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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Games People Play: Part 1

Hold on, let me consult the manual.

I used to get together regularly with a friend over dinner.  While catching up on each other’s lives, he would mention what his children were up to.  When Peter Jackson’s movie-adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings came out, his son read all three books.  This surprised me.  While The Hobbit had been written for children his age, Tolkien’s later trilogy seemed geared for a more mature reader.  Yet the boy enjoyed reading this literary saga as much as his father once had, and this gave the two something they could bond over.  

After reading such weighty works, however, the boy sought out easier reading.  In addition to comic books, he read a series of novels called Warhammer 40,000.  After he mentioned this, I looked for the novels in the bookstore.  Eventually I found them, and came to realize that they were based on a role playing game of the same name. 

Officials keep the gamers in line.

In my teens, I got into Dungeons & Dragons, and enjoyed the game for a few years.  But I never had a stable group of friends who played it, and so after a few years, I lost interest.  Later on, I heard about a new form of games, these based on cards.  The cards served as collectors’ items, and some could be extremely valuable.  Fans of these games, such as Magic: The Gathering, might travel across the country to play in tournaments.  Role-playing games such as D&D and Magic might be played at the smaller, literary conventions I began attending in the late 1990s, but they were usually played in rooms solely dedicated to that purpose.  Gamers might attend the same convention, but I would never see them: they delved into their own interests, while I pursued mine.

I stopped by one booth at Stan Lee’s Comikaze to point out a few Star Wars items to my wife.  It turned out that it was a Warhammer 40,000 booth.  The man there explained the types of miniatures for sale, and described the manner of play involved.  Unlike D&D, in which a player controlled a single character, in Warhammer a player controlled an entire army.  A player could pick and choose what types of characters and equipment he wished for his army, based on each item’s ability and his overall approach to the game.  Thus, Warhammer can be viewed as a merger of Chess and Risk, he said.

"Hmm.  The game board's coming together nicely."

Another thing that caught my attention was the selection of paints available.  Gamers could buy plastic or metal versions of characters and equipment, and paint them anyway he or she wished.  The man in the booth said that, during one period of his life, his interest in playing the game waned.  So he just concentrated on painting his “game pieces.”  Such ongoing creation no doubt helped him envision what types of adventures his characters, tanks, and other vehicles could experience.  Then, when circumstances in his life changed, and his desire to play reawakened, he not only had a larger collection to play with, but had also lived with these pieces awhile.  Now he could live out their stories on the game board.

I watched the players assembling their game boards, consulting their manuals, and measuring distances and angles of attack between their creations and those of their opponents.  Whether store-bought or made in my garage, I’ve assembled and painted all manner of artistic works fashioned from plastic, ceramic, and wood.  But these were always static creations, each intended for whatever amusement it would provide another or myself.  To create whole collections of items, and use them as props to live out a story with another person, sounds like a wonderful platform for interactive storytelling.  

"Hey, don't blow up my tree!"

Over the years, I've heard of several gamers who went on to create fantastic characters and worlds of their own, and turned them into popular novels.  I wonder if any of those authors played Warhammer 40,000?

Dragon Dave

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