Soft Spot

This was originally printed in Watch The Skies for the September 2013 meeting.

Suffering is required to achieve something great. No pain, no gain. It’s a simple thing to understand, right?

Not so simple really. That suffering can have long term, lasting impact. Many people wouldn’t call it suffering. They’ll tell you that suffering is strictly a physical thing. It is not. Some people will tell you that suffering is simply learning in disguise. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Some people will tell you to ignore those around you and carry forth with your passion. Easier said than done in many cases. I have come to the realization recently that I am stuck on a lot of things from my childhood. Suffering for something is one of the things I’m stuck on.

Reading the novel “Ready Player One” recently brought a lot of these issues to the surface again, but the issues have been lurking for quite a while now – if not my whole life. I have constantly felt like I needed to prove that the things I did, the things I loved were important. The things I loved had deeper meaning and real value. Sometimes I get a typical male urge to compete; to show off the fact that I have achieved a certain status and survived. There are many days when I feel a bit like Smaug. I am fully armored. You can not hurt me. The problem of course is that I am not Smaug, but much like him I have a soft spot that is easy to exploit. That soft spot is also my main hang up.

When I was a kid I fell in love with all things fantastic. The first novel I recall having a direct impact on me and changing me forever was “The Hobbit”. It was something I was ‘forced’ to read as a way to get me out of the way when the adults were helping my aunt move. I was hooked immediately. I loved it. I wanted more. There wasn’t much more that was readily accessible at the time, but then I found these pamphlet looking things with amazing art work on them. Dungeons and Dragons entered my life. It was the only thing I was deeply interested in all the time. I constantly wanted more and looked for any kind of things related to this game. I read, I painted lead miniatures, I drew on graph paper and rolled dice all the time.

This is the soft spot.

It’s a soft spot because it’s very easy to make me defensive about it. The game became very popular. Adults got wind of this and it became the focus of a lot of damaging views. My father never seemed to like it much and would from time to time tell me (and the others that may or may not have been with me at the time) to get outside and do something other than “dungeons and dummies”. Chris from the next street over wasn’t allowed to play. It was the devil’s own tool, just look what it did to that poor boy in that Mazes and Monsters film. Calvin at the end of the street was allowed to play, but only because his mom understood that the game was mostly about imagination and they couldn’t stop that. They wouldn’t encourage him buy buying anything to support it though, and discouraged it at every opportunity. Older ladies I had long thought to be nice were suddenly “anonymously” dropping off pamphlets and complaining about the hobby shop that carried the game modules I loved so much. We got lumped in with rock music and blamed for a lot of things that “wouldn’t have happed” if it wasn’t for that terrible influence. Serious things like suicide and damaging mental health issues. I learned very quickly to hide my favorite things. To this day I rarely admit how much I have always loved the game in conversation with others. There were many, many days I simply wanted to shout “Bree-yark” (I’m still not sure if that rumor is true). There is a stigma attached to D&D still.

This soft spot has been irritated a lot lately. Geek is the new chic. I hadn’t been able to put my finger on exactly why it bothered me, but it did. I still keep most of my geek to myself. It’s a rare few that have seen my collection of D&D things. It’s an even more elite group that I am willing to actually play a game with. That soft spot gets touchy easily. Then I heard about this film called “Zero Charisma”. I’m still not certain I want to see it. I think I have to, but I don’t know if I’ll like it. In a review for the film I finally found a summary of what exactly I was feeling:

But deep down he is a member of a different tribe. It is clear he has never really suffered for his hobbies the way the others have… For him, geekdom isn’t a refuge from the sufferings of life: It is merely an aesthetic.”

Tim Wu talking about a relative newcomer to the game in his review of “Zero Charisma”

Article Link: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/03/12/zero_charisma_review_dungeons_dragons_movie_is_instant_classic_of_geeksploitation.html

That is it exactly. This nuveau geek didn’t suffer for what he loves. It’s not like it was back in my day…

Holy crap did I just turn old? What happened right there?

Since that revelation, I have been noticing more and more that I am not alone. There are tons of articles out there that point to this wave of creative, amazing people that all share this source. Each of them has approaced it in their own way and done their own thing with it, but that was always what appealed to me about the game itself. It wasn’t about winners and losers, it was about creating, imagination and surviving! Gain enough experience and you gain another level. Believe in something and it will stay, but disvelieve and the illusion will vanish (depending on your saving throw). Maybe, just maybe, I’m coming up on my next level and I’ll be able to set aside the breast plate of defensiveness (+5) without hurting my armor class. I’m pretty certain there are people out there still calculating their THACO and angling to get a shot at me, but as I level up I should be harder to hit – even in the soft spot.

