being the mental and scholastic wanderings of Collie Collier
Copyright © 2000 B. Collie Collier
Lots of folks confuse bad management with destiny.
-- Frank Hubbard
However, since reflection is essential to growth, in the hopes that my con speculations will either interest or help others I'll paraphrase my sweetie, and lay out our speculative (and wandering) answers to his question, "What did we learn from Dundracon?"
Maybe it's just me, maybe it's just the Bay Area... but there were a lot of middle-aged and gray-haired older folks... and not many younger folks around. As my sweetie astutely noted, for all that vampire games are derided, it was they that brought in not only a lot more women, but more young folks in general -- and, he pointed out, better dressed ones too! ;-)
In some ways I hope Hasbro listens carefully to Wizards of the Coast's Peter Atkinson -- and that he knows what he's doing, and will successfully bring kids into gaming, with the Pokemon CCGs and games. I'm also hoping his new licensing agreement concerning the Harry Potter stories works out well. Think about it -- a child can read the fantasy-oriented Harry Potter stories, then play the game! That's a marvelous way, I think, to draw more kids into gaming. Now if only we can persuade ourselves to try to help the new kids... I know I'm not terribly patient myself, when it comes to my gaming entertainment.
Still, that sort of encouragement from someone who's done it for a while is, as far as I know, one of the best ways to get folks into gaming. Rich Staats, what do you and your children think? Has gaming with you made it easier for them to learn gaming? Do they game with other friends as well?
Oddly enough, shortly after writing this I received a lovely complimentary letter from someone who'd been reading my website and had some questions... and who mentioned running for his own kids. We're having an interesting conversation about bringing in the new generation, and why most gamers don't want to be bothered. I'm crossing my fingers that he'll let me weave his e-mailed comments and mine together into an interesting future zine for here! ;-)
But to return to what we were talking about... there seems to be three 'life stages' where the gaming bug bites -- either they learned it as a child by playing with a friend, older sibling, or parent (a rare occurrence, in my limited experience)... or they learned it in high school with friends... or they found it in college, through the college club or mutually interested friends. It's possible to start in one stage, drop it for some reason, and pick gaming up again later, I think. I myself did that when I discovered gaming in high school but wasn't able to persuade my parents to drive me the 20 miles to town in order to game... I was quite excited to re-discover role-playing games via my college's gaming club.
Only the first of these three life stages offers any guidance or assistance to new players from experienced older players. The other two stages are more peer-taught. Here's a short, nice article titled "5 Reasons Your Kids Should Play Dungeons and Dragons" on why encouraging kids to role-play is a good thing. It specifically mentions that gaming with your kids is something you can do together.
As my sweetie also pointed out, most older folks don't want to game with kids -- but if we don't make an effort to bring in new hobbyists, the gaming hobby will eventually die.
...which leads me to the next hypothesis:
Yeah, yeah, I know everyone says this... but I was doing some idle research at the con, and was quite surprised by the results. It's true a convention isn't the same as gaming 'out there in real life.' Still... we really need more games. If we've persuaded a friend to play, but we can't find a game for them to play in... our persuasions are a bit pointless, yes?
A bit of explanation regarding the con, for my assertions: I was chatting with one of the con organizers, who is a friend of mine. I mentioned that my sweetie and I had registered for games in six time slots of gaming through the day; i.e. the time slots starting at 8:00am Saturday, 4:00pm Saturday, 8:00pm Saturday, 8:00am Sunday, etc. Of those twelve applications (two people trying for six time slots) we'd managed to get scheduled into only two games -- one each, between the two of us. I asked my friend if there was anything wrong with the computer programs the con was using, or something else perhaps, that such a paucity of scheduled games was occurring?
I was quite surprised when my friend said that he was glad we'd each gotten into a game -- that, in fact, the con was happy if it could successfully schedule ONE game for every con-goer, for the entire weekend! However, after listening to his explanation, I'd have to say his statement was quite reasonable.
It seems the problem is a physical/cost limitation within the hotel. There are only so many rooms the convention can afford to rent to run games and/or panels in. There are approximately 1200 folks that attend the con. About 160 folks are accepted to be con GMs, and each GM is allowed to run only one game. Those gaming rooms are kept full all weekend long! So when you do the math you see:
160 games times 6 players per game = 960 players in scheduled games
which is almost the same amount as the number of folks attending (about 1200, in fact)... and there were quite a few of those scheduled games that had eight or more players in them as well. So you can see why my friend was happy we'd made a scheduled game apiece.
In the case of my sweetie and myself, we got lucky -- we both went to the game that only I was scheduled for. By asking nicely and being patient we persuaded the GM to replace a no-show with my sweetie. Also, since we knew some folks in non-scheduled games we had no dearth of gaming to participate in, had we so wished. However, were I someone young and new who'd come to the con just to game, I can see how this would be a serious problem. Paying $80 a night (unless they can find someone to crash with) for three nights so they can participate in only ONE game -- would be a real bite!
So how to fix this? Well, that speculative discussion (over a delicious dinner) between my sweetie, myself, and some friends, led to the following hypothesis...
The situation was as follows: no more rooms could be rented; there were plenty of GMs; the players needed more chances to be in games. Therefore we decided the best way to make sure there were more games for folks was to use some of the already-rented rooms for more scheduled games. The immediate question came up -- which room?
Reviewing the con area, we realized there were several 'categories' of folks there. There was the SCA room, the gaming rooms (which doubled occasionally as panel rooms), the open gaming rooms, the anime room, the video games room, the dealer room, the flea market room, the two or three miniatures rooms, the CCG room, and about three or four LARP rooms. Interestingly enough, we realized there wasn't much overlap in most of these... the LARPers didn't tend to play in the CCG or scheduled RPG table-top games... the miniatures gamers didn't tend to watch much anime or SCA... and so on. In fact, the greatest 'overlapping' group was the SCA, which not only had a lot of gamers in it, but also almost all of the con organizing staff as well -- many of whom had been participants at that initial 'dress-up' party that gave birth to the SCA.
We're not really sure why folks seem to be picking a class or category of gaming, then sticking with it to the (mostly) exclusion of other types of gaming. It's my thought that it would be wise to encourage cross-class gaming, in fact... specialization in a niche hobby sounds rather like a good way to specialize yourself out of existence!
But to return to the immediate question -- how to get more room in which to game? The obvious answer is to empty out a room (or rooms) that's already in use... which brings up another difficult situation -- who do you throw out? Who do you decide to annoy? What segment of the gaming population do you lose?
It wasn't like the space wasn't thriftily used. Every room was in almost constant use. Registration, and even miniatures tables, were set up in one of the extra-wide hallways. My personal thought was to lose the SCA and/or the anime rooms. I walked into the anime room two or three times during the weekend. Every time I was in there I saw no more than a handful of folks... usually no more than between three and five. It's possible I just happened to pick bad times to walk by... but I can't imagine most folks go to a gaming con specifically to watch anime. For that matter, I also find it hard to believe many folks come to a gaming con just to watch the SCA! However, I suspect the SCA is a bit of a nostalgia thing for many of the con staff, so I can understand their not wanting to ask the SCA members to set up their displays in someone's room, so as to free up another rented room for gaming.
My second thought would be to combine the open gaming room and the CCG room. This, I suspect, is starting to happen already. One of the open gaming rooms had round tables scattered all through the center, and had long thin rectangular tables with clean butcher paper taped on the top lining each long wall. That would free up another room. I thought about emptying the video games room for gaming also, but it seemed quite well attended every time I peeked into it. If it's bringing in steady money for the con, then I certainly shan't recommend stopping it.
My next thought was the LARPs. A LARP takes a very large room to start play in, since you need to be able to fit maybe 50 to 100 folks into it to receive their gaming directions. However, once the game's started the LARPers generally tend to scatter out into the hallways and other rooms. Still, they do need some designated room in which they can contact a GM type... which led me to the following thought -- why not stagger the times the LARPs start, so you could re-use the rooms? That way you could start your first LARP in your large convention room. Instructions are given, and everyone is told that the contact room is not this room, but rather a named smaller one nearby. Folks scatter out to game... and the LARP game planners move to that contact room, within about an hour or so of their starting time. Then the next LARP moves into the (now empty) large convention room, and does the same -- hand out instructions, name the designated smaller contact room, and the players all scatter out into the hallways... then the next LARP...
It's possible there's some extenuating factor I'm not aware of, but it would seem to me that doing this would allow a number of LARPS to be running simultaneously, without tying up a commensurate number of huge convention rooms. Once all your LARPs are started up, the one original big room can be used for something else... some part time anime, perhaps, or maybe the flea market. Which brings me to my next pet peeve... why on earth was the flea market running simultaneously with the dealer's room?
Okay, okay, I'll admit it -- I'm prejudiced, due to being an ex-retailer/con dealer. No, it's not something I was wild about... but I do know that life's hard enough on dealers at cons (at least in this area, where there's the absurd custom of insisting that each dealer carry only one or two "officially sanctioned" product lines -- supposedly it's to prevent the dealers undercutting each other, but from my experience it's more so dealers with an "in" can make a killing and screw anyone else) without other amateur vendors potentially drawing away customers. Having a room for the flea market at the same time as the dealer's room is open just seems darned rude to me. Put the flea market outside, on the hotel patio, or if the weather is inclement put them inside -- but for heaven's sake, I don't think they should be running the flea market all day, at the same time as the regular dealer's room!
So all the above suggestions would free up some other rooms as well. Why not use those newly-freed-up rooms for the panels? I noticed that one panel took up two gaming rooms... and the three panels I peeked in on were sparsely (at best) attended. Why waste good gaming space on a panel few if any are interested in? After all, the whole point to a gaming con, at least to my way of seeing it... is to game! Which leads me (via a wildly indirect route! ;-) to my last hypothesis re what we learned from the con, namely...
Okay, so this one's not much of a biggie... but it was nice to be complemented on how well I played this weekend! I ended up playing handed-out characters in both games. One was, believe it or not, a saint! -in a very variant Call of Cthulhu-style-mechanics game set in the 1300's in a similar-but-different world than this one. Her sainthood was not noted on her stats sheet initially -- I found it out later, when the GM handed us our individual "Secrets Sheet" for the game. It was quite the surprise to me, to learn what I was really playing! The other was a good medieval christian knight in a variant Pendragon game, also set in a similar-but-different world. In both cases demonic influences had to be exorcised by the game groups, after defeating various foes and solving a few puzzles.
Amusingly enough in both games my knowledge of christianity and the bible stood me in good stead. In the case of the saint I got a few good, applicable bible verses woven into the gaming, which the others seemed to like, so I was happy about that. Also in my using the Seven Virtues in playing my saintly character I inadvertently helped other characters as well -- they started trying to figure out what virtues their own characters would have. Well, all right, I could only remember four of the virtues -- chastity, poverty, obedience, and humility... but at least we had fun implementing them into the characters! ;-) I was also happy that I was able to help one rather retiring player come forward and enjoy himself more in the game -- it was his character who stepped in and bravely performed the complicated ritual that would save us all. It was well played by him, too, which was nice.
In the case of the knight, I apparently surprised the GM. He'd been expecting someone to play a rather 20th C style of person, I guess. Since I was trying hard to really play a good, straightforward, direct, christian knight, a la Malory, I accidentally led the party directly to the dénouement of the game! The GM was more startled than upset though, and after listening to my reasoning for my character's actions he agreed with how she was behaving. Also, none of his clues were missed, and it was a fun game for all of us -- always a nice thing for a GM, I think. He complimented me later on my knowing the knightly virtues, and portraying so well a 'trewe and gentil knyght.' ;-)
I'd also like to note that the game where I was playing the saint had a really nicely prepared GM. Not only did he have black and white xeroxes of appropriate pictures of things and/or places to hand out to us at different points in the game, which we got to keep... but he also had plastic-coated, color photos of the two actual christian relics our characters were searching for! It was very nice, and added immeasurably to the flavor of the game. He also had a very attractively painted model of a lovely, ruined gothic cathedral to use on the battle map during the game, and appropriate minis for all of our characters. The crowning touch, for me, was when my character prayed to the archangel Michael to bless the incipient martial endeavors of our group against demons. At that point in-game Michael himself (itself?) appeared, blessed the party and its weaponry, and gave everyone religious medallions to wear into the battle -- and out-of-game the GM had ready and handed out small, plastic-coated, black and white xeroxed pictures of the appropriate medallion, on string necklaces -- one for each of us to all wear! He let us keep those too... so of course I couldn't resist scanning it in for everyone to see. ;-)
The most jarring note of the entire weekend was discovering our pre-registrations had been lost... but even that ended well. The guy at registration knew precisely whom to send us to. The particular gentleman we were referred to was right there at the table, and informed us there'd been a small computer glitch which had lost some names. However, before we even had time to become trepidatious he checked a list for our names, confirmed we were there, and had our badges printed up immediately... no muss, no fuss.
Having been to some real doozies of mismanaged cons, I was quite favorably impressed overall with how smoothly this one ran, to the extent that I made a point of complimenting some of the con board (whom I knew vaguely) on how well things were going... which was amusing in its own right when I realized they were braced for complaints from me -- and they realized I had no complaints, but rather compliments!
All in all it was an extremely pleasant con, and I'll be happily returning next year.
Oh, I love the Anita Blake stories! I consider them absolutely riveting explorations of power and ethics; I highly recommend them.
In regards to a comment by George Phillies -- a fuschia motorcycle outfit?! Good god, I missed that... was it in your fictional piece? *laugh* What a frightening visual that creates!
So you usually create female characters too? Fascinating! I thought I was the only female I knew to do so. I've always been a tad leery of my ability to properly play a male, despite having been assured by friends that I do it well as a GM portraying NPCs. Also I admit males playing females poorly just rubs me majorly the wrong way... all women are NOT panting sluts or humorless, rabid feminists, darnit, just as all men aren't arrogant, belching, crotch-rubbing morons! *sigh* Sorry... rant off. I've seen far too much of that sort of bigoted garbage on-line recently to find it at all amusing any more. :-(
Funny... I also have a bit of a 'rep' or preference for a certain type of character, although mine is more someone with a very high perception and social skills, rather than avoiding armor and heavy weaponry. That way I can talk to lots of folks... *sheepish grin* or as Scott Ruggels and my sweetie like to put it, I am "She Who Must Know! Right NOW!!" ;-)
As far as the issue of whether to play a male or female character in certain types of games, I admit freely that's a bit of a hot button for me. I don't mind playing in games where women aren't considered "equal" with men, as long as I'm not expected to play something cringing and subservient, and there is an option for a cultural "fringe" character... and the GM is consistent.
For example, I'm in a Runequest-style game currently where women fighters are an anomaly for the "main" culture... but there is a small but potent cult of women fighters. I like having that option, should I chose to try it. There has also been (previously in this game) a female character who was a thief, and used cultural expectations to further her career... since no one would believe a woman capable of such things, after all! ;-)
What I can't stand is the GM that says all women are viewed as equal with men in their game -- but hasn't thought through how that would affect the culture at all! and so NPC men do all the active, interesting, adventurous things in the game, while NPC women stay at home and are passive breeders and housekeepers. I always wonder about a GM like this -- do they really believe biology is destiny?
I've seen the other side of the coin too, where the GM seems to take a gleeful pleasure in showing how degraded women are in their game's (supposedly medieval) culture. This type of GM seems to think that rape was a constant daily occurrence in medieval life, rather like getting a drink of water or wearing clothes... which I'm afraid I take issue with, as sheerest poppycock. I remember one game where the GM was startled and confused when I told him hotly and flatly that I was NOT going to roll for how many NPCs raped my character before she passed out -- and then walked out of his game. I won't play a character in a world like that... nor will I waste my time catering to the peculiar sexual fantasies of such a GM.
Alternatively there are games where the situation I've described above exists: women are postulated as not being equal with men... but to allow female PCs in spite of this the GM has the female PC treated as if they were male -- completely untouched and ignored by cultural norms. Any female NPCs in the game, of course, are treated as less than doormats. I've played in a game like that, but to make things more interesting I made my character give a damn instead of sitting back and acting as if casual rape was a normal part of everyday life, as the GM apparently expected. So she ended up defending any woman the GM was abusing; defending violently if necessary.
Needless to say the GM rather plaintively asked me what I thought I was doing? I explained my problem with the culture and gave some examples from history as to how it hadn't been uniformly as he was portraying it. The clincher apparently was when I asked him how he'd react as a player to a game where all men were considered slaves or property, and useful only for grunt work, breeding, and rape fodder. I'm happy to say that he saw my point, and was kind enough to change his game slightly to a more medieval style culture, rather than the rape-fest he'd had it be previously. I'm also pleased to note that the other players didn't seem to mind in the least -- and that two of them, in fact, thanked me later privately for what I'd done.
I found your discussion of what science fiction is rather interesting. I think though that I like best the way Orson Scott Card views it. As I noted in Firestarter #7 (slightly paraphrased):
I am reminded of what Orson Scott Card wrote in his introduction to Cruel Miracles (which I also highly recommend ;-) To him, science fiction is "the last American refuge of religious literature." Not inspirational tracts filled with senseless dogma -- but rather literature that "explores the nature of the universe and discovers the purpose behind it." Check it out -- it's well worth it, I think.
I think this most closely matches your definition of science fiction as the literature of the imagination. Nicely put by you, I should add.
Interesting that you should mention keeping the gaming hobby growing with recruitment of the young. In the last few weeks I've had that subject come up several times, including the e-mail I mentioned previously in this zine. I'm still working on a potential zine out of the subject... wish me luck!
I found that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote I'd promised you! Here you go... hope you like it!
"...one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. ... Any law that degrades human personality is unjust (emphasis mine)."
-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
To everyone else, RAEBNC... and as always, thanks for your comments! ;-)