Sunday, March 09, 2008

Community Storytelling

Upon reading my earlier post, my friend Mark went and found a fantastic eulogy for Gary Gygax, entitled "How Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax created the modern nerd."

My mother shakes her head about my nerdy tendencies and many other friends just sort of ignore that part of my life. However, I think this article is worth reading by everyone. The author, Darren Zenko, puts into words what those of us who play (and read science fiction/fantasy and work at the Renaissance Faire and any number of other pursuits that require imagination and intelligence) find so attractive about a life spent partially surrounded by images of gallantry and heroism.
Dungeons & Dragons was perfectly timed, and perfectly of its time. The leading edge of Generation X had turned teen, and D&D offered an escape – and a social life – to the bookworms, brainiacs, daydreamers and malaise-ridden misfits who opted out of punk. As the '80s drew near, the game Gygax had thought might sell 50,000 copies to a niche market had become an underground craze. The world's disparate geeks had unified into a subculture with its own language, iconography, rituals and fetish objects – and the modern Nerd was born.
Isn't community one of the most basic desires that anyone can feel? What was the only thing Adam wanted when surrounded by Paradise? A friend and partner. And that was before the Fall.

When you consider the world for adolescents previous to this era, we picture a world of conformity and success through winning friends and influencing people. Football players got the girls and good hostesses were envied by all. We know this is true because so many of the "outside" folks of that culture wrote about football players and housewives with such venom. Think One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Catcher in the Rye, even The Invisible Man.

Many of you know that my entrance to D&D was through my ex-husband, who was a Dungeon Master, meaning he created an elaborate world that his friends could explore with characters they created. The mechanics of exploring this world involve him describing a scene: "You're standing in a hallway made of rough-hewn stone with water dripping in places and moss growing from the cracks. The ceiling is low and torches burn in brackets placed periodically along the wall. About 20 feet in front of you on the right is a large door." Then, he would ask, "What do you do?" We would answer according to our imagined character's personality: "I walk down and try to open the door." "I check the area for secret doors." "I take out my crossbow." "I wait until everyone else decides." "I eat the lunch I brought with me." "I cast a protection spell." According to our decisions, something else would happen, "The door is locked." "Roll a 20 sided die to see if you found secret doors based on the probability that someone of your skill would find them." "Ok, you start eating a sandwich."

Activities moved from the mundane to the heroic as monsters emerged from doors or secrets were uncovered. Dennis was creative enough and had put enough planning into his world's creation that Enclidius allowed us to go in any direction we wanted to.

I loved it.

Notice that the entirety of the game involves interaction. All that happens can be written out as dialogue. We were friends sitting on couches and in armchairs writing a story together.
(This picture was taken in 1998. The costume is totally ironic. Someone found it on sale after Halloween at Walgreens and it was specifically labeled as a Dungeon Master and sized for a 12-year-old. We made him pose.)

I miss playing. Dennis took all of those friends with him by telling them lies about me and I have yet to find someone new to run a game that I could join. A couple of those friends that have reconciled with me aren't interested in D&D anymore and have moved on to new styles of role-playing. Although what they're doing is intriguing, I find that what I want is the camaraderie of collaborative storytelling and that I want it in the fantasy genre. I mean, you're talking to the girl who met her ex-husband while dressed as a flower wench at the local Renaissance Faire.
(This was taken during my first year at the Faire, which was the summer of 1997. I have no idea who the guy is, only that he wanted his picture with me. I went on to work there for four more summers after this, making almost two thousand dollars every summer working 9 weekends.)

I hear that other games like Settlers of Catan might satisfy me but again, I can't seem to find people in my networks that play or who are interested in exploring with me.

But I'll keep looking. Until then my Third Edition Player's Handbook sits on the shelf patiently waiting to show me worlds no one else has ever seen.


Dave said...

I never really got into D&D, but the XKCD comic from the other day was hilarious.

I love Settlers, but I'm not sure if it's comparable to D&D.

Christy said...

Ha, you were a Renaissance Faire girly! In the 5th grade my rhythmic gymnastics (I'M A BIG NERD TOO) instructor took us up there to flit around in costumes.