the one I used to own, Gary Gygax's World of Greyhawk supplement, and I'm waiting to see what will happen with another supplement based on the writings of Fritz Leiber, City of Lankhmar. Stop me before I bid again. The thing is, I have all I need to play the game, and unlike the old days (like when I was 14) there are no new 1st edition AD&D supplements for me to be hankering after. But nostalgia is its own danger here—the desire to own everything I used to own, to recapture the past, is a powerful one. As I've suggested before, playing RPGs gave me my first taste of solidarity with an intensely creative minority that was scorned or simply ignored by the larger world—a minority that put a high value on humor, adventure, wonder, and a kind of honor. There's more continuity in my character than I might have guessed. Of course there's a big difference between, say, Language poetry and dungeon delving. Right? Isn't there? Maybe not. Certainly I was early to acquire a taste for arcane rules and systems that violated common sense (check out the "Pummeling" tables in the old Dungeon Masters Guide for a fine example of this) in the name of accurately reproducing the feeling we all got from reading Lord of the Rings the first time. And the rules can become a fetish that override the goals of storytelling, playing a character, and socializing ("demented and sad, but social."). I spent hours in the dormroom of my college gamemaster discussing the intricacies of ballistics and the range of gauss weapons in the game he designed and seemed to spend absolutely all of his time thinking about or playing. In spite of this, the game he created for us was truly epic: the stakes in his world seemed much higher than anything college had to offer. In fact, I very nearly flunked out my sophomore year. And of course it was more real, because my entire social world revolved around the game: I'm still dear friends with many of the other players (including noted political commentator upyernoz). I even wrote a term paper about the group's dynamics and secret language for a folklore seminar, and got an A for it too.

This is the kind of confession that, more elegantly shaped, might have gotten me into the Gamers anthology. Perhaps Shanna will do a sequel for those of us whose hearts belong to pen & paper, funny-looking dice, and too much Mountain Dew, however many computer games we may play, or highfalutin' books we may write.

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