07 June 2008

Set sail across the sea of longpast thoughts and memories

Today is World Dungeons & Dragons Day. This, unlike the International Decade of the Mountain, is not an official UN sanctioned event, rather it signifies the launch to the world of the 4th edition of this venerable and much maligned game. And so to celebrate this momentous occasion I took a walk down memory lane to my local Geekmonger and picked up a copy of the new rulebooks, surprising myself with the little shiver of delight that went up my spine as I did so.

I was nine when my father gave me the D&D Basic boxed set, about a year before my folks split up and I moved back to Dublin with my mother. The set was an magenta box of delights, with cheap polyhedral dice and a stubby pencil, everything a boy could want to explore the mysteries of the imagination - except someone else to play it with.

That would have to wait a few years until the late eighties, the release of AD&D, and the last three years of High School. Niall D, Rory, Eoin and our DM Joe would set aside from 2 to 6 every Sunday afternoon, rotating each week to someone else's house to share the financial burden of supplying cola and crisps. Saturday belonged to girlfriends and The Grove, but Sunday was pure unashamed geekery. As school drew to a close, we knew that so too would our game, and just a few short days after our final exam we played our last session, put away our dice, and went off to college to be grown-ups.

Almost immediately we all lost touch; these people who had been a constant presence during the formative years of my life suddenly all went their separate ways, never to be seen again. A few times during college and after I tried to play again, most recently thanks to the good services of Niall M and his tolerant (and then heavily pregnant) wife, but the pressures of jobs and kids made it difficult to do with any regularity. And deep down inside was the realisation that so much of my memories of the game, what I enjoyed about it so much, was the bond that was forged with that first group of friends. It wasn't the game itself, it was a social experience, it was the getting together on a regular occasion and having a laugh in the days before beer and pubs.

When I went into the Geekmongers today, sales of the new edition had been brisk, but almost all to 30-somethings like myself. Everyone was buying from nostalgia I was told, and nobody had actually said anything about playing. It was as if everyone was buying a window into their childhood, a childhood that they just can't bring themselves to recreate as an adult. While no one bats an eyelid today if a grown person says they play World of Warcraft online, or just bought GTA4 for their XBOX, there is still almost a hidden shame about having played D&D as a kid, which is odd given the inherent social aspect of the game, especially in comparison to the antisocial nature of most video games.

And therein lies the problem for D&D. With the previous generation ashamed to play, and a current generation of kids brought up sitting alone in their rooms on a computer with everything laid out on the screen in front of them, and no imagination or social skills needed, I can't see this new edition succeeding, no matter how simplified or prettied up with an online component.

Which is a pity.

Here's to you Niall, Rory, Eoin and Joe, and all our Sundays past.

Wired's review of the 4th Edition
Worldwide D&D Game Day


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