Friday, June 29, 2018

Nostalgia

I have heard from people who were not pleased with my treatment on Al and Chad's podcast.  But I do rush to point out, it was not I that set the agenda; nor the time constraint.  I approached the podcast with the desire to express my thorough belief that the game must be taken out of the hands of the game seller and put into the hands of the game player.  I feel I got that point across, and that it was made stronger by Al's repetition that I made good points, without either Al or Chad mounting an argument against me.

However, I would like to be interviewed by someone with a more pin-point agenda.  Rather that talking about the Satanic Panic and how outsiders built their case, I'd rather be talking about how we build a case today to change how outsiders feel about the game.  Rather than talking about whether edition wars are good or bad, I'd rather talk about why the change in content between editions created factions and what those specific factions stood for ~ that is, why people felt the need to hate others.  I'd rather dig down into the day-to-day subjects of play, game rulings and world design, than returning to the same questions about the past.

Building my own podcast, I questioned if I should ask DMs how they got started.  I felt it was a question that deserved examination, from the standpoint of each person, compared to each other person.  But having heard the story repeated, I am beginning to think it is the least valuable question we can ask one another.  Should I ask mathematicians to tell me about the first time they added numbers together?  Or politicians about the first time they did a book report in elementary school?  Or soldiers about the first time they played guns with their mates?  What is that going to tell us?  Why are we as participants in this game so infatuated with the way we started?

I argue it is because, for most people, playing this game exists in a constant universe of them having "lost" something.  Why investigate our memories of the Satanic Panic?  Why investigate our memories of when the game reached the mainstream?  Why ask our feelings about how the game has changed, without producing facts or evidence of investigation, so that at least we might be describing history?  Why is it that we are so locked into the past?  And specifically, that past when we first started playing?

I think it is because most people came to this game when they were children; younger than 16, at least.  And that in that first formative period of their participation, the imaginary element of the game was more keenly felt than it is today.  That as children, every adventure, every image, every moment of explaining what their character did, every argument over some rule, every nub and bobbin of the game was amazingly, astoundingly fresh and spectacularly divorced from the ordinary, common experience of being a kid in a school, under the control of authority figures.  I think it is because for most people, D&D, or Role-playing, was their first real experience with total independence as a self-aware person, discussing a passion with other similarly aged self-aware persons.


And now it is hard to remember exactly how that felt.

By talking about it, we have moments where we're momentarily in touch with that feeling.  It is visceral, not intellectual.  We can't express it.  We know it, but we can't grip it and hold onto it; for we don't think like we did when we were children.  We're different now.

Yet I feel there are a majority of players who sit down to D&D games every week as if the ritual of playing the game in its most familiar incarnation, the old structured format from their childhood days, will magically resurrect the childlike wonder, the awe, that once possessed us when we cast spells and fought giants, when we watched the die bouncing over the table with open-mouthed reverence.  I'm quite sure that many fully-grown adults believe this effect is exactly what the ritual produces.

I find that sad.

As I said in the podcast, I did not come to D&D at 9 years of age.  There was no chance of that for me; the game did not exist until I was ten, and did not make its way into my world until I was 15.  Moreover, I was a much older 15 than my peers.  I could count several university students among my friends.  My teachers had asked my parents three times to push me forward to a higher grade (my parents always refused).  I was already deep into statistics and map-making, amateur astronomy (in which I would head out on my own into open farmer's fields in the summer time, after midnight, with binoculars and later a telescope, to record my sightings), writing books and plays, working as a summer camp counselor and so on.  I had all the tools I needed in my mental pocket to make being a DM my life's work.  I was never in awe of the game.  I was in love with it.

This infatuation with the past, with how we got started, or what it meant to us, or how it felt the first time we went to a game con, or what it was like to be a young DM ... it's lost on me.  I vaguely recall my first disastrous efforts, the desire to possess certain dice and miniatures, or the intensity of those around-the-clock sessions that would start at noon and go past midnight ... but that is not why I play now.  I play now because I love it now.

The way some people approach the game, it reminds me of a husband who loves his wife because once she was pretty and very popular, and he likes to have her around because he enjoys remembering the woman she was.  But I love my wife for the woman she IS ... the sweet, cuddly nearly-60-year-old who is fighting time with dignity and good humour.  She's not who she was, and nor am I ~ and how sad it would be if we were both clinging to each other fantasizing about something that is long gone, that can never change, because we wouldn't let it change.

That is not love for me.  Love is growth.  It is living and seeing the next day, and making that next day special for its own reasons, regardless of what happened once upon a time.  I am sad for people who are helplessly caught in their own nostalgia, who can think of nothing to talk about except what we did, what happened way back when, who used to think what and how terrible and awful it all that because a bunch of old people, who are most likely dead now, used to think the game was about worshipping Satan.

3 comments:

James said...

I think I agree with you that too many players are trapped in the past.

I got started really late, I first played a tabletop rpg only about 8 years ago when I while I was in law school. I wonder how much that plays into how differently I view RPGs than my players who have played since they were in their teens.

Ozymandias said...

I think this nostalgia approach is part of the reason the game is poisoned. The current attitudes are built upon a foundation of those old memories without an understanding of why those feelings existed in the first place. It's so entrenched that new players learn the current customs and standards, never knowing that there's a better way of looking at the game.

Ozymandias said...

Are you thinking topic for your next season?