Geekiness is a dominant gene (just don’t tell my wife)
I think I was seven when I first played a role-playing game. Tunnels & Trolls, it was called, a name that might just have been inspired by the big name of the time: Dungeons & Dragons. T&T involved great fist-fulls of six-sided dice, the number of dice used base upon the ’Monster Rating’ of the beastie you were fighting. Later for me came AD&D, and The Fantasy Trip, which mutated into GURPS. After school, I would go to the centuries-old timber-framed Games Shop in Colchester’s Short Wyre Street and drool over the games on offer, often picking up White Dwarf Magazine, a publication that evolved over the years into the Games Workshop shops and such things as Warhammer. One of my favourite board wargames was a thing called Imperium, which was the backdrop to the science fiction role-playing game Traveller.
A quarter of a century after I was devising Traveller scenarios for my school friends, and when my five-year-old son gets excited, he sometimes shouts out “Mayday! Mayday! Free Trader Beowulf…” in a reference to the front of the Traveller boxed set. That itself was a reference to the shipboard combat game of Snapshot (Which I played with my big brother. He may well have taken it to Canada when he emigrated.)
Phew! Some of you might be considering calling the men in white coats after that trip down Geek Lane, but I really am that game geeky, and am proud of it (when not in polite company, anyway).
So (this is the bit where I get to the point) I was delighted to come across www.rolepages.com Against one of the ongoing ‘worlds’ (or add one yourself) you get to confront and compete against other participants, contribute background notes, artwork, poetry, prose fiction, ramblings…
What struck me most about the site was how much fun everyone seemed to be having. And having fun at being creative. I sometimes feel the importance of having fun is sometimes lost on the more po-faced wing of the science fiction family.
I love my ‘professional’ short science fiction. Sometimes, though, I find it exasperating when writers, editors and reviewers get so obsessed with the need for the fiction to be clever that they forget about the value in telling a story, or in using language that is clear rather than obscure. To have a plot and be enjoyable… that sort of thing.
Trillion Credit Squadron
Back in the early 80s, there was a Traveller spin-off called Trillion Credit Squadron. In those days — before real-life governments built up so much debt and inflated old debts away — a trillion seemed an unimaginable large amount of any currency. The idea is that with these huge sums, you got to build huge fleets and fight big space battles. And that’s what I did. Lead miniatures were on sale for these sorts of battles, but we used bits of Lego to represent the ships. We didn’t mind because it was fun and we were being creative. We didn’t need professional polish to enjoy ourselves. (I also cut up hair rollers to make 5mm Napoleonics, but don’t tell anyone as that sounds a bit weird).
We used to immerse ourselves in science fiction and fantasy — whether reading, playing with Lego battlefleets, or Dungeons or Dragons — because we enjoyed being immersed in other worlds that were not bounded by the limitations of real life. I’m sure the participants in RolePages are just the same today. I’m delighted people still feel the same way, but really they never stopped.
We love Harry Potter and watch Star Wars, but we don’t do that because we want the author or scriptwriter to hold a mirror up to contemporary society to tell us something about the human condition. (I loathe that phrase. Who on Earth reads fiction to be taught about the human condition? Go read some non-fiction for that.) People indulge in fantastic worlds because of the thrill, the sense of wonder, the escapism… because it’s fun!
The Gift of Joy
I’ve read a lot of short story collections and anthologies. My second-favourite collection is The Gift of Joy by Ian Whates. I know Ian personally (which was cool because I got him to sign my hardback copy of the book). He’s a clever guy and a thoughtful writer; his stories have depth. But he doesn’t use his skill to write stories that are designed to make readers feel a bit stupid. Instead, his language is a smooth as the finest quality ice cream on a hot, summer’s day. He’s like the literary equivalent of Ben & Jerry’s except not as messy to carry around in your bag. And as anyone who has tried to do it at home will vouch, making good ice cream isn’t as easy as it sounds.
The same day I found www.rolepages.com , Ian’s collection was hammered in an online review for precisely the reasons I enjoyed it so much. To paraphrase the reviewer, Ian’s fiction ‘only’ told stories, his words were ‘everyday’ rather than clever. I don’t object to that kind of a review because it was coherent and honest (unlike the deliberately malicious and self-serving reviews that abound). No, I don’t object but I wholeheartedly disagree, and felt in good company to feel that way because I’m sure many of the members of RolePages would feel the same way.
So there you have it. If you are the sort of person who looks down their nose at ‘childish’ role-playing, and considers the phrase ‘old-fashioned storytelling’ to be the most serious of literary insults, then stay well clear of RolePages and for goodness’ sake, whatever you do, don’t read The Gift of Joy.
What about you, though? I’d love to hear from rolepages.com members and memories from yester-geek.