Alright, so here’s the deal: I’ve had this post sitting in my unpublished tray for a year now. I wasn’t ever entirely sure where I was going with this; it’s really more of a ramble than any coherent discourse. I originally started to write it because I saw a posting on a forum somewhere about this poor sod getting dumped by a girl because she found out about him playing Dungeons & Dragons, among other nerdy things. What a shallow bitch, I thought. But as I ruminated on this, I started to recall how I too used to hide my dice rolling obsessions away from others in fear of abuse or, in the case of the fairer species, abandonment.
So what follows is a half-finished commentary/tirade. I’m posting it because A.) I’m not smart enough to finish it, and B.) I kinda like the story about the douchebag grocery store boys making fun of me and wanted to share it. So here goes…
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I find it amusing and ever so slightly befuddling that dice-rolling games of make pretend are now considered by some on the outside or just on the periphery as ‘retro’ and ‘cool’, because I remember a time when they most certainly were not cool. I don’t know if it’s World of Warcraft becoming a computer gaming juggernaut, the rise of the internet making it easier to get hold of RPG’s, or just the times they are a-changing, but man, this whole ‘geek culture’ thing really snuck up on me.
It’s not just RPG’s… Doctor Who, for instance. If you don’t know, I have something of an obsession with the show. When I first got into it, the series was being cancelled after a grueling 20-plus year run on the BBC. It was ‘out of style’, and became a laughing stock to Joe Public for pretty much all of the 90′s. It was the butt of many jokes from low-rent comics in the UK; that dumb show with the pepper pot monsters, the weird guy in the scarf, and the wobbly sets (NERD ALERT: even though the sets only ever wobbled ONCE in the show’s history… the sets on the short-lived Fawlty Towers wobbled more, and that’s considered an all-time classic). The failure of the 1996 tele-movie starring Paul McGann only made being a Whovian more socially unacceptable.
Fast forward to the 2005 revival of Who hitting the airwaves, and BLAMO! Doctor Who is COOL once more? What the hell?! The kids are eating this stuff up again, they’re actually looking up to old-school fans, asking us questions about the show’s history, which Doctor is our favorite, how many times WE hid behind the sofa, that sort of nonsense. It’s mind-boggling to think that I pushed Who merchandise under the bed to keep it out of sight from friends throughout the 90′s. Now I know people who think it’s really neat that I have stacks of books and comics and little Dalek pencil holders and a Tom Baker action figure (complete with mini sonic screwdriver). My nephews are all – “Uncle Matt likes Doctor Who, that’s so rad!” Somehow, I’ve managed to build up a decent amount of ‘geek cred’ without even trying.
So, uh, where was I going with this… oh yeah, role-playing games. I felt as if I should keep that away from many people over the years too. I’ve had friends, former classmates, co-workers, and even ex-girlfriends who never knew I played these things. I will readily admit that part of the reason I kept the hobby close to my chest is because I was afraid of being laughed at or ridiculed, though from what I can recall, this only ever happened once. My father was giving me a ride to a friend’s house, where the two of us planned to engage in some dungeon crawling goodness. Along the way, my dad had to stop at a grocery store to pick something up from the pharmacy. Since he was only going to be a minute, I waited in the car. While I was waiting, I dug the Dungeon Master Guide out of my backpack and started flipping through it, trying to find a description for a magic item or somesuch, when along come these two teenaged chuckleheads collecting shopping carts. One of them spots me and says: “Ha! Look at this dork! Reading D&D books in the car! Ha ha!“. Even at the tender age of about twelve or so, I knew this was a pretty pathetic insult, and the kid doing his best Nelson from The Simpsons laugh as a coda didn’t exactly add much potency to the barb, but you know what? It did the trick. That stupid remark from an older kid was enough to make me self conscious about flashing books, dice, or other RPG paraphernalia about in public after that.
A couple of things occur to me in retrospect about that kid pointing his finger and laughing at me for leafing through the DMG. One – he must have been acquainted with the game in some form or another to be able to recognize the book on sight and refer to it as ‘D&D’. He was a few feet away from the car, close enough to see the picture on the front cover perhaps, but not close enough to read the title. Maybe he just had a younger sibling who liked the game or something, but I’d like to think that this kid was actually a repressed gamer himself and was simply mocking a ‘D&D nerd’ to impress the other, more jock-looking teen co-worker with him. It was the early 90′s. The over exaggerated exploits of Urkel and Screech made it okay to mock the bejezus out of any other youngster caught up in a remotely nerdy activity. Still, the kid making the joke reminds me in a way of those Neanderthals who constantly make gay jokes because they’re really quite insecure with their own sexuality. This guy was just insecure with his own level of inner geek.
What’s the second thing that occurs to me? Funnily enough, later in life I would end up working at the same grocery store for a time. I witnessed first hand an employee mouthing off to a customer for no good reason and saw just how severe the management responded to that (by 86′ing his ass). If I had only said something to my dad or complained to someone in the store about being harassed in the parking lot, I could’ve gotten those little fuckers fired (or at the very least in deep doodoo with their boss; it would’ve been the next best thing besides flinging a real-life Lightning Bolt spell at them).
There is another reason why I used to keep my love of RPG’s under wraps, and it may come across as slightly haughty, but…well, frankly, I don’t feel like trying to explain the concept to an individual who I believe will *never* understand what RPG’s are all about. I tired so quickly of having this happen to me…
Person: “What’s that you got there?“
Me: “Er… it’s the rulebook to a game.“
Person: “What kind of game?“
Me: “A role-playing game.“
Person: “What’s that??????“
Maybe it’s just me. You’ve read this stupid blog before, right? You know I’m not the most articulate person on the planet. I have a hard enough time muttering out my order at a restaurant, how am I supposed to explain what a role-playing game is in a succinct manner? For example, I can recall many occasions trying to speak to my parents about it when I was younger. My mother would usually ask me if I had a good time with my ‘game night’ that week. She would then ask: “Did you win?“. “No, no… there’s no winning or losing in our games,” I tried to explain. Yet try as I might, the next week I’d get the same: “Did you win?” question. I came to realize she was under the impression I was playing some variant of poker with dice involved or something. Trying to explain it became fruitless. Really, I don’t mean any offense by this, but some people are just never going to grok what the whole RPG thing is all about. I reckon it’s the whole ‘imagination’ concept of gaming that throws them. You might as well just tell them you’ve been playing cops and robbers with your friends. Perhaps I’m greatly underestimating the intelligence of certain individuals, but I’m sure this particular hang-up of mine is also fueled by childhood memories of attempting to introduce friends to D&D and having them ask me where the board and pieces were after struggling through character creation.
Today, things are different. I’m older, I’m more jaded, and frankly, I don’t give a crap who knows about my spazzy hobbies. I came to the conclusion a few years back that if a prospective significant other didn’t want to know me because I’m a nerd, then she can mosey on down the road and find her a ‘real man’ with no discernible personality of his own. If a would-be friend doesn’t want to talk to me anymore because I have a giant bowl of polyhedral dice in my possession, well, they weren’t much of a friend to begin with. I still have trouble accurately describing what a role-playing game is to a complete outsider when they ask, but if all else fails I can just say “It’s like World of Warcraft on paper,” though it pains me deeply to do so, and they sort of cotton on to what I’m saying. Though perhaps the true test for me will only come several years down the line, when geek culture isn’t quite so en vogue anymore…