Mar 092008

This week has been a little eventful. Going back in reverse chronological order, Akiva and I (Jesse) went to see the Space Station movie at the Imax theater on Saturday while Haga took care of Kenaz. Akiva didn’t want to wear the 3D glasses, so most of the movie was blurry to him. He had a good time though. The theater (the Suzhou Culture, Arts, and Science Center) was very pretty. (for local readers, this is the link to the center, in English, and showtimes ).

Earlier in the week I had a good training program on facilitation skills in Shanghai. Since lately I focus on business consulting and development, I do not do training often nowadays. So this training program was a great review course for me. However, I got sick on the first day of the training program and I’m still sick with a really runny nose. At the program, there were GMs of companies (my customers who I invited to take the training with me), Asia-Pac corporate HR Managers from companies like Pepsi, and some competitors (who we invited because we play nice with competitors…sometimes). I know that while I was sick and dizzy and (literally) snotty, I also represented myself and my company very professionally.

While I was sick and in Shanghai I had a job interview for a $100K/year Product Management position with a company based in San Diego. I did not get the job. Email response: “We decided to go in another direction for this position. Good luck in your endeavors.” I hate corporate speak. Anyway, I have said this to my family (in the US) several times already…its difficult for me to get good corporate jobs because it has been a while since I worked in a corporate company. I’m disappointed I didn’t get that job because it would have meant a lot of opportunity to see my family in the US. And it would have been a lot of money. And it may have been a fun job. I don’t feel bad about being rejected though. I used to feel crappy after every time I got rejected from a job. Like being rejected by a girl. Not anymore. I know I would have been great at the job. But I also know that the interviewer had no interviewing skills and had already made up his mind before he met me. Now in interviews I present myself as being only myself; some will not like this style but others will be impressed. Some will be impressed, but not pick me because they are looking for very specific experience and interests and that is OK.

This brings me to the subject of this post…and this subject is not even 50% related to the subjects of the four paragraphs above. I would like to write an obituary of sorts for a man I never met. Gary Gygax, co-inventor of the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game, died last week.

The Monster Manual of A.D&D.; I never realized just how absolutely amateurish the D&D; artwork was.

The first time I saw people playing D&D; was at a “Surf Camp” just before the 6th grade.. My camp councilor was playing it on the beach on a cloudy day. I did not ask him if I could play with him…I just sat on the sand and watched him play. I somehow knew what they were doing within 30 seconds of observation. They were playing a game all kids play – shared imagination game – but with codified rules to help them better share their play experience (however, at the time I thought the idea of the game would be better applied to a Star Trek or Star Wars setting…I didn’t think knights and sorcerers were so cool). Of course, I did not know the rules of the game. There are many many rules in D&D; and they did not let me see the rulebook. But I understood that they had a common framework of rules that govern” applied imagination”.

I do not know where “I” was when I first played D&D;, but I do know I had to have been with Chris Doss, Jeremy Riordan, and Brad Decker sometime in the 6th grade. I also know we were adventuring into a cave to exterminate some creatures called “Kobolds”, “Bugbears”, and a wizard or Ogre or two. The reason for this adventure was because a) the Kobolds had pillaged some farms, and b) Kobolds are Chaotic Evil alignment, therefore should be killed by those having a “Good” alignment. And at the end of the “Dungeon Module”, we discovered some nick-nack or something on a corpse that was a sign of deeper evil (ie. monsters of a slightly higher level) which supported the Kobolds…we would face this new challenge in the next dungeon.

I have played countless hours in the shared virtual reality of role-playing games. I played an Elf Fighter-Magic User (name: Randolf…uggg) in “AD&D;™”; a mutant psychic cat in “Gamaworld™”; another Elf in “Runequest™”; a psychic space captain in “Traveler™”; alien superhero in “Villains and Vigilantes™”; ditto in “Champions™”; soon-to-die-from-radiation-poisoning US Army soldier in “Aftermath 2000™”; a soon-to-go-insane detective in “Call of Chathulu™”; a space explorer in “Ringworld™”; another elf Fighter-Thief in “Warhammer: The RPG™”; a time-bending knife-wielding mage in “Mage™.” I have played…myself I guess… when Chris would call and say “OK. You wake up. You are wearing just your underwear….” “But Chris, I sleep in Pajamas!” “But now you are just wearing underwear. Butt-hugger by the way…not boxers. You are in a room with a bunk-bed and a door to the ‘South’. There is a bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. There are no sheets on the bed. There is nothing else in the room. What do you do?”

