Today one of my oldest gaming friends left town, and it looks like he’ll be gone for a long time.
This is a friend who I have spent the last fourteen years casually talking to about games, films, philosophy, one of the people who got me into Warhammer, and one of my favourite D&D players. Here is someone who became a verb, one that will stay with us for many years to come as new players come and go, and to openly mock and criticize one another over poor behaviour in games.
Alan; (verb) To spend an excessive amount of time deliberating and analysing possible courses of action during one’s turn in a game, to such an extent as to irritate or annoy other players. “Quit Alanning!You have five spells to choose from, it shouldn’t take ten minutes!”
An experience so richly moulded by others is made so much more special, more personal and uniquely yours. When new players come and introduce their own in-jokes, habits or stories. When a new member joined our group, we heard all about the legend of the Troll and the Wooden Duck and how Ankhat would never be saved. More people told us the legend of Bob the Dybbuk, and slaughtering a squad of Skitarii with the number three.
This is what makes tabletop games indomitable in the gaming world, indeed in any form of medium. You can read a thousand books and watch a thousand films and the experiences you take away will differ only in subtle ways to those of the people watching with you, or reading the same book many miles away. Computer games and board games have only a finite number of distinct permutations, differing only in subtle ways from play to play but ultimately falling into the same patterns. While these experiences bring us together, and give us a shared ground on which to discuss and enjoy, they are all bound by their own limitations.
What can compare to writing your own story with friends? Living a dozen lives, each of which made all the more important because their experiences are as much yours as your own life, only accelerated to include only the moments of excitement, exhilaration and tension (with the dull, boring stretches of travel, work, and time in hospital cut out for narrative’s sake) that make legends that you’ll leave for the night but never forget.
This may seem a little exclusionary. After all, surely the point of everyone enjoying a good book, film or game is so that you can go forward and talk to anyone about it, and anyone who has enjoyed it will have their own opinions and viewpoints that you can share and debate. In-jokes are – by their very nature – things that belong to a small group.
But we have so many stories of our own that we suddenly want to tell, to share and impress others, and to hear theirs in turn. Not just the successes, but the glorious failures. No one wants to hear about how you killed a dragon by taking off its last hundred hit points in a single round, but they love the story about how you pinned a dragon’s wings behind its back and rode it into the ground, or how you died after being sat on by a dragon that was distracted by the rest of the party.
Life is so bereft of adventure these days, we have explored practically every corner of the world, we’ve barely begun to stretch our interplanetary legs, and the vast majority of us are caught up in lives of repetitive mundanity, seeking some kind of escape, to be cast into fortune and fame, or wrenched from the work-a-day and thrown into adversity in which we can flourish as heroes.
I’ll settle for my Tuesday nights for now, at least until an opportunity for adventure approaches.