First off, a disclaimer: I’m forty-seven years old, and my gaming days began in 1979 when I stole my brother’s Christmas present, the fabled Blue Box D&D set. I was ten years old, and it was true love at first sight. But it was 1979; role playing games were a bizarre foot-note in mainstream culture, and I was stuck in the middle of north Texas. So be warned that, back in my day times, they was a-hard.
But you kids? With all your fancy Interwebz and Tweeters and Snapchatteries, you have it made, and here’s why:
1. Wikipedia and Google
Imagine yourself as a grubby little Cheeto-eating ragamuffin, leafing through your holiest tome, the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. You’re just soaking it all in, Gygax’s obsession with tables and Dave Trampier’s gorgeous art. But then you stumble across something not even your nerdy Honors English class prepared you for: the bec de corbin.
What the hell is a bec de corbin? You live in Texas, Spanish is the only foreign language taught, and you’re only eleven years old. Context clues? None. The original AD&D books had great art, but not much by way of illustration. Gygax knew stuff, and he expected you to damned well know stuff as well. Eventually I ended up on a field trip to the Fort Worth Public Library and carried along a long list of historical D&D terms I could look up in the reference stacks. But even the Encyclopedia Britannica couldn’t tell me what the hell a ‘Lucerne Hammer´ was.
But you lucky kids? Google takes 0.3 seconds to fill a page with photographs of the bec de corbin, links to historical articles about the evolution of pole-arms in general, and websites where you can commission a blacksmith to make you one of your very own. Once you’ve perused all the historical information, you can scroll down to the ten-thousand links for gaming-related uses of the word.
2. Enter Your Card Number and Expiration Date
Little known fact: TSR had a problem with their dice supplier for the old Blue Box set. In lieu of dice, they provided little paper chits you could cut out and, I don’t know, pull out of a Crown Royal bag to simulate rolling dice. Yeah, like that was gonna happen. Personally, I ended up engaged in my first foray into statistics: trying to find all the ways you could make combinations of d6 roughly approximate all the normal polyhedrals. It was dumb, and it sucked, but the nearest store that sold D&D stuff was eighty miles away, and they only sold books and the occasional boxed set of Grenadier minis. No dice for me.
Snail-mail and the personal check were the currencies of the day. I subscribed to The Space Gamer and Dragon magazines, and the pain of finding and buying stuff was real: save up money from chores, give said money to Mom, Mom writes check, I mail check. Then wait. For weeks and weeks. Steve Jackson Games wasn’t bad, since Austin wasn’t that far away, but do you have any idea how long it takes to order something between Mineral Wells, Texas and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin? I do.
But you kids? Amazon, Ebay, direct from the publisher. You’ve got options. Even better, you aren’t even bound to physical media, what with your PDF’s and Epubs and what have you. You can see something cool, buy it in a matter of seconds, and be reading within minutes.
Of course, I still prefer dead-tree books. You can’t leave smudgy Cheeto finger-prints on a PDF.
3. Culture and Community
All joking and grumbling aside, this is the one I really envy when I see the newer generation of gamers. It’s no hyperbole when I say that I bled for D&D. Gaming, comic books, computers, all the stuff that fuels the billion dollars of entertainment today? That stuff could get your ass kicked back in 1980, and that’s if you were a guy. I can’t even imagine being a female gamer back then. I’ve talked to women who survived those years as girl-gamers, and their stories make me ashamed that all I took was one good ass-kicking.
But these days? There is some lingering sexism practiced by a thankfully-diminishing number of assholes, but that’s about all that’s left of the Bad Old Days. My kids have been in multiple gaming groups since middle school and never faced any kind of friction for it. I have a niece who can argue the neck-bearded trolls into submission about comics, Tolkien and pretty much any other geeky topic (damn, I’m proud of that kid). I go to conventions and see all kinds of people, crowds of them, all blithely enjoying whatever it is they enjoy.
I know there are still cultural dead-ends like the town I grew up in. But with the advent of the internet, any kid unlucky enough to grow up there can jump online and find people, whole communities who share interests and enthusiasm.
And that is frigging awesome.
I’m going to leave it at that, with that inspiring image of a new generation of gamers, an inclusive, empowered and confident community. Us old-timers like to bitch about you whipper-snappers, but just know this: we are damned proud of you. You’ve got advantages we never had, but you’re using them to make things better, and we just hope you come visit us in the old-folks home to roll some dice occasionally.
But bring real, printed books and real dice. You show up with PDF’s and dice-rolling apps, we might be forced to lecture you. At length.
Jack Benner is the head bottle-washer and sole roustabout at Stick in the Mud Press http://stickinthemudgames.blogspot.com/
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.