Welcome to July, friends and neighbors! It’s a great time to get outside, soak up some sun, maybe do some hiking, maybe just catch up on yardwork. Yup, a wonderful time of year to be outdoors…if one doesn’t live anywhere near Phoenix, AZ. If one DOES live in such a desert heatscape, one would do well to find ways to occupy one’s time that don’t involve anything resembling “outside”. Luckily, I’m well equipped for such. Welcome, gentlebeings, to this installment of “How Do I Nerd?”
A little backstory: I’ve been a nerd, a geek if you like, for my entire life. At 4, I wrote my first letter (with Mom’s help, of course) addressed to a local TV station, who had the temerity to remove reruns of Star Trek from their daily lineup. (The nerve of some people!) At 5, after being enraptured by my father’s reading of “The Hobbit”, I undertook my very first epic quest, descending into the depths of the scariest location on Earth, the basement, there to obtain materials needed to construct a truly epic suit of armor for myself. (cardboard and masking tape) Started playing Dungeons & Dragons in 4th grade. Bought my first game console when I was in 7th grade. (Atari 2600!) Started collecting comic books in 8th grade. This was quite a while back, remember, long before San Diego Comic Con was something everyone had heard of, before Disney made comic books mainstream, before even jocks watched Critical Role. “Nerd” and “geek” were commonly used pejoratives on the playground and in the locker room.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m tickled to no end that times have changed. Geeks appear to be cool now, everyone knows who Iron Man is, and it’s okay to like both Star Trek AND Star Wars. This. Is. AWESOME. Geekery was never meant to be gatekept; all should be welcome. That’s certainly how I try to do it at my house, at least.
So, in which geeky things do I indulge? Lots of ‘em. I’ve never really been one to specialize. There lots of things I love to share with others, and at least a few I enjoy in a solitary fashion. I’m loving all the new Star Trek content we’ve seen over the past few years; Picard was pure fanservice, but as I’m a fan, that suited me just fine. Discovery grew on me, and by the end of the second season I was absolutely hooked. And Strange New Worlds? Man, I’ve been waiting for a series like this for literal decades. All the social consciousness and sensibilities of the original series, with modern storytelling techniques and visual effects… I love it. (Sometimes to the point of tears, sap that I am.) I’m looking forward to the next seasons of Stranger Things, Umbrella Academy, and Loki. If you’ve been reading my posts here, you have some idea of how I feel about good stories told well.
Good stories are at the crux of games like Dungeons & Dragons, too. I play in a couple of campaigns, and DM for a couple as well. I truly enjoy both; players get to be the main characters in some epic tale of fantasy, DM’s get to craft those narratives, create the setting, develop the plot. It’s a cooperative endeavor, held together with pencils and paper and math and imagination and wonder. For a few hours, a group of friends (or at least friendly strangers) get together to tell a story together, to immerse themselves in worlds that only exist in their minds and hearts, and (hopefully) save it. Makes for a welcome break from a reality that becomes a little scarier, a little more bleak, every day.
I started painting miniatures and building terrain for the tabletop, during the lockdowns of 2020. Activities that even *I* regarded as “too nerdy”, before I tried them. Turns out, I enjoy them. An enduring act of creation, one that leads back to the tabletop. My players tell me that being able to look at the table and see a miniature representing their character, sitting at an actual table in a tavern, with other tavern patrons similarly present, all makes for a more immersive experience. It’s one thing to imagine that a green squiggle on a map represents a tree, quite another thing to actually see a tree, with bright green needles and a dusting of snow on the branches. The painting and building is usually a pleasure. Watching a piece coming together, taking shape before my eyes, often with a backstory forming as I work…it’s kinda magical. I just need a LOT more space to store all of this stuff. Got a spare room that you’re not using? Give me a call.
The terrain building isn’t just useful for D&D. There’s this newer game that I’ve found, a new nerdy obsession to add to the list; GASLANDS. Published by Osprey Games, players build Mad Max-like death machines and race each other through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, in the hopes of winning fabulous cash and prizes…or at least, surviving. Players use Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, painted to look old and rusted, with machine guns and flamethrowers bolted on. It’s GREAT fun, and I have all the gear I need to run a full game of it, along with a supply of toy cars that exceeds any collection I might have had in my childhood. All I need now are other people to play; a challenging task, but I’m working on it.
I like games. I love the idea of a type of social interaction wherein all of the rules of how to conduct that interaction are written down, more or less clearly, for all to read and understand. Sitting around a table with friends, snacks, beverages, and a board game or deck of cards, seems a fine way to pass an evening. Or a weekend, depending on how heavy the game is. I’ve met some of my dearest friends in all the world at the gaming table. Make no mistake, I consider myself an average player at best. But I don’t need to win to enjoy myself; the play’s the thing, to paraphrase the guy from Stratford-on-Avon. (Look it up.) The experience of gameplay, the shared connection with friends and congenial strangers, THAT’s what I’m into.
I’ve been playing quite a bit of Diablo IV on my computer lately; no surprises there, I’ve been a fan of the whole series since the first game released in the 1996, and this latest installment just dropped in my lap last month. The overall storyline seems darker than ever, no easy feat when each of the games has been about the hero (that’s you) saving the world from a demon apocalypse. But yeah, super dark, with a sense of “this story isn’t over yet, I think we won, but everything still seems kinda awful.” Naturally, I’m loving it. The storylines are well written, gameplay is both familiar enough to be comfortable, and different enough to be interesting and engaging. If you like Action-RPG’s, I highly recommend it.
I guess the common thread in all of these is people. I use games and fandoms to build connections to other people, to draw them in, to keep them close, perhaps even to indoctrinate them into my… no, never mind, not going there. I don’t really care if High Lord Edred of AEthelmarc ever gets his magic tweezers back, or if the winner of the race gets their free ticket to the newly-terraformed Mars colony. The Romulans warring with the Federation, or the Shadows trying to devour the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, won’t have any direct impact on my life. But they give me something to talk about, they give me cause to dream and wonder and hope. They help me believe in heroes, and even in myself.
How do YOU geek, and why? And are you interested in learning Gaslands?