Thursday, September 1, 2016

On Being Magnanimous as a Gamer

Okay, this entry is going to be a sort of fan-boy geek-out essay, so if you don't like that sort of thing, you just might want to go sit in a corner and suck on some persimmons. But one of the most valuable lessons I have been taught over the past decade in my gaming career has been from my current living gaming hero: Jolly Blackburn. He probