You, Mii and D&D

By - May 1st, 2007 02:52 pm
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Sunday, April 1, 2007
6:30 a.m.

In the years following my retirement from professional bass fishing, I’ve accomplished a great deal: I’ve survived Catholic grade school, gotten laid, graduated from college and even managed to watch all seven Police Academy movies in one sitting. Until recently, however, I had never once gotten up at the butt-crack of dawn in order to wait in a Toys ‘R’ Us parking lot.

Joined by my long-suffering girlfriend, I’m among a dozen other foolhardy souls braving the morning freeze in hopes of scoring the impossibly hard-to-find Nintendo Wii. Though this video game-fueled madness certainly represents a troubling descent into pasty-faced, fan-boy territory, it’s merely the topper to a weekend already filled with role-playing games, minor sci-fi celebrities and a puzzling lecture on ghost hunting. Get out your 20-sided dice, grandma, ‘cause this column’s rolling with a +8 Dexterity…

15 Hours Earlier…
It’s a perfectly lovely Saturday afternoon and I’m spending it listening to a handful of 19-year-olds discuss their favorite Super Nintendo games: “Did you know that Breath of Fire III was the first SNES game to utilize an Active Time Battle system?” …I actually did know that.

After following a sizzling hot tip, I’ve found myself – again, with my patient-to-a-fault girlfriend – at the 2007 Concinnity Sci-Fi and Gaming Convention held at the MSOE Campus Center. Like the once-Milwaukee-based Gen Con (the largest sci-fi/gaming/still-living-with-your-parents convention in the country), Concinnity offers up RPG demos, video game tournaments and bored-looking vendors hawking used fantasy books and black light dragon posters. Of course, everything here is on a much smaller scale, a fact that bears out in the lineup of special guests: instead of Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax and a Billy Dee Williams meet-and-greet, Concinnity has, um…an anime voice actress and some guy who used to write Tomb Raider novels. It’s this micro-sized quality that gives the “con” it’s wonky charm, however, along with the small and endearingly awkward group of attendees that populate it.

Fittingly, the place feels like a rec room sent from heaven (or hell, if you’re averse to these sorts of things): a few clutches of seasoned gamers roll dice in a faraway corner, a group of younger Evil Dead aficionados mull over arcane rule books in the back and, near the entrance, a pleasant-enough fellow recruits for a zombie LARP game (Live Action Role Playing). My girlfriend and I stroll through the room cautiously; though we’re enjoying ourselves, most of the attendees seem to steer clear of us (the requisite “guy-dressed-up-as-a-Jedi” seems especially aloof). It’s a strange feeling I can only equate to my experiences with gay bars: no matter how hard you try to blend in, no matter how kinda-sorta gay you may be, the pros will always sniff you out.

Following the aforementioned Super Nintendo discussion (dubbed “AwesomSNES” on the schedule), as well as a look at an Alien-themed board game, we grab our seats for the highly anticipated lecture on ghost hunting. The star of the show – some clown named Jason – claims to be the premiere ghost hunter of Wisconsin, though judging from his presentation he seems more like a run-of-the-mill IT guy who still gets his kicks from Goosebumps books. He enlightens us on the most haunted places in the city (the Pfister is apparently home to a spirit named “Aunt Pussy” ) and gives us the pressing details on “shadow people,” a type of ghost that’s only made itself known “in the past five to ten years.” (Can there really be that many innovations in the world of ghosts?)

After about 20 interminable minutes of this, we decide to split. On the way to the door, however, my girlfriend suddenly stops and glances around the room, silently taking in the scene we’re about to leave behind.

“I wish they could all be our friends,” she says.

She’s right, of course: there’s a palpable sense of warmth and affection here, of solidarity and openness amongst good people who have almost certainly taken their share of lame Trekkie jokes over the years. For a moment we even contemplate turning back and giving it another try, but no; no matter how much we may strangely wish otherwise, these aren’t our people. For all my flirtations with miniature painting and the oeuvre of Steve Jackson Games, this is something that’s passed me by, something that managed to flit through the periphery years before…

Sometime in 1991
9:00 p.m.

I’m 13 years old and playing D&D with a group of high school kids, all of them ostensibly so much older, so much cooler than me. My partner, Brian, seems disappointed that he’s been stuck with such a young newbie. His feelings quickly change, however, after I decimate an entire pack of Wolf Riders in one fell swoop. I’ve made him proud, and he rewards me with a piece of his mother’s birthday cake. It’s an odd gesture, but one that’s strangely touching: an awkward (yet endearing!) symbol of unforced acceptance, of instant camaraderie. There’s no need for ironic detachment or studied cool, no demand for properly sanctioned tastes in fashion and music; all that’s required is an inclination for hopelessly geeky fantasy games and a lucky shake of a 20-sided die…

Sunday, April 1, 2007
8:00 a.m.

After an hour-and-a-half of waiting, we leave the Toys ‘R’ Us parking lot Wii-less. The ride home is calm and muted – the morning sun follows us like a magnet – our minds no longer on our lost prize, but on the friends we’ve collected along the way: the ones still with us, the ones long since forgotten, the ones we’ll never have. It’s all we can do not to turn back and try again. VS

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