Thursday, May 6, 2010

In Search Of A Game

I wrote the following for a college writing class. Names have been changed to ensure their safety, but the events described are very much so true no matter how many times I have wished the opposite.

I sit down at the table, already considering how the uneven and rough texture of the plastic surface will affect dice rolls and probability. The chair’s plastic nubs for feet squeak loudly as I slide the chair with my bulk atop it closer to the table. The other people in the large room pay no attention to the noise which barely cuts through the loud cacophony coming from a mixture of sexes and ages. Behind me, I can hear the sharp sound of playing cards rubbing against each other as the 8 and 9-year-old's play a card game that holds their attention more raptly than any school lecture could ever hope for.

The man sitting across from me grins toothily as he reads the titles of the books I have with me, his eyes darting across their spines as though he is looking for a fault in my selection. His stale stench, akin to stale tortilla chips which is the scent of the sweat of a lazy man, wafts over to me and in my mind, I can envision the color and the path that it took to reach my nose. I try not to glare, mentally accusing him as though it is his fault, and I wonder just what, exactly, had I gotten myself into.

“Alright everyone,” my wife says aloud, nervously, to everyone at the table, “do you understand the system? Do you need any help with your character sheets?”

Rob, the guy across from me, raises his arm and the wet armpits of his shirt announce to everyone what my nose had already found out. “I’m ready. Let’s get gaming.” He responds in excitement.

The other players, Ken and Julie, confirm that they are ready and my apprehension increases. It has been quite some time since our last tabletop game in person, and I shudder as I remember the last group’s home that we had been invited to for a chance to game.
When we pulled up, nothing seemed amiss at first glance. Then, as I was walking down their driveway, I noticed the amount of cigarette butts littered across the yard where small children were playing, their barefoot and blackened feet trampling the spongy filters into the ground. Upon nearing the entryway of the home, flies assaulted my eardrums in a manner that reminded me of old World War 2 aerial dog fight films. I hesitated at the doorway, looking over my shoulder at my wife, giving her a questioning look in a hope to convey my misgivings without having to air them out loud, as well as hoping that she would shake her head and indicate that we should leave before venturing any farther. Alas, it was not to be. Her responding look gave off the hint that she was banking on the inside of the home being better kept than the outside. I knocked on the door, was greeted with a shouting chorus to let ourselves in, and entered.

Trash was piled up in the kitchen, flies buzzing around loudly and with such a large size to their bodies that I wondered idly, in humor, if they were pets. A maggot squirmed its way across the laminated kitchen floor as a small brown dog chased a light orange tabby that was easily three times its size around the living room, the both of them weaving in and out of the legs of adults and children in a well established pattern, the carpet worn where their race takes place. Stale cigarette smoke was everywhere, leeching into clothes, hair, shoes, and my airways with every breath taken. I wanted out of here, my mind was screaming that nothing was worth enduring this, but I stayed to try and quench my desire for the game.

As the evening wore on, I found myself grossly fascinated at the lack of hygiene as there was an attempt to cook hamburgers for everyone. I made sure to not partake. At one point during the game, their small dog found itself in a corner, wrestling with something white and bloody and I was amazed to see the dog doing what was traditionally the cat’s job, that of killing mice.

That is, until I made mention of it and in a frantic attempt to get the item away from the dog, the woman of the house responded in an apologetic manner, “Oh no… that’s not a mouse, that’s just a tampon. The damn dog always gets into them, no matter how far down into the trash I hide them.”

I gagged, gave my wife a look, and we left shortly after. I was glad to be gone, though the stale stench of their home, the mingled cigarette smoke, burned meat, and fetid, rotting trash hung with us for days afterwards in our hair no matter how many times we washed and scrubbed our scalps raw.

I break away from the horrible memory as my wife starts to set the beginning scene of the story, and with a slightly goofy grin I show that I am glad that this time we decided to try to game in person at a local game store which not only had the space for many different groups of people to play, but also was sure to be clean.

“The temperature of this sunny, summer day is around 80 degrees,” she starts, as the downpour that is going outside beats a steady rhythm against the roof and large panes of glass in the front of the store.

“For whatever reason your character’s have, you have all made it to a small frontier town near the Wolfen Empire’s border, and it is hard to keep from thinking about the upcoming war that is on everyone’s lips, the most pertinent gossip everywhere you go. Everyone, from soldiers and mercenaries to farmers and vagabonds, are interested in learning if their area of the world will be engulfed in the death and destruction that is war. The town is situated near a small creek that is bubbling merrily over the rocks and jugs of milk being chilled in the cold waters. A blacksmith’s hammer rings out into the warm air, the scent of fresh cedar assails your sense of smell as a short Troll works on a sign. Children of a half dozen different races play a game of tag near the middle of the town, the dust their feet are kicking up is a testament to their play…”

After the game’s conclusion, I find myself thankful that we took the leap and decided to try again to find a new gaming group. We had been gaming with people all across the world through a gaming website, using a program that simulated the look and feel of gaming around a table, but the interaction of text was not enough for us.

It is a hazard of our hobby that finds many people who game staying with online games to remove the chances of ending up with a group of people that you would rather not be with. The desire to game in person with other people, to share in the excitement of the story being told by everyone at the table, is what forces people like us to head back out into the cruel word in the hopes that this time, fun will be had.

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