Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Andrew: you have just talked for ten pages about rules and mechanics...

....about hex paper with dotted lines connecting different planets; about squared paper with wobbly pencil lines marking the rooms in the dungeon; about yearning to role enough dice to play a Monk; about trying to use High Guard17 to construct a Death Star; about lining up the miniatures and knocking off their hit points... 
What about the games; the stories; the adventures? 
I can't remember. 
I can remember tiny details of TV shows I watched and books I read and the backs of old crisp packets I collected fourty years ago. 
Two children on a generation star ship; when they make planet-fall the nasty captain accidentally-on-purpose loses them in a forest; they make contact with the natives and live happily ever after.18 An anthropomorphic bear from the bear pits a Berne is shipwrecked on a desert island; she makes friends with the natives, but tries to scrub their black faces with Persil. A young American girl is hired by gangsters who try to pass her off as the lost grand-daughter of an eccentric British lady and steal her inheritance.19 Some boys run away to Switzerland to prevent space aliens putting mind control devices on their heads. A scientist stitches a monster together out of dead bodies.
Why can't I remember a single game?
I think Roger tried to run the Giants Against The Drow In a Vault Up a Hill series but they are very complicated and require very high level characters. Everyone knows that dark elves are called Drow; although it is something which Dungeons and Dragons invented with no mythological basis whatsoever. There are Dark Elves in Tolkien, but they are dark in the sense of living in the darkness: they came to Middle-earth before the creation of the Sun and the Moon. 
I wrote a gigantic dungeon—a whole exercise book—called The Temple of (Tolkien forgive me) Tegas-Fer-Roden. There were sections of the temple full of treasure guarded by religious ninja; and sections that had become infested with orcs, and yes, I am very well aware of the implications of the word "infestation". At the very bottom there was a magic portal which took you to the Lawful Good Dimension where you could actually meet up with Tegas Fer Roden. He was very male and very handsome and very nude and was very probably very influenced by the fact that Who Mourns For Adonis was the very first episode of Star Trek I ever saw. 
I started to draw a larger map, with "the village", "the city" and "the temple of Tegas fer Rogan marked on it". In one corner another hand has pencilled in "Martin's Dungeon" suggesting that we had wild ambitions to create a shared universe.
There was going to eventually be a huge quest in which Tegas Fer Rodin sent the players to replant his magic apple tree on a paradisal island on the other side of the map. Martin's fighter and Roger's thief and Sean's magic user and Sean's Friend's Cleric tramping across a hex map with Tegas Fer Rogan's apple trying to find his magic garden and being attacked by goblins and wolves and skeletons, oh my. I started introducing each session with a summary of the previous weeks adventures rendered in rhyming couplets. I think that was the point at which the other players finally decided they had had enough.
I had absorbed some of the ambience from Lord of the Rings even if I never finished reading it. We stood outside Tally Ho games and complained about the cartoon: not good enough for those of "us" who have read the book, but far too difficult for other people to understand. The battle of Helms deep was quite cool, but I had no idea what they were fighting about. 
I don't think I really understood the Lord of the Rings until I came back to it in my thirties. But that's what it is: a long bitter middle aged book for long bitter middle aged people: its popularity with hippies entirely accidental. But still: wizards and rangers and broken swords and fellowships and long desperate quests and that sepia poster everyone had on their wall. I think the prog-rock instrumental album with the Rodney Matthews cover was first record I ever owned. The first record which didn't have Womble or Smurf in the title. Who said you needed to read a book to love it?

I worry, sometimes, in my long bitter middle-aged way about my friend’s kids and their tablet computers. I know that there are lots of incredibly cool things on tablets, for adults as well as kids, and I am sure that my friends are responsible enough to stop their kids getting on to inappropriate sites. I am actually surprised that parents let quite young kids watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and worse, but I am very much aware that in each generation there are old people who think that young people's entertainment is more violent, more sexy and more sweary than it was in their day. And without such good tunes. 
It is normal for older people not to approve of younger people's culture and it is normal for younger people to seek out the kind of culture that older people think is inappropriate for them. 
"Oh for heavens sake" I said some years ago when my little niece played me some music by Westlife or possibly One Direction.20 "This is old fashioned rock and roll with a tune. I quite like it. You ought to be listening to music that people of my age find incomprehensible." She now follows celebrities on YouTube.
But I am a bit bothered by the whole Minecraft thing. 
I was never a Lego Kid. My Lego buildings fell down just as surely as my Airfix Kits got stuck to the carpet. But I can fully see the appeal of a box of Lego without a bottom, a game in which you can literally build Lego Cities and Lego Death Stars and then walk around inside them. 
Yeah: I see why that could be fun. But I can't help wondering if there is going to be an entire generation of adults who will say of the first 20 years of their life: what did we do in the Special Years? Oh, we spent it playing Minecraft. 

