Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Waxing Nostalgic

Last night I came across my treasured collection of The Space Gamer magazines from the ‘70s and ‘80s (issues 8-72). I flipped through the pages, waxing nostalgic about all the fun I had playing games with friends and all the new friends I met through the games. Each page brought back its own set of memories. Issue #34, my first, I bought at Fred's Hobby and Cycle shop only because I had an extra three bucks burning a hole in my pocket. "Hey, these games are *cool*" I said to myself. (I grew up with Avalon Hill games (thanks Mark!) but by high school they were either trivial or just too dry.) "This is the guy that did OGRE!" There was also a good piece of short fiction by an unknown writer named Timothy Zahn. Double-sweet, and I was hooked.

Back in the day TSG was my once a month connection to the gaming world. During the summer I'd hang out on the front porch, listening to tapes and reading, but really I was waiting for the mail man. He'd drive to the end of my block with a half dozen of the neighborhood dogs in tow. They loved to chase that white Jeep with the steering wheel on the wrong side, and then follow the mailman as he went from house to house, wagging and sniffing. This grand procession went from house to house down the other side of the street then back up mine. Most days, Glenn, as I came know him, would hand me a stack of bills, circulars, and things marked Resident or Occupant, two very popular folks. It’s strange that I never met them, since we lived at the same address. Maybe they were out all the time handing out business cards. Once in awhile though, I'd see that tell-tale white mailing cover with the bold black print and Glenn would flash a great big smile under his big bushy mustache and ask, "Is this what you're looking for?" as he handed me my forty or so pages of adventure, imagination and *fun*. Eventually he'd skip ahead and do my house first if it was Space Gamer Day. Small town mailmen are great.

I think I became a professional programmer in large part because well written game rules are fundamentally human-executed computer programs. Simulations, modeling the real world in simpler, well defined terms, are fun to create. Modeling an unreal world, a game world, is even more fun. When is comes to sociability though, computers and software can't compete with board games, RPGs and the like. We'd cook out, pig out, and play Illuminati until 3:00 am. The International Communist Conspiracy gets destroyed by the Boy Sprouts. There was the time a new “assassin” made his grenades with a double handful of flour, instead of the recommended two teaspoons. Once I got killed with a banana because my mom forgot we were playing "that game" and let Brian just waltz into our house with his lunch sack, point the banana at me and “Bang” I was a goner. Twenty years later when we all get together, these stories keep coming up.

Now I'm mostly grown up with a nuclear family of my own. I don't have much time for games these days, but I still play with my nephews when my extended family gets together at the beach. They always bring along a copy of whatever flavor of Munchkin they're into, and it’s a good way to connect as they grow older. It also solves the problem of what to give when holidays and birthdays come around.

To me, games are tools for having fun. New designs and game mechanics have raised the bar considerably over the last 25 or 30 years, but like any other tool, it’s all in how you use it. So I’d like to say “Thanks” to SJ and the SJG staff for many of the great games I’ve played over the years. You keep making them and I’ll keep playing them.

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