Memoirs of an old Gamer Part 1: The Struggles and Challenges
I have decided to start a blog about some of my more recent gaming experiences. Life has been amazing to me personally and in my gaming. But recently, I have struggled and wanted to share them. In part, to perhaps convey to others that might be experiencing this that they are not alone. But also in part as a cathartic attempt to get through these struggles.
I have been gaming in various ways since I was 14, which would make it over 30 years – role playing, tabletop board and card games, some collectible games, and some miniatures games. I have even LARP’ed some. I realize there are people that have been gaming longer than that but I feel that 30 years puts me somewhere close veteran status, I would say. My hat is off to those of you that have been gaming since the first incarnation of D&D and before and even more so if you are still gaming. I have tried to maintain a “healthy” gaming life but real life has thrown me a ton of curve balls that have made my gaming life interesting as well as difficult.
A short history of my gaming experience starts in middle school when I was first exposed to D&D by the kids I sat with at lunch. That was about the same time my parents found out about it and banned me from it. Of course, that only drove my curiosity and so I ended up playing it anyway. For the most part, however, I focused my interests on the sci-fi gaming – from Star Frontiers to Star Wars, and anything else in between. This was a combination of an attempt to keep the piece at home and my strong fandom of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. At the same time, I developed a real liking to board games, most especially war and strategy games. Axis & Allies, Risk and Fortress America were just a few I played. I wish I had played more of these but the time and money was not there.
I ran some games in high school and played in others. I had some interesting times in my early years but also got my first tastes of geek drama, and quickly grew a strong distaste for. RPGs I played included Star Frontiers and AH’s Perils and Powers. I touched on Warhammer Fantasy, Gamma World and an obscure AH game called Lords of Creation, as well.
Things really picked up in college when I helped start the school sci-fi/gaming club. Geek drama would pop up a lot during this time but I muscled through it, becoming somewhat of a leader in the growing geek community of our area. For several years, I ran epic sci-fi RPG campaigns with a core group of people. Through the years, some left and others joined. We had a blast. During this time, I started working for various gaming and sci-fi cons – running gaming and experiencing a wide variety of gamers. This is what I would call my gaming peak and it lasted for almost 20 years.
Like everyone else, we all got old and my passion was dwindled. Real life was becoming more of a priority and gaming was a distraction. Like many gamers my age, I got married, had kids and got a real job. The last straw that broke that camel’s back however, was one of my closest friends dying. John was part of the core group for more than 20 years. When John passed, the group was not the same and we could not get it back together.
I am still heavily involved with gaming cons, although that geek drama I despise so much has poked its head a lot. Inter-con politics has made it a little less fun to run gaming at cons. There is also that terrible fandom vs. gaming con politics that has risen within the community as well. A lot of ugly politics stems from certain fandom cons and one in particular has driven me to the point that my family will never attend it. All this has soured by passion for fandom in general as well as the gaming community. I try hard to separate the two, but they tend to crossover.
After my core group broke up, life changes have made it more difficult to maintain a gaming group. I have had a middle of the week group that sporadically meets but most of these sessions have been less than satisfying. I try to get on other gaming, like special invite only games for a one-shot RPG sessions but these types of games only satisfy me so much. My board gaming has dropped off considerably and I really want to get back to doing some of that.
All these experiences recently made me sit back and wonder what happened. I often reminisce back to those days of my epic campaigns and the amazing stories we collectively created. I wonder to myself “Is that it? Has life changed for me that much that I can never have that back?” I have noticed a lot of things since then that make me wonder if I was just lucky to find a group of like-minded gamers and if that was a once in a life time thing.
My first approach to starting back up was to not change anything I did. Do what I used to, as best I could. Work on it the same way I did in the past and the players will invest the time into the campaign when they find something that grabs them. I used to make people create elaborate background that helped me tie them into the campaign but the new players I was finding were not anxious to do that. That was probably my first mistake.
Also, I used to run games in settings like Star Wars or Babylon 5 – established settings that people can relate to through movies or TV. My passion for those has died off so I invest more time into semi-original settings (or at least settings that were inspired by existing settings). Unfortunately, unless you involve the players deep into that setting, they act like lawn gnomes in your own backyard that you just move around. They just sit and wait for the next combat to show interest. I have struggled to find players that appreciate the same things I do.
Another struggle we had was meeting regularly. Again, real life and drama shows their ugly heads. We could not even maintain a bi-weekly game regularly. This destroyed whatever game cohesion we had, players would forget where they were and what they were doing and destroyed what investment they had in the game. I tried to adjust things to adapt to that, by integrating a blog into the game so people can participate online but that did not work the way I wanted. I am not sure if that goes back to real life interference or lack of interest in my campaign setting but these attempts only ended up being marginally satisfying.
When two attempts at a campaign floundered and faded into obscurity, I decided things needed to change. Maybe I needed to change what I was running. Maybe I needed to change the players. Maybe I needed to change the time I was running. I did all of the above. With the release of D&D 5e, I decided to take the plunge into D&D and run that. I started a group on another night of total strangers (more or less) from a Facebook group. This has had mixed results. Personalities were quite varied and in the end, did not work well together. We ran through the Starter Box Set for D&D 5e, which was marginally satisfying. Since then, I have placed that group on hiatus.
Stark contrasts have come to light through these experiences. Running D&D alone is a different experience from all the sci-fi I ran back in the day. Motivations of the players were different. The structure of a session felt different. The work I put into the game before hand was different. I struggled with things like story arches and player character background running in fantasy. It is definitely not my comfort zone. This may also be one of the reasons it did not work out as well as I wanted it to.
Also I am not as invested in the setting (Forgotten Realms and Faerûn) as I was with my other settings. It would take a lot of time for me to do so – time I am not sure I have. In the settings I did run, I created elaborate plots between NPCs and character, each week adding on to a strong of plot lines linked to each character. I am not inspired to do that as much and I find the players are more interested in getting to the next level than finding out who killed their mother.
I realize that science fiction is not that easy a sell to many players in the RPG community. My last sci-fi campaign struggled to get 3 regular players but if I took a break and ran a one-shot of D&D, I would have to turn away players. This is just the nature of gaming fandom. You get more fish with the fantasy bate then you do with something more… cerebral? … so to speak.
What my rant here is about mostly is an aging gamer struggling to rebuild what he had in his 20s and wondering if it is possible to have it again, given the time constraints of real life. With wife, young kids and job, can it be done? My wife is 100% supportive of my hobby and would play if the kids could be taken care of. And yes, one day, I plan to play games with my kids, but they are fairly young right now and we only play simple games right now. We are trying to work on my young son’s good sportsmanship right now. But we are very close to playing their first session of D&D.
Time is a big issue. I know that and if I can get that settled, I think a lot of my problems would be solved. I think I narrowed down things to bi-weekly Friday nights but now I need players that I enjoy gaming with. I have a few but not enough yet. I am bound and determined to figure this out. I want gaming to be a healthy part of my life, even in my 40s going on 50s. It has given me inspiring moments with good friends I want that again. Real life does not have to be the downer to all gamers’ lives. Real life and gaming can work together, I am certain.