Monday, 12 September 2011

Speak Out: The Good and the Bad

I am the Warden and I am a Geek!!

I've never been comfortable with all of this recent "tolerance" towards geeks. I grew up in the 90s where D&D remained a satanic ritual performed by scrawny weaklings were too much of a puss to shoot up their school like normal kids (their words, not mine). That's what I'm used to and honestly, I miss those days. When you did let it out that you played D&D, the look was a mixture of "Oh, you poor bastard" and "Jesus, get the fuck away from this guy." Now shows like The Big Bang Theory have made us... um, popular? See, I can't even say it without falling into disbelief. Just last month, I had a firefighter - a man who grew up on the high school football team - play his first RPG and loved it. My head still shakes over that.

Since I'm going to turn 40 in a couple of years, I'm going to start early on saying this. You kids don't know how lucky you have it now.

Speak Out With Your Geek Out! is a day to encourage those feeling excluded or misunderstood for their hobbies by society at large by regaling them with stories of triumph and understanding. To let you all know you are not alone and, while we may still operate on the fringes of society, we are many. Don't let our weight problems fool you, we can also be a highly active, motivated people. I'm posted this today because I was also a shy, geeky kid who's grown up to be a quiet, nerdy adult with a drawer for roleplaying shirts in his dresser.

I have two stories today, one spotlighting the tribulations of growing up with D&D and another highlighting the strengths of roleplaying. As any motivational speaker would, I'll start with the bad story.

Parents Understand D&D (Drugs and Drinking)
I came into D&D during high school as part of a natural progression from the original Hero Quest board game. Excuse me a moment while I turn to the box displayed prominently on my gaming shelf. Ahh, memories. Now, where was I? Yes, I played a LOT of D&D in high school. In fact, we played every TSR campaign setting save for Birthright on an almost nightly basis. It was rare for us to play at my house since my mom's sensitive hearing made it difficult to play without learning sign language. Her "eagle ears" as we called them. (I was once yelled at for pressing the buttons too loud on my Nintendo controller. No fooling.)

One night as I dragged my suitcase (oh yes, suitcase) to the car for the night's game, my mom asked me to sit with her at the kitchen table. My dad stood in the background and drank his coffee.

"Honey, we're a bit concerned by the amount of time you're spending playing these... games. Are you sure this is... healthy?"

"What do you mean?" I ask. "We're going for a swim in Paul's pool first, it's not like we're sitting on our butts the whole time." That was my initial reaction as it was the only thing that made sense in those first seconds. I was a scrawny kid and my parents were trying to encourage me to take on more physical activities for a while, so it seemed to be a continuation of that earlier discussion.

"No," my mom continued. "I mean, don't you think you're playing these games an awful lot? You're becoming a bit obsessive and your father and I are worried about how serious you're taking this."

"I don't understand," was my reply.

"Well..." I vividly remember my mom turning to my dad behind her for a little support and he just shrugged his shoulders. Anyone who's grown up with two parents knows exactly what that means. "I've been reading about these games. You carry around so many books, it's all you talk about with your friends, and I'm not fond of some of those pictures in there. I'm worried you're losing touch with reality and maybe you and the guys should do something else tonight. You can even take the car."

Let us pause for a moment to reflect on my state of mind. I was stunned. Reflecting as an adult, my parents (actually, my mom) were taking a cautionary interest in my life and were doing what good parents do: talking to me about it. While I always had my space growing up, my parents were never the type to remain in the dark: they always met my friends, asked about my day regularly and expressed sympathy when I seemed a bit down, all that good stuff. But at the time as a 17-year old teenage boy, my reaction was stunned anger. I had never talked back to my parents and having my dad standing in the background to monitor the conversation, there was a big risk of my temper giving cause for him to raise his voice. Dad raised his voice three times in my life and I was taught that if he did so, the Four Horsemen would launch into the sky and bring down civilization as we knew it. At that moment, it didn't matter.

Here's my reply.

"So you're concerned about all this because it involves me sitting around with my friends reading books, using our imagination, solving puzzles, talking, and having a good time so instead I should go out and be like everyone else. You'd rather I'd go out and drink or snort something like everyone else, cause that's what every other kid in my school is doing right now, Mom. They're out there having sex, getting completely wasted and then driving their parents cars into ravines, getting into fights, car accidents, smoking pot, and building up a nice juvenile record while we do none of those things. I've never had a sip of beer, we don't do any drugs. The worst thing we do is eat too many chips and Dave farts in Paul's face after chugging a 2L of Coke... a-Cola! And there are always parents around. What you're saying is that you'd feel better if I was like everyone else in my school. A shithead."

There was a long pause. Mom turned back to Dad again and got the same shrug.

"OK, I think we're good then," was her reply. "Have fun."

I was still upset about this well into the night and I remember sitting in Paul's pool ranting about my mom wants us to do drugs so that she'll feel that we're "normal," but it didn't last. That was the stigma of D&D and it still remains to this day, though in a lesser form. Those of us who roleplay are a select and chosen few. It's not a game for everyone, but those of us who enjoy doing so enjoy doing so. There's not a one of us who wouldn't love to discover the means to become a professional roleplayer. Anyone outside of this small circle have a hard time comprehending until they experience it themselves.

There's an ironic twist to this story: about a year after all this, Dad got a job managing a comic book store with a roleplaying section. Oh, yes. My dad ran a comic book store and I was the luckiest kid in Brockville.

Your Friendly Neighbourhood Police Officer Understands
Now for my good story. About 10 years ago, my friend Kurt and I were driving home from a game. I had just pulled off the highway to the on ramp and we suddenly found ourselves facing a RIDE check (the Ontario anti-DUI program, or road checks, if you like). There were no others cars at this point and we weren't concerned: I hadn't touched a drop of anything since I was driving and Kurt never touches the stuff. When we reached the stop, I rolled down my window to talk to the officer with his flashlight in my face.

"Evening, gentlemen. Anyone been drinking tonight?"

"No, sir, " I replied.

"You guys coming back from a party or anything? Any drugs tonight?"

I was about to answer when his partner standing on the passenger side of the vehicle spoke up. His flashlight was beaming into the back seat and now both of them were checking out its contents. Spread across nearly every inch were D&D books, hardcover and softcovers, boxed sets, and dice boxes. The first officer lowered his flashlight and stepped back to my window.

"OK, boys, have a good night," and he waved us through.

Sometimes there are benefits to being a geek.