I have created several role-playing games during my life based on books I have read or just based on day-dreams. I have also Game Mastered my friends in our virtual quests; in fact, I was more often the GM than the player. I created dungeons, worlds, conflicts, and dramas.

Unlike other self-reflections on the internet brought on by the death of Gary Gygax, I will not go into the whole “ultra-nerd” thing. The truth is that outwardly, I never did appear nerd-like; I was on the swim-team and had a great head of blond hair. But D&D; and roleplaying games led me to overly develop my “inner world” instead of developing my relationship with that other shared reality known as “Real Life™”. Hence, RPGs contributed to me becoming more self-centered and always dreaming. I should have been focusing on…focusing. I can honestly say that my anti-social extraversion, in part, comes from too much RPGing. I didn’t master the social skills necessary for dealing with lots of people I do not like. (The fact that I do not like many people I blame not on RPGs, but on other influences in my development). Focusing on the pretend made me less practical. Less detail oriented. It is the reason I have not gone into finance, accounting, or engineering.

On the whole though, I think that playing RPGs was a positive influence in my becom
ing what I am today. Role-playing taught me how to envision things from other viewpoints. It is the skill I use to prepare my business strategy. I use role-playing to prepare for training others and as a tool to learn new things which I have no experience with. Role-playing helps me expand my empathy and more foresight.
And of course, role-playing has taught me how to play roles. Playing roles means that I can show parts of me that ARE STILL ME, but not what I normally show to my friends and family. I have played countless hours in a shared virtual reality in which I played: an exchange student in a post-Totalitarian pre-commercial 1991 Beijing; a conservative newspaper call-center service operator; an MBA student; a sales man at a Taiwanese connector manufacturer, a Notebook Computer Product Manager in a Taiwanese computer manufacturer; a MBA night-school instructor; a Product Manager in a smartphone / PDA software development company; a Japanese restaurant waiter; a China-based Leadership Development Facilitator; and (my current role) Management Consultant / Senior Manager in a small consulting company.

In conclusion… I know I owe many things to many people who I know, and many things to people who I have never met. Gary Gygax falls into that second category. I thank him for his wonderful legacy. My characters thank him too,

 Posted by at 1:29 pm

  4 Responses to “A game that has ruined my life (and created my lives)”

  1. excellent tribute, good insight. who else shared in the development of D&D; besides Gary? are they approachable at this time? would you want to anyway. how will you tell your sons about this influence in your life? this tribute is a start, but so much of this is in your mind, inside, still inside. dad

  2. Hey Jesse:

    I found your blog completely by accident. It’s Cija from San Diego and San Francisco. You look like you have a beautiful family and a wonderful life. Hope all is well.


  3. You always played elves, dude. Always. What was it with the elf fixation? And I will never forgive you for giving yourself the +5 Defender.

    I miss Gygax. *sniff*

  4. Oh, so much to say, I’d have to start my own blog and write my own Gygax tribute to cover even some of it. Jesse, it’s great, totally self-indulgent, totally great. I always played humans (fighter-thieves or fighter-magic users)and I always saw the games as abstract models for life in which I learned skills, including social skills, that I still use to this day. Not the least of which is trying to get a group of people with a bunch of different ideas and objectives together for a single unified purpose. Still tricky, but I’m getting better at it. Here’s to You, Jess, and Chris Doss (great to read your post, so true! How ya doin?), and Jeff Bryson wherever he may be, you guys were all really good Game Masters, and here’s to Brad with his perpetually unique characters, to the other people we played with who helped make every adventure rich in personality and detail, to the other dreamers and pretenders who make great things happen… here’s to Gary who was so O.C.D. he made up rules for for our imaginations on which they thrived and survived, thanks G.G.!

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.