Youth is wasted on the young. 
"What did you do in the Special Years Andrew?" 
I watched TV. I read comic books about space gods and read novels about the walking dead and anthropomorphic bears. But mostly I watched TV. The Golden Age of TV, mind you, not just Doctor Who and Star Trek, but also Bagpuss and the Clangers; and Blue Peter and the Perils of Penelope Pit-stop; and Songs of Praise and Stars on Sunday; and BBC documentaries about barrel organs; and the test card... 
Grown ups never liked the fact that I used to be absorbed in my Tablet on beautiful sunny days when I should have been putting three sticks in the ground and defending them with a fourth. In those days Tablets were called Books; but grown ups still disapproved of them. They did. Don't let anyone tell you they didn't.
But behind the book or the TV there was a creative mind. The time you spent watching TV wasn't wasted time. Not all of it, anyway. I may have wasted a considerable proportion of my youth listening to Valerie Singleton narrate the story of the Tolepuddle Martyrs or Marie Antoinette or Grimaldi the Clown; but I also spent some of it usefully watching Dick Dastardly and his pals trying to catch a pigeon for some under-determined reason. 
No-one knows what does harm and what does good. 
Doctor Who. Spider-Man. Blue Peter. Whacky Races. The Tripods. Hope and Keen's Crazy Bus. Crown Court. Hickory House. The Tomorrow People. Basil Brush. The Long Chase. The Good Old Days. Val Meets the VIPs. Hong Kong Fuey. The Happy Planet. Mary Plane's Big Adventure. Candleshoe. The Tripods. Frankenstien. The Cat From Outer Space. Escape from Witch Mountain. Digby the Biggest Dog in the World. Star Wars. Herbie Goes To Monty Carlo. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 
I have been asked more than once if I have ever had an autism diagnosis; I suppose because of the way in which I obsess about detail and take certain kinds of literature very literally indeed. I may have mentioned that I have seen Star Wars more than fifty times. (Twelve times in its first run, and at least once a year thereafter. That makes fifty nine.) In fact I score very low on all the standard tests. But I do wonder if the availability of certain kinds of entry level fantasy drug—Star Wars, Doctor Who, Dungeons and Dragons—just as I was going through puberty turned me into some kind of pseudo-geek or quasi-nerd. Perhaps if I had been born in 1955 I would have become a cricketer or a mountaineer rather than a Dungeon Master. 
I look at the young people spending years which will never come again building cities with non-existent Lego or following invisible Pokemon with their cellphones; and I think of myself designing dungeons I would never explore and spaceships I would never fly and learning the rules of games I would never play and I could just weep for the wasted years.
Life is waste. Anyone who tells you different is selling something.
Hello, I am Andrew. I have a moderately good Masters degree in an obscure subject; a 2:1 BA in English; three good but not exceptionally good A levels, one in Sociology; a piece of paper saying that I can swim three widths and another piece of paper saying I got a distinction in BTEC print journalism. I have written theatre reviews for local magazines and self-published half a dozen books. A singer who I greatly admire once thanked me because my critical review of his CD had been "so real". If you google the name of my place of work you will find that children's story-time is run by a "wonderfully theatrical man" who is "unfortunately completely tone deaf". I listen to live music or go to live theatre several times a week. I didn't have a proper job until I was nearly 40. I do not hold a driving licence. I am interested in politics but do not care enough to become informed about political ideas or to knock on strangers doors. I know more about the Bible, especially the four gospels, than most people, but have increasingly found that church is an alien space to me. The movie Into the Spider-Verse reminded me of exactly how much I love Spider-Man and so, come to think of it, did my long series of essays about the original Spider-Man comic. I can write cleverly and wittily about other people's texts but have never created anything of my own. I realized a very long time ago that I cannot do plot and definitely cannot do dialogue. I am overweight to the point where I think I may have an eating disorder as opposed to merely being a greedy piggie. Folk music absorbs me; nearly everything else is raw material for me to make clever remarks about. 
Many people like alcoholic drinks but are perfectly able to stop drinking them when they have had enough. I myself have three bottles of good whisky on the shelf and no particular urge to drink them, even though I really like whisky. If there were an open box of chocolates they would be consumed within days if not hours. I would not eat them until I was sick but I would eat them far past the point where I was getting any pleasure. Some people cannot control their consumption of alcohol; cannot stop until the whole bottle is empty; lose days and weeks to what is for me just a quite pleasant taste. Such people cannot ever go into a public house or have a bottle of whisky in their homes. The overwhelming majority of the people I played Dungeons and Dragons with at school and college and in the wasteland of years after college simply stopped playing in the same way that they stopped borrowing traffic cones from building sites or worrying about which Boy Scout troupe was the hardest. It had been fun but it was not part of their identity. There should be no shame in saying "I did this for a while: I liked doing it: but I have stopped doing it now." There should be no compulsion to say "I never liked doing this in the first place." I should never have been allowed near a role-playing game, a comic book, a science fiction movie: I am too prone to spiritual addiction. There was never any chance I was going to listen to one or two Fairport Convention records and call it a day. If it hadn't been folk music it would have been something else. If it hadn't been Dungeons and Dragons it would have been something else. I could never have been protected from every rabbit hole that I might have fallen into. If I could have back all the time I spent playing Dungeons and Dragons I would spend it playing Dungeons and Dragons. Why do I feel that I have betrayed myself simply because I am not actively involved in a hobby that I used to like? It feels like part of me has gone missing. And yet most of the time I do not miss it. I am gone away from my own bosom; I have lost my true identity, my real self somewhere between the crown and where I sit. What was it C.S Lewis said about bicycles?

17 Advanced space ship and space navy rules for Traveller.

18 SPOILER: It was the earth all along.

19 SPOILER: She really was the eccentric old lady's grand-daughter

20 "She's got a boyfriend, he drives her round the bend, he's 23, he's in the marines, he'd kill me." It was McFly. I checked.

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