Tired. Sore. Exhilarated. Once again I have returned from that crosstime multiversal battlefield knows as Millennium Con in Round Rock. Everything from the Zombie Apocalypse to Napoleonics to biplanes over the trenches to Nelson's fleet to the Word of Blake defense of Avalon City... I raced chariots, drove in an AutoDuel, ran a gladiator arena... God, I love gaming cons.
As a future parent, I was heartwarmed to see the number of kids brought to the con by parents and grandparents. Wargaming is increasingly a hobby for graybeards. Advanced Squad Leader holds very little interest for the vast majority of the under-30 crowd when they can just play whatever the latest release of Call of Duty or Medal of Honor is on their XBox. I looked around that room, and I knew this is one of the things I want to do with my kids when they get old enough. After hearing about the bright-eyed little girl that won the chariot race in Circus Maximus, even after her Dad had tossed a bounty on her... I watched young teenagers and tweens learning about Napoleon and Nelson and Patton and Longtreet from wizened older gentlemen whose recollections of real conflicts in Korea or Vietnam (or WWII in a couple of cases!) they may never have heard. Computer gaming and online gaming are great. They're loads of fun, and I when I can participate in them, I do- but they will never replace the 'feel' and experience of tabletop gaming for me. I suspect a lot of the players at Millennium Con feel the same way for a variety of reasons.
The simplest argument for tabletop gaming is the social experience. There are folks I see once a year at Millennium Con that greet me like an old friend (which I suppose I am!) and roll dice with me or against me all weekend. These are Good People(TM). I have a blast with them. This year, I had three of the teenagers from our Battletech Club, the Royal Dragoon Guards, with me. I was overjoyed to see how much fun these kids had playing with the graybeards, learning the games that were written before they were born and in some cases beating us at them. I think gaming friends are somehow tighter than the average friendships out there. While we're light years below the kinds of friends one makes in an actual conflict situation, like the ubiquitous "Army Buddies" of our father's and grandfather's generations, there is something to be said of any group that passes through an emotional crucible together. Wether this is a rafting trip down the Rio Grande, playing on the same softball team, or taking an imaginary campaign with Prince Davion's armies against the Draconis Combine the bond forged in collective or competitive struggle is stronger in my mind than one without this element. As we move into the age where virtual reality is just so yesterday and augmented reality is becoming an everyday addition to our lives the line between real and imaginary is becoming blurred in certain ways. I used to think the Roleplaying hobby was pretty unique in our manner of speaking of imaginary events as if they actually happened - but I'm learning that the online RPG community, the online FPS community, the LARP community... all of them have the same emphasis on events that happened, but never "really" happened.
What is the emotional difference, if any, between the following three experiences: A NASCAR fan being present when "his" driver wins at Talladega. A Steelers fan leaping to her feet when Pittsburg wins the Superbowl. A Dungeons and Dragons player rolling a natural 20 and slaying the Beholder that has been menacing the town.
The answer is, not much. In fact, it could be said that the impact of the D&D player might be a bit larger, since the player is in control of the event, not simply an observer. I all the cases, the devotees carry away stories and experiences that drive them emotionally, and become lifelong memories in some cases.
So we build friendships, we build experiences. That's the best part of our hobby, to me. In addition, we learn. We READ. History is as much a part of what we do as fiction, past as much as future. I kinda miss the days when RPGs came with bibliographies in the back of suggested reading. I remember every TSR product of the early to mid eighties having a great list of books for further inspiration. Star Frontiers introduced me to Starship Troopers a decade before the so-called film adaptation. It's the thirst for knowledge that these games engender in many players that I consider to be another important part of our hobby. If my children are to have a hobby - I hope it's one that engenders a search for more knowledge, more information.
Some aspects of our hobby are extremely creative. Looking at the massive WWI diorama used by the players of Canvas Eagles every year, I am floored. It is a shadowbox model of the trenches of WWI, complete with hand-painted soldiers, tanks, puffs of smoke made of cotton... tiny lights for the flashes of gunfire and explosions... Over this is a large plexiglass cover etched with the hexagons used to measure movement and range in so many wargames. This gameboard, if you can minimalize it by calling it that, is a work of art. The chariots for the Circus Maximus game, the intricately painted British soldiers for the Rorke's Drift game, the miniature BattleMech miniatures and three-masted sailing ships and the almost Christmas Village-like town for the zombie battle- all works of individual art. The instant gratification of booting up a video game lacks the workmanship and pride of these hobbyists. The pride of a well-painted miniature, or knowing that you made the hill your troops just took from scratch out of things you found at Michael's. Modelbuilding and miniature painting are hobbies that teach patience and attention to detail.
I want my kids to experience all these aspects of my hobby, and maybe they'll choose to take up the hobby themselves. It would give us some great ground to bond over, and make family game nights a lot more than just monopoly or dominos. I've known second-generation gamers like my friends Dixie and Jessica, both girls whose parents brought them up on hobby gaming. They both speak fondly of learning to roll dice with their parents, and their parent's friends. And it's a hobby they enjoy even now, and plan on sharing with their own children.
Yeah, I could have spent the weekend playing Rock Band 3. I love that game. Or the new transformers one the kids got me to try. But I got them to try some of the stuff that I played growing up in the 80s. Car Wars - they loved it. Melee - they loved it. Sometimes, the age of a game has nothing to do with how much fun it is. The old games are sometimes still the best.