It’s not yet Monday, yet here I am, delayed from sleep by increasingly more agonizing allergies and increasingly jumbled thoughts rolling around in my head.
The solution, as always, is to write. As I said back when I started, if you don’t write when you have the words there, you risk losing them entirely. Or, to quote some words of wisdom: “There’s nothing to it but to do it!”
So. I’ve been spending much of the weekend enjoying the sites and sounds of a local gaming convention. One of the few I’ve been to in the last year, and one of the only two I make sure to attend on a regular basis. One is the world famous DragonCon, filled with more types of entertainment than any one man can hope to partake of in a single weekend.
The other, the con in question at the moment, is a small and humble affair by the name of JohnCon. The con of my alma mater, and one I had lent my aid to for many years.
But time comes and goes, and this year I had no part in the running of the show. I was there to enjoy myself and nothing more – and pray that, in the absence of myself and my fellows, the con was not an abysmal failure.
Hmm. That may, perhaps, sound a trifle conceited. I’ll explain a bit, shall I?
My days at the good old Johnny Hopkins, and the SciFi Club thereof, were a time of great success for the club. Attendance soared, events were kick-ass… and most of all, the members of the club (we called ourselves ‘fen’) were supremely cool people. There was all variety of gamers and nerds and dorks – but by and large the majority happened to also be socially well-adjusted individuals. It was, if not a golden age, a silver age of sorts.
Elder fen from years past were a common sight, lending experience and wisdom to all. Younger fen were excited and eager for new things. It was a grand age for gaming and anime – as well as boozing and clubbing and other brands of excitement.
Good times, it was agreed, were had by all.
There was, of course, the usuall drama and emotional chaos that comes about with any group of close-knit people… but that’s all part of the show. Part of being, in the end, a family.
Fast forward several years. Most of the current fen are now elder fen. Most of the elder fen are no longer a presence at the club – many have left the area entire. Last year graduated the last remnant of the old guard from my days, and the club was filled with almost entirely new blood.
And I have stopped by hither and thither to see what I may see of the state of things… and been left wondering.
The club remained intact. Events were held, games were run. And yet… some certain spark seemed gone. The club seemed entirely too fannish, and not enough about fans. (Aha! A comic reference! It’s, um, sealed behind the double-secret doors of Graphic Smash. Ah well.) The point at hand – they had the fervor and obsession with games, but without any degree of moderation. That is not a mark against them entirely – I, of all people, can give little criticism for that. But it was a difference, and a clear one.
I could not entirely be sure how much things had changed. Did I just see my days among the fen as better because I was there and part of it? Was it perspective more than truth? Good questions, and ones always worth asking… and yet, from all I saw, all I could tell, that spark was not there.
And so, with trepidition, I come to this year’s convention. No obligations, no duties – I was there as myself, in search of fun and nothing more. I was not sure what I would find.
I was, in fact, in luck. The con itself was intact, with all the normal trappings in place – a dealer’s room, video games, anime, bad scifi movies, board games, card games, tabletop games – and so forth.
Most important of all – other elder fen were there, in the same state and concern as myself.
And they had their own games to play, and there own games to run. And so after spending the obligatory time dilly-dallying about the con, I sat down with them to play their game – and thus enjoyed the best con experience I had in years.
Elder fen for the motherfucking win!
The game in question is the real reason behind this little monologue. It was a roleplaying game, making use of the new World of Darkness rules system. (Like the old system, only with the life drained out of it. Ironic, that, no?)
Several names were given for the game: Happily Never After. The Wonderful World of Darkness. The final choice: Magic Kingdom Come.
The premise: 10 years have passed since happily ever after, and we return to our beloved characters from the disney tales. The allied nations of Wonderland and Neverland are under seige by a mysterious plot that has its sources back in the Magic Kingdom, and the throne of Prince Charming himself.
Now that, my friends, is a goddamn plot.
Let’s take time out for a little tangent. We’re going to talk about Something Positive! And here you thought this talk wasn’t going to have anything to do with webcomics, didn’t you?
We have had sodomizing treant hillbillies and Overlord Barbie. We have been offered stat blocks for infernal tax collectors, and similar such creations.
Kyle describes the games as nothing more than “monsters that are puns and spells whose name are plays on words.”
