I’m travelling this week to meet up with another indie developer about our games. I asked my Facebook followers what question I could answer for this blog while I was travelling. Someone asked about my first role-playing experience—as I wrote my answer went way beyond just “nostalgia.” This is more raw and honest than I’m sure the asker expected!
My parents divorced when I was 10. This family upheaval is traumatic for any child because the family is ripped apart, but I’ve learned that this age is a particularly sensitive one because of the attachment boysand girls have to their fathers around this time.
As we sorted out new living arrangements, new visitation schedules, and all that mess, my dad got an apartment . . . and the new Tandy 1000 computer. Each weekend, I looked forward to playing games on this fancy new computer with its 16-color graphics and three-voice sound card.
My first role-playing experience is actually made up of two that happened around the same time: one electronic, one tabletop.
Every Friday night, my dad would pick up my sister and me. On our way to the adjacent city where he lived, we would first stop off at a local tabletop gaming store (Magic, Warhammer, RPGs)—and we’d head a little further down the street to the computer store. Similar to other dads new in this situation, my dad would buy us stuff in a likely attempt to use material things to make up for failures of the heart.
I’ll never forget when he bought me my first CRPG: Ultima IV. Before this, I always enjoyed sleeping in on Saturday mornings—but now I would set my alarm to get up at 6am just to get to the computer and fire up Ultima IV Quest of the Avatar. I was too young and new to the genre to play the game properly. I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. So instead, I would just explore the 16-color tile world: see what towns I could find, fight random encounters, level up my characters Iolo and Shamino. (Great baby names, by the way!)
At a time of life when my world was unravelling and shrinking, the game world provided a place of vast exploration. At a time when I was personally powerless over what was happening in my family, I could feel powerful in a world. At a time when I felt like chattel being fought over for custody, I was the singular hero of another world. Richard Garriott made me feel important when my life did not.
My first tabletop role-playing game was Ghostbusters. Many people might be unaware that there was a D6 RPG of Ghostbusters—but there was. My dad bought it—and I loved reading through the rulebook, seeing all the great art, reading the mechanics of how you trap a ghost, encountering levels, and just general game stuff. (This is a practice I still enjoy today. I just really enjoy reading RPG rulebooks. A few weeks ago, I got the latest Shadowrun rulebook. I’ll probably never run a game, but I enjoyed poring over every little detail.)
My dad read the rulebook over the weekend so we could play on Sunday. My sister (8) and I (10) sat down—eager to play this new “board game” without a board. My dad had no idea what he was doing. Questions came up that we couldn’t answer. For every 3 minutes of play, there were 7 minutes of flipping pages in the manual. I don’t think a “successful” adventure was possible with this green group. But you know what? It didn’t matter. At a time when we were yearning to connect as a family, the game provided a mechanism (or excuse) to do so. We had fun. We had fun as a family. That is really all that matters and all that I remember.
Actually, there is one other thing that I do remember—and this is important, too:
My dad tried.
That’s all I really need to know. Both for then, and now 30 years later.
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