positive representation of gamers: mission accomplished

For all my talk of the OSR having won, I forgot to fly a big banner and pose on the deck of an aircraft carrier for this latest one!

Over at RPG.net and Story Games, cherished nerdNYCer and NY Red Boxer E.T. Smith wrote:

I so hope I can level up a few more times before this dude completes his phylactery. Aircraft carrier = phat lewt.

So it turns out that a request by the NYTimes for pictures of actual gamers in the act of gaming D&D, first circulated a couple weeks ago, was not an attempt to to find out anything about the actual culture, or give a chance for gamers to represent themselves in a diverse and positive light. It was just a way to grab a bit of flash to garnish the WotC press-release announcing 5th edition.

The article, as has been hashed out here extensively, appeared in Tuesday’s paper, Jan. 10. The image chosen for the print edition is of a few folks watching a giant d20 with shapely legs strut about, a performance by the “D20 Burlesque” troupe. I suppose in the end, gamers actually gaming wasn’t hot enough to appear in the NYT (no disrespect to the skillful troupe intended).

Here’s the interesting thing about that image: it was taken at the Soho Gallery for Digital art during the “Dungeons and Dragons: On and Ever Onward” exhibit. The exhibit involved displays of art by golden age TSR illustrator Erol Otus and several artists working from his tradition. It was also a release party for “Adventurer Conquerer King,” a new game in the OSR style. Besides ACK, tables were playing original tan-box D&D (run by one of Gygax’s original players) and a huge table running BXD&D (I was one of a dozen players at that). Also briefly present was Luke Crane of Burning Wheel and a few other indie folks.

What is notably absent from that gathering was any element of modern D&D or anything to do with Wizards of the Coast, its corporate properties, or profits derived therefrom. It would be hard to come of with a gathering that better illustrtes the irrelavance of WotC’s strategies and ambitions on people who just enjoy playing and celebrating the games or making their own.

Three things I take from this experience.
* Somebody at the NYTimes know well in advance of the coming announcement. I really hate being reminded how much of the news-media is just a process of distributing press releases.
* I am slightly miffed that WotC managed to steal hard-won publicity away from independent producers by co-opting coverage of the gallery event, even if unintentionally.
*WotC’s stated goal of “unifying the editions” makes good press but is laughably irrelevant to significant audiences.

ET I love you, but this is all wrong! We managed to steal some of WotC’s carefully orchestrated spotlight and give it to local independent producers and artists. This scheme succeeded remarkably well, I think everyone involved is as happy as adventurers who have proved James_Nostack wrong by actually using the pick pockets skill.

– The author of the NY Times piece, Ethan Gilsdorf, contacted me to get some quotes for the article. One of his questions was “where can the Times get pictures,” but I answered lots of other questions knowing that he wouldn’t be able to use most/all of what I said and that his editors might omit whatever was left.

– Ethan made sure that credit went where it was due by running a piece in Wired’s GeekDad blog, where he does have pretty much complete control over what appears. I think it’s a good idea to fill journalist-types with as much info about RPGs as possible – even if it’s not immediately useful it could crop up later – but Ethan is a deep-dyed gamer and all-around good guy, I was preaching to the choir.

– I likewise knew (but maybe should have been clearer in saying) that it was also possible that none of the pictures would make it in. Although I was sad when they pleased their corporate masters by using the WotC publicity photo on the initial website version of the story, I think it was actually a clever bit of subversion that for the print edition of the paper they went with the more interesting and local image.

– Tim Hutchings, curator of the gallery show, can be seen in the front row of that photo and continues to be as pleased about it as you can see he was to be watching the burlesque in the first place.

– One of artist Casey Jex Smith’s images from the show – a portrait of Mitt Romney as a character sheet – was covered in the Huffington Post, giving him mad press with which he and his gallery, Allegra LaViola, was very pleased.

– One of artist Casey Jex Smith’s images from the show – a portrait of Mitt Romney as a D&D character sheet – was covered in the Huffington Post, giving him mad press with which he and his gallery Allegra LaViola was very pleased.

– The Soho Gallery for Digital Art, whose owner is a gamer & was really glad to host gamers for these parties, was mentioned in the Times print photo caption, making him happy as well.

– d20 Burlesque wasn’t mentioned in the caption – I think because it is an in-joke hard to explain in so few words, whereas “Soho Gallery for Digital Art” is self-explanatory – but I think Anja and Keith are pleased as punch nonetheless. And they got to try out the Action Castle-style piece Jared Sorenson wrote for d20 Burlesque in front of a highly appreciative audience!

– All the attendees I heard from had a good time, that’s one of the things that counts!

