Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Why I Play - Part One: In the Beginning

Typically, the following things are true:

I don’t play board games to win.
I don’t play board games for the challenge.
I don’t play board games to test my intricately designed strategy.
I am not driven by competition.

The main reason I play board games is to create stories in my head, and with my friends. I play for the experience of the emergent narrative. This is why I’ve always been drawn towards the dungeon dive style board games. These lite RPGs in a box give me exactly what I want in a game, with a smaller time and energy commitment than a traditional RPG does. They allow me to live in my imagination, which, even as a 42 year old adult, is something I find important.

My first foray into traditional fantasy gaming came in 1984, when a friend introduced me to red box Dungeons & Dragons. Now, this was during the height of the Satanic Panic era, and both of my parents were ministers. While they were never close minded or fanatical about things, they did have some reservations about D&D, probably based only on things they heard. I always thought this was weird seeing as how it was my mother who introduced me to fantasy via the worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth (although both were "safe" for Christians). All of this is to say, I had to keep my new found hobby a secret.

And somehow this made it better! This might have been the first BIG SECRET I kept from my parents (or maybe it was when I stole a package of Jaws 3D cards from the local Foodland, and then, overcome with guilt, hid the cards under my bed when I got home, only to look at them many years later when we moved to a new house). They will of course be happy to know that now, 30-plus years later, my friend and I were not worshiping Satan, we were not sacrificing animals upon altars to cast spells, and we certainly never contemplated suicide when one of our characters died (thanks for those nasty rumors, Jack Chick!).

But there was something truly magical about those afternoons and evenings spent in my friend’s room, huddled on the floor around a small lamp, with those oddly-shaped dice determining our fates, and all those pencils and erasers being passed back and forth. I know we played the game completely wrong, and there were dozens of rules we overlooked and ignored. But that didn’t matter. We were having fun. We were creating brave warriors, powerful wizards, and conniving thieves, and sending them on adventures in our minds reflected on all that graph paper, carefully plotting our way around tunnels overflowing with traps, secret doors, treasure and monsters.

Those early moments in my life helped to define who I am today as strongly as any other. They were far more important and long lasting than anything I would learn in school, and I am grateful for them. I sometimes think of my old friend, and what he is up to now. I wonder if he is still into games, still into using his imagination, or did he push those things aside in favor of more grown up things? I hope it is the former, but I fear it is the later.

Next up...Part Two: Enter Games Workshop (and how this all relates to board games)

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