Look, I know Kyle is both an idiot and a terrible human being. I’m aware he is one of the few cast members who are pretty darn close to irredeamable.
Despite this, I found myself almost… agreeing with him.
You see, I just didn’t get it. It was, sure, funny in the comic – but I couldn’t see it as a game. The games I played were about slaying dragons or besting ancient gods of darkness! Sure, I played sessions that that had in-jokes here and there, modules with inappropriate pop-culture references, games with their share of humor and puns and jokes.
But they were all just tossed in here and there – the games themselves, invariably, had a solid story I could get behind. Epic adventures, serious struggles, dangerous foes. Those were the games I played… and ran.
(It should be mentioned I even ran a game – populated entirely by male players – whose characters were, essentially, a magical girl squadron – but even that was only a small tie-on to a larger, epic game. A joke that grew rather stale, rather quick, and ended up being used more as a medium for conveying plot for the bigger story.)
So when I saw the terrifying visages of Regular and Extra-Crispy, I just. sorta. shrugged. It wasn’t for me. In my view of game and gaming, I couldn’t see the appeal of that sort of… nonsense. Gimmickry and childishness, it seemed… and nothing more.
And yet, I found myself playing Magic Kingdom Come.
It was, suffice to say, a view-altering experience.
My own character was Dumbo, a burnt-out but still feisty ex-child star of the Big Top. The other players were Rambi, the gun-toting psycho deer; Pinochio, who went all emo once he became a real boy, and the three ex-wives of the dashing but callous Prince Charming: Cinderalla (now head of the Neverland pirates since Hook had been ‘taken out’); Snow-White, an ice-queen professional businesswoman with no patience for lesser folks; and Sleeping Beauty, lesbian mistress to Alice, Queen of Wonderland (who happened to be in a marriage of convenience with Peter Pan, King of Neverland.)
…I can feel the fanboy in me bubbling to the surface. I can feel the desire to regale my captive audience with the stellar tales of battle, from the consultation with the Cheshire Cat to the vanquishing of Simba, or the final showdown with Prince Charming himself! I resist, for the most part, that treacherous urge.
But it may be said in no uncertain terms that I enjoyed myself. I enjoyed the frivolity, the goddamn puerility of it all! There was something soothing in letting go of all my premade conceptions of what made a good game – and instead I took something fun, and sat down with my friends, and played the goddamn game.
I get it, now, and can’t help but feel remorse for having ever sided, however momentarily, with the villainous Kyle Cheng. It might be safe to say I learned a valuable lesson today, even if it might have been learned through the mangling of my childhood stories.
Because sometimes it can be more than enough fun to trounce through the tales of our youth, freely butchering the memories of our favorite heroes and villains as we go. Sometimes it can be fun to let loose and ignore the serious, the rules, the regulations of dragon slaying and monster vanquishing. Making our own rules, playing our own games – isn’t that what it’s all about?
In the end, the goal of gaming is to have fun. To enjoy yourself. Not to kill a dragon – though if that is what you enjoy, then by all means partake of it! But the true fun is sitting down with friends and having a damn good time.
There are many ways to do that – and all of them are the correct one. Hang out. Have fun. Make the game fun, however you want to do so!
I mentioned, long ago at the start of this little talk, that I had been worried as to the success of the con. The attendance seemed sparser than normal, the events a bit less substantial.
But I had fun. I found what I wanted to do there, and had fun… old school style, with friends I only see once or twice a year.
And as I walked the halls of the con, I know now quite well what it was I saw – happy congoers. People that were playing games or watching anime, mocking bad movies or laying down the smackdown on a video game. People that were, in the end, having fun.
With that, I can’t call the con anything less than a resounding success.
I’ll be back for the last day of it tomorrow, to poke around a bit more and see what other old friends might show their faces.
And I know that I’ll enjoy it through and through.
My allergies seem to be remitting a bit, and sleep has been heavily calling for the last half-hour. But the words, as always, have their own demands.
It is rare I have been up this late in recent days, and I know not what sleep I’ll find before I rise, nor what dreams may come. I may dream of a fallen fairyland, or I may, nostalgic, dream of cons in days of yore.
But I go to bed a happy man.
And that, in truth, is all that I can ask for.