Some other intersting links to those struck with the same creative influecnes I’ve come across recently:

Fiction from the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2010/10/04/101004fi_fiction_lipsyte?currentPage=all

An interview with that author: http://www.vol1brooklyn.com/2013/03/06/sam-lipsyte-geeks-out-about-role-playing-games-with-vol-1/

Shire Wisdom: http://www.shirewisdom.com/2013/08/31/open-your-dork-hoard/

Of Dice And Men: http://www.ofdiceandmen.com/

Do you have any favorites? 

Ready Player One

This was originally printed in Watch The Skies for the September 2013 meeting.

This book grabbed me by the nostalgia and would not let me go. I tore through this book at a manic pace and that hasn’t happened for me in a long time. I really did have a great time with it. I’m really interested to see what happens with the movie version. I will definitely go to see it in the theater.

Should you go and read this book? That’s a fine question. That is also where I would offer caution.

Why did I love this book? Because it was aimed directly at me, that’s why. If you’re outside of my demographic I don’t know if you’d enjoy it nearly as much as I did. There are about a zillion (scientifically counted) references to things I grew up with through the late 70s and 80s. They hit home with me. Would that hit home with you? That’s the part that worries me about telling folks to read it. If you don’t remember the Tomb of Horrors you’ll understand how the story moves forward but you won’t have the depth of background to really get it. I was there, I lived that sort of get it. There might be some of a younger generation that will appreciate the history of certain parts of it. I hope they do.

Beyond the knowledge / nostalgia aspects, this story is a straight up hero’s quest. It reminded me very much of the myriad stories I read as a teen. It ended the way it was supposed to, and that matters to me. I actually found myself trying to fit a more modern story telling bent to certain aspects of the story and those things didn’t pop up. I was looking for the anti-hero, the dark betrayal, or the jaded character that really doesn’t want to participate. I didn’t get them, but it was distracting from time to time. There were parts of how this dread future society worked that confused me when I gave it a little deeper thought. There were parts that I just didn’t think would work from a world building point of view. These bits of “looking deeper” are really the parts that keep me from giving this book a full on five stars. I will however give it a strong four and a half. I hope you go out and pick this one up. I will be reading it again I’m certain.

How long until we have replicators?

Some interesting things going on in the technology world. I really like the fact that these things are becoming more accessible. Check out this really interesting looking Kickstarter:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/aiorobotics/zeus-the-worlds-first-all-in-one-3d-copy-machine

The part that makes me wonder is this: how long until the companies that manufacture these plastic parts start to apply pressure against this trend?

Disconnected and doing fine!

Just a couple of weekends ago I was part of something special. InterventionCon 2013. It’s an excellent little convention that I suspect will only grow moving forward. If you haven’t checked out the things that happen, you should. Find them here: http://interventioncon.com/

This is the part where I come clean, so that you understand where I’m coming from for the rest of my little review here. I’m most likely the least connected person at the convention. It took a change in my day job to force me out of the Luddite zone and into the realm of smartphone and iPad and constant connectivity. Even now, I struggle with “being connected”. There are way too many times when I think I should be enjoying what’s happening around me rather than viewing it through the lens of a phone camera. I regularly disconnect… on purpose.

Disconnected might actually become a theme for me.

With that in mind, I will say the weekend’s convention was a fantastic success. You know why? Because I didn’t hear about bad things happening or people that weren’t happy or anything like that. The only things I heard about –  live and in person – were positive, empowering experiences. People that I walked around and spoke to were all having a great time. They were headed for the arcade or the game room or a panel on how to make something. They were learning and sharing and creating amazing stuff. Your on-line life in person. I think the in person portion was really working well. I am tickled to be part of it all.

The one thing I felt though, was a sense of being a bit disconnected. Children’s programming almost seemed like it’s own little world to me. I know that some inquiries were made to folks in other areas of the con and they weren’t even aware of what we were up to (or where we were). Living in our own little world was not a bad thing! The families that were there and participating really made me smile. I was so happy to be part of the whole thing – but particularly one mom’s first time ever making a paper airplane. The simple fact that we could help them “make” something and have them create such a great family memory is amazing.

The problem? The real problem? How do we come up with something even better for next year?

The Children’s Programming Staff is working on ideas to put out there already… 2014 is going to be awesome.