Friday, June 26, 2015


As near as I can tell, none of the people I played D&D with in the 80s or 90s is playing the game now.

Now and then I chance into someone - at the grocery store, strolling through downtown, sitting across the coffee shop - and we chat.  How are you, how did that job in Dallas work out, oh you got married, any kids?  Same conversation everyone has . . . with a rejoiner, of course, because I'm always asked (because I was the DM), "Are you still playing that game?"

That game.  It is at once a pejorative and a sign of respect, in that clearly it is a guilty memory and at the same time something that doesn't have to be referred to by name.  It is plain what game is meant.  It is equally plain that my old friend hasn't mentioned the game to anyone in a long time.  The merest wisp of a thought about it has likely not come to mind in years.  But meeting me, all those memories of hundreds of hours spent at a gaming table come washing back and for the first time, my friend can exhibit some curiousity.  "Do you still play?"

Of course, I always grin and tell them that I do.  I have no shame about it.  I consider the time I've spent designing and playing to be golden.  Whereupon the answer is just as predictable: "Wow."

See, if it is someone who was in my game for a long time, nine or ten years in the case of some, they remember how my world grew and transformed steadily.  They remember that I was always working, always trying new things, always expanding some element to make the game more interesting and playable.  They measure the time between when they played and now - 22 years - and their heads spin.

Then, every time, I see the geek within emerge from the outer vestment of electrical engineer, investment planner, market consultant or whatever work they're doing now that earns them enough for that $450K house an hour away in the Stix, where all is home maintenance, childcare and gardening.  I see the garment's strangling top button pop open and for a brief while comes the memories, the nostalgia, the curiousity about what I'm doing now and the questions about how and why, for the love of all things believable, am I still playing?

Then the coffee is gone and wearily they fix that button closed again, wish me well and move away.  Oh, sometimes they'll get the courage to say something suggesting that they'd like to play again; I always offer.  They never accept.  It's the reality they've chosen.  They're too busy.

How and why am I still playing?

Because I loved it.  Oh, yes, at the time, we all said we did, but in retrospect much of that love was a love of convenience, of available time measured against a minimum of responsibility.  When something came along that seemed more important or necessary, they made their sacrifices realistically, rationally and as best they could.  And me?  Well, I sacrificed other things.

My daughter was telling me the other day that when she was a little girl, sleeping in the room next to my study, she would fall asleep every night to the sound of my fingers hitting the pads of my computer's keyboard.  I began writing with a manual typewriter in the 70s, progressed to an electric by 1980 and my typing has ever since been hard and resonant.  The keyboard I'm typing on right now was designed to mute the sound.

Because of the noise, however, the surest way to put my daughter to sleep (she says) is to play a recording of anyone typing.  That is because I did it so much it was hard-wired into her head.  After she went to bed, after her day was done and my parenting responsibilities were finished, there was only one thing I ever wanted to do.

I've always been like that.

Quit D&D?  Hah.  


Doug said...

I've been playing now for 30 years. I don't play as often as I like, and I don't play at the level of engagement you do, but I understand the love. I've asked the question, although I ask expectantly, hoping that the answer is "yes."

VeronaKid said...

One of my favorite things to read about on your blog, Alexis, is the way the game has linked you to your daughter. It is one of my greatest hopes as a parent that my own boys will look back with fondness at the times Dad planned out a dungeon for them to romp through.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Well, without intending to sound trite, Verona, it really was just love. My being so in love with the game could not escape her notice. If kids are encouraged to embrace without feeling hammered into a round hole or expected to act in absolute accordance with the parent's ideal, they will find the same love for things their parents have.

I hadn't thought about it until just now, but my daughter is the perfect proof for my not being the sort of DM that demands exact behaviour from players - else she would have shat all over the game just to prove her independence. She didn't need to do that; instead, with agency, with a blue sky ahead of her, she was free to find her own personal love for the game BECAUSE I did not insist.

I believe in agency . . . for daughters and sons and everybody else.