– The other thing that counts is that this event is what brought Michael Mornard out – I’ve been trying to reach him ever since learning he was in NYC, with no success until now. Some of us got to play with him and we’re all benefitting from the resulting discussion of his playstyle, his taking part in the D&D Documentary and being interviewed for Of Dice & Men, and the resultant increase in shared knowledge of the roots of roleplaying and perspective on where we come from.

I am an OSR partisan but in the end we’re all fighting for more recognition of roleplaying games and their history. Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen, we can call this battle a victory.

EDIT:  The Twenty Sided Store did get a profile and a slideshow in the NY/Metro region, and I did suggest that they send a photographer out there to get pictures for the D&D piece, but these two events are unrelated! Luis emailed me to say that the reporter for the profile happened to be in the neighborhood and attracted by the Twenty Sided’s logo and storefront, which are indeed attractive. It was coincidental that the profile appeared at around the same time as they were gearing up for the D&D article.

10 Responses to “positive representation of gamers: mission accomplished”

  1. January 13, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    I really hate that I’m not involved in your local scene. Offhand comments like the Nostak bit about not liking pick pockets make the feeling the strongest.

    As much as I think about theory and time I spend working on gaming stuff, I really feel out of the loop not living in NY.

  2. January 13, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    @nexusphere, I feel that way about other gaming scenes – Israel, Japan, Finland, Vancouver, you name it – all the time. But aren’t you glad we aren’t still using mailed fanzines as our Internet and living in an area where I strongly suspect that one of the reasons for the Gygax/Arneson tragedy was just that it was hard for a startup to afford regular long-distance calls between towns a hundred miles away?

  3. January 14, 2012 at 12:07 am

    I think the most disturbing thing to me is how mainstream gaming and geek culture has become. Tabletop gaming has gone from the old boomtown community, a collection of odd characters, whores, gunslingers, those out for a quick buck and those in for the long haul … dirty politicians … dirty newspaper men … all mashed together in the same community. But it was small-ish and the camp was ours … wasn’t it … for so long it felt like that. For several decades that is how things felt to me anyway. You had the old school, pre-internet era … I was too young to participate in the very early days. In those days but you had the fanzines, you had White Dwarf, Dragon, etc. etc. all the little mom and pop producers making figures and whatnot and TSR. By the early 90s things had changed again but by in large it was mostly still a odd mix of characters. Even with OGL you had more little publishers, and a crazy collection of characters.

    These days at least from my perspective with so many podcasts, blogs, and just the general “main-streaming” of geek culture … it feels like D&D is more hipster thinkgeek.com than anything. To me really seeing D&D pimped out in Soho or wherever … being talked about in the New York Times (not the first time, I’m quite sure there were many articles there during the early days of D&D … I’m just saying) writing about it … meh. Corporations using the age old formulas to churn out more licensed merchandise, products, video games, etc. etc. More Hollywood/media company strategies. More and more I find it hard to distinguish between the geek-tabletop gaming scene and the pop music scene or the Nascar scene. Its all same packaging and the same types of people capitalizing on it. Ahh Amalgamation and Capital :)

  4. January 14, 2012 at 12:35 am

    @Excess, as much as I appreciate your Deadwood homage–I don’t agree at all!

    As Tavis mentioned, before it was–to follow your metaphor–a bunch of lone prospectors and a mule. Now it’s a whole camp full of people.

    We still have The Mule though.

  5. January 14, 2012 at 12:51 am

    I think gaming is still people doing what they love; it’s just that starting with Gygax and Arneson and Bledsaw on down, people have sought to make gaming also what they do for a living. Sometimes that means professional involvement in the RPG hobby business, sometimes it means just taking your day job (freelance journalist, artist, video game designer, etc) and trying to inject as much of your passion into that as will fit. So we get art exhibits and TV shows and craft beers that reference D&D not because there are so many mainstream people who are into it, but because so many weirdos from our little subculture are taking the chance to be like “yeah, I love D&D, that’s right!” whenever they have a chance at the spotlight

  6. January 16, 2012 at 3:42 am

    I agree. I played and thought about RPGs obsessively as a teenager in the 90s. I dropped it for the same reasons many do: lost my gaming group, met girls, got focused on school, etc. If it weren’t for podcasts and blogs and everyone else’s fingers in that mainstream pudding, I could easily have left off and never turned back, but I was so excited to find sites like the Mule and others to coax me back. There may be a few people out there who can wear the badge of honor of never having stopped their involvement in the community, but for many of us, we are just remembering and trying to find a way to keep the hobby in our lives – because we love it. I’m just here to have fun and rock out.

    I also wish I could be a part of the NY scene! For now, my gaming group consists of my 2 year old and four year old, who both wish they had magic swords in real life.

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Past Adventures of the Mule

January 2012

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