8 January 2008

How Dungeons & Dragons saved me…

Posted by Dirk under: musings .

A few weeks ago on the public jakedog forums we were talking about school shootings and Big Ed made a comment about how the people that did this were mainly motivated by a desire for fame (or infamy). I thought this was incorrect and I read up on some of the recent shootings. While reading about the Virginia Tech shooter I saw that he had been diagnosed with something called Selective Mutism. I’d never heard of this and read up on it some more.

As I read about it I thought that a lot of it applied to me. While I’m not going to diagnose myself as having this disorder, I was close to it. Of course, we didn’t have any medical terms for it. I was just really shy.

My dad was in the army and we rarely stayed in one place for more than a year or two until I was 13, when he retired from the military. I never really made friends. I had my sister, who was 4 years younger than I and several dogs over the years as my companions. And the characters in books. Tarzan, Conan, Sherlock Holmes, The Sacketts, all kinds of genre characters. They moved with me from military base to military base.

I don’t think it was just the moving though. When I was a wee lad, my mother says she took me to kindergarten and I would just stand apart from the other kids, never interacting with them (like some sort of little Damien kid or something!)

It’s not that I didn’t want to hang out with others, it just took me a lot longer to get comfortable enough with them to talk freely. I usually didn’t get that time. Plus, by the time I started getting there, it was determined that I was a stuck up little wierd snob and I was excluded.

One of the sites that I read said that often people that have selective mutism have bilingual backgrounds, which was the case with me. At one point, as a kid, when my dad was in Vietnam and we were living in Germany with my Oma, I forgot how to speak English. Some visitor came to speak with my mother and addressed me in English and I had to go get her to talk to the guy.

Anyway, whatever the case, I pretty much had no friends through most of school and as I got older and those male teen hormones started flowing, I was often angry. Angry at my fellow students, mostly. You had to be one of the kids on the receiving end of that kind of stuff to appreciate the pressure and what it does to you. I didn’t pose with guns but I had violent fantasies. Often I’d sit in class and daydream about transforming into some sort of Conan like dude and chopping some motherfuckers up. I probably wrote some of it down too and today, if that happened and some teacher found it, I’d be in some kind of trouble.

Luckily for me though, in my junior year of high school, I think it was, I read in a science fiction magazine about this new game called Dungeon’s and Dragons. It sounded really cool. But you needed friends to play it. So, that was out. Back to wandering the woods and lots of rural Indiana with my BB gun and dog. By this time, my little sister had reached an age where she didn’t want to hang out with her odd older brother all the time so it was just the dog and I.

Then, one day in electronics lab in school, I saw two guys doing some weird thing with pencils. I listened in and managed to ask them what they were doing. Turns out they were rolling up characters for Traveller (an ancient SF roleplaying game). I managed to convince them that they should let me play and the next saturday I showed up and was introduced to gaming.

It was awesome. Life changing for me. Not only did I enjoy the hell out of the game, but the process of playing let the other guys get to know me and find out that I wasn’t quite the freak they probably thought I was. Those guys became my best buddies. So many weekends spent huddled over our game books and character sheets. All nighters fueled by Dr Pepper, Coke and Cheetos.

I remember my parent’s being dumbfounded when I asked if I could have some friends over to play a game. Me? Friends? Awesome. They were great. My dad fixed us up a room in the basement just for gaming.

Those two years or so really changed me. I was still painfully shy and forget about talking to girls! But I was pulled out of a really dark place that I was sinking into.

Soon after finishing high school my family moved to California and I followed. It took me a while, but I found another group of gamers. From that seed, 20 years ago, pretty much everybody I consider a friend today came from. I don’t have a huge horde of friends, but the ones I got I like. We don’t seem to play any RPGs anymore and I miss it, but we still get together to play cards or have BBQs or just go drink some beers. I’m still a quiet guy around people I don’t know, but it’s no longer nearly pathological like it used to be.

So anyways. It always annoys me when I read somebody talking smack about gamers. Yah, we might not all be the most well adjusted people and the hobby seems to draw those with the more obvious social problems, but hey, as long as we’re rolling our dice, we ain’t strolling into a crowded place with a shotgun and a bad attitude, so cut those kids some slack.

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