Tuesday, March 04, 2008

I've Read 3d6 Lame "He Failed His Saving Throw" Jokes Already

I don't think I'll be surprising any of you when I state, for the record, that I am a king-hell geek.

And my route to geekdom wasn't science fiction and fantasy, which was only one part of my voracious appetite for books. It wasn't comics -- most people assume that, since I write the things, but I didn't really get into comics and graphic novels until university. That's Greg's fault, and a more fitting subject for another post.

No, it was role-playing games. And for that, you can blame Patrick, the co-creator and artist of Cold Iron Badge, who introduced me to Dungeons & Dragons, about twenty-seven years ago.

My first adventure was the legendary (and infamous) module, The Keep on the Borderlands. I played a Thief. I don't recall what his name was. He didn't survive my first game session, but I was hooked for life.

I discovered role-playing games and acting at very close to the same time, only about a year after my family moved from Toronto to London, Ontario. I couldn't have articulated it at the time, but I was feeling tremendous culture shock and alienation. I didn't fit in to my monocultural suburb where most of the other kids were budding Type-A-personality jocks. I needed to escape, and yet I needed to belong. I managed to find two ways to do both, and they both involved my personal ace: My imagination.

And, maybe because gaming and acting came into my life and became my passions together, there was always some overlap in my approach to them.

Acting was very much a game for me. And I brought acting to my role-playing games years before more immersive, emotionally intense gaming became popular. Which sometimes disconcerted my peers. They just wanted to kill things and take their stuff, and suddenly my elf would start asking whether it was really moral to break into these ancient tombs and loot them.

So, I role-played like an actor, and performed like a gamer. Did either suffer from the cross-pollination? No, I don't think so. And I also think, oddly enough, that both helped to make me a better writer.

Okay, the acting you can probably see. But am I reaching to say that D&D improved my writing?

Well, an old-school role-playing game, where you sit around a table and have to picture what's happening in your head with only some description and maybe a scribbled map and some simple miniatures, is a great exercise for the imagination. If you can't see it, vividly, you might miss something important.

A lot of games -- especially those old D&D adventures -- were all about the creative problem solving. (And having cool powers and killing things, but that's another story.)

Role-playing games are inherently collaborative. Success depends on collaboration between the players, and between their characters. The entire game is a collaboration between the players and the Dungeon Master. Is it a coincidence that I'm drawn to inherently collaborative media, that most of my best writing has been done in collaboration?

And, of course, role-playing games are about creating a vivid, exciting, compelling character, and then bringing that character to life by putting them through interesting and challenging situations.

And that doesn't even touch on running the game -- being the Dungeon Master. Which involves, for starters, bringing to life a cast of thousands, intricate plots, cooking up creative problems to be solved and inventing entire worlds to inhabit.

So yes: Gaming, like acting, was protein to my growing writing muscles. But drama club is one thing. It's marginally less uncool than being a D&D geek. Was the creative aspect really what mattered? Maybe you ask, weren't all those role-playing games escapist?

Hell, yes they were escapist! And thank goodness. Sometimes we all need to escape. Especially bright but socially awkward kids and adolescents who aren't sporty or pretty enough to be on the popularity fast-track.

Escape, yes. But also friendship. Fun. Empowerment. Imagination and a creative outlet. And through it all, no matter what other games I played, and no matter how much I loved them, there was Dungeons & Dragons. I played it first. I played for close to three decades. I'd be playing it now if I could.

Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, died today. He was 69. I never met him. Never had a chance to thank him in person. So I'm going to thank him now.

Thank you, Gary. Thank you for giving me hours (days! weeks!) of fun. Thank you for helping me develop my imagination. Thank you for giving me worlds to play in, where I could be happy and safe while I grew and got stronger and learned who I am.


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