You Have Died of Dysentery: Finding a Community in Gaming

My daughter loved to play Oregon Trail on the computer when she was young. I never quite understood the appeal, but she would laugh about the different ways she would die.  I think the whole point of the game for her was dying; I don’t recall her ever surviving the game.  I’m avoiding asking if that says more about her or me.

Last year, I was feeling a little nostalgic and I bought her the Oregon Trail card game for Christmas. I think she might have played it once.  Maybe if there were a VR version she would get excited about dying of cholera or a broken leg, once more (just don’t turn off the safety protocols).

I recently attended a technology conference in Las Vegas.  No, I did not skip any sessions to go play games at the casinos.  Those stakes are a little too high for me.  One of the conference sessions was about using simulations to validate that a system will work the way that it’s supposed to.  It was an unexpectedly fun session.  Afterward, it hit me:  it was just a big role-playing game.  I get paid to design and play games.  I can turn my projects into MUDs and be the DM, instead of the PM (Project Manager).  My job just got a little better.

Reality check.  I might get laughed at if I try to explain validation as a game, although having a dungeon might be useful, on occasion.  There’s probably a more effective story I can tell, and I want cooperation from people who have other commitments.  I need to find the right story to tell.  Isn’t that what we do?  We tell stories in games, books, and when we engage in conversation with others.  Isn’t that what this is – my stories told in attempt to connect and engage with you?

My wife jokes about how our linen closet is now a game closet.  At least I think she’s joking.  I have a few games, but it’s nothing compared to a friend at work.  He has more games in his cabinet at his desk than I have games, total, and he has even more games at home.  We usually play a game at lunch – board games, card games, dice games, games of strategy, games of chance, etc.  We tend to stick to games we can finish in an hour, but occasionally schedule time outside of work to play longer games.  I still haven’t figured out why my group of friends like Agricola.  Having to grow and feed your family is a pain.  No, my feelings toward Agricola are not an expression of hidden angst.  So there.

Most gamers have a favorite type of game (board games, cards, dice, emotions) and, depending upon whom you ask, you could be one of anywhere from four to twenty-seven types of gamer.  We play games for different reasons, too.  Some off us play for fun, others to feel like they belong or are in control, and some people just want to stomp the living daylights out of their opponents.  It can be cathartic.

Regardless of why you play, ultimately, you can create a community of friends, real and virtual.  That is what LTUE 2018 is all about.  Come play with us!

Finding the Stories that Connect Us

So much of our lives revolve around stories. We tell stories to children. We ask people to tell us the story of how their day went. Significant milestones in our lives become stories we tell over and over again. Pictures are also common to our everyday lives. And pictures can tell stories themselves. A painting is a picture that someone has created to tell a particular story. In writing, authors are trying to help the readers form an image in their minds. Artists are much the opposite, they are giving you the image and trying to help the audience find the story within it.

I find this to be a fascinating and wonderful concept. There are so many different ways to interpret paintings and other art, but the artist generally has a particular story that they are trying to tell. The artist is expressing himself or herself, showing the world a story or a concept. There are many different ways to do that, from the obvious and straightforward to the abstract and obscure. But, no matter how they do it, they are trying to say something. They are trying to show others how they feel or how they see a subject. Each time I see a new piece of art, I try to find that story. I’m sure that sometimes I see what they are trying to portray and that sometimes I don’t. But the journey of examining the painting, exploring it makes me feel like there is a connection between me and the creator, the artist.

And, that’s what stories are about, isn’t it? Creating connections. We tell stories to our children to teach them and help them understand the world. We ask someone about their day to connect with them and understand more about their life. We tell the stories of our major achievements and successes in life so that people can share in those achievements with us. Some people choose to tell those stories in the form of artwork.

Stories connect people. They help us develop community. They give us an understanding of other people’s point of view. So, go look at a painting. Take the time to try and find the story in it. Try to see the world through the artist’s eyes and see what they are saying. Connect with them. Seek that connection with the people around you.

“– And Then I Grew Up”: Role Playing and Storytelling

I first learned about role-playing games in Junior High, when I attempted to play “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” with a friend.  The attempt didn’t stick, but in High School, a group of my friends gathered at the library on a regular basis, and later at my friend’s home, to play “Star Wars”.  I dabbled with “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” and “GURTS” for a little bit, just long enough to convince myself that AD&D is the Work of the Devil — as is any other D20 game system.

So I have a bit of experience with role playing — and then I grew up.

This is not to disparage people who continue with role-playing well into their adulthood, mind you.  In my case, my friends were scattered to different colleges across the State (and, to some extent, across the country).  Homework and campus activities certainly took priority, as did working full-time to provide for myself and my family.  Oh, and with Sales Season ramping up, or the Sales Team over-promising things, I might have found myself working overtime to help make sure the computer system will be ready.  And let’s not forget raising children!  Those children aren’t going to be sufficiently feral without their Daddy’s influence!

And it isn’t just role playing that has fallen by the wayside.  “Childish” pursuits such as advanced mathematics, esoteric and powerful computer languages, video games (both playing and designing), music, and even fiction reading have all suffered the same fate.

So it is with great regret that I “grew up”, and am no longer involved with role playing.  Particularly since it’s been so valuable for extending my imagination, in ways that no other game format can never provide:

I learned how to evaluate settings, and consider what is possible, and just what would happen if my character were to try to yank the rug out from under that guy holding my friends hostage…and I learned to evaluate whether my character would have the strength to do that, or even whether it would be consistent with my character’s thought processes.  A flexible rule structure with a touch of probability meant that I — or rather, my character — could try anything, and anything could happen as a result.  And sometimes the most spectacular successes were the result of improbable failures.

Role playing allowed me and my friends to explore the consequences of technology currently non-existent, or to model magic systems, in plausible ways.  My own characters explored lightsaber battering rams on space freighters, and adding firepower to unstable droids, with corresponding … interesting … results.  In Star Wars 2nd Edition (the one before Star Wars went to the Dark Side, and embraced a D20 game system), the Force was modeled with three aspects, Control, Sense and Alter, combined to produce different Force effects.  When my friends decided to adapt Star Wars to the Wheel of Time universe, they readily adapted the system, weaving the five elements of Fire, Water, Air, Earth and Spirit for similar effects.  I once even tried to shoehorn Spyro the Dragon into an AD&D setting, but that didn’t turn out so well.

While I was in High School, I had a certain fascination with abnormal psychology, and in particular, multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia.  Role playing allowed me to experiment with how multiple personality disorder or schizophrenia would affect a character.  I never really felt like I got the mechanics on either correct, though — for the former, I needed a good balance between events and probability to cause a switch in personalities, to keep everyone on their toes, and for the latter, I don’t think I fully appreciated how to handle “Force hallucinations” for a character that could subconsciously use the Force — but these explorations helped me to refine my understanding of these issues, and to try to find ways to portray them as accurately as I could at the time.

Role playing has helped me to explore all sorts of ideas that I otherwise would not have done, and to do so with friends as well, and to learn characterization, settings, and other things that should be worked into a good story.  When my friends have gathered together, we have tried to do a little bit of role playing, but putting a game together takes a lot of work, and it takes a while to get through a game as well, so these attempts have fizzled out.  I take solace, however, in the fact that my children and their cousins have taken it upon themselves to try to create their own role playing games, using dice on hand, and making up rules as they go along…so there’s hope for the rising generation.  Apparently, my attempts to instill feral behavior are paying off!

And perhaps I should try to squeeze in at least a little bit of time in the Game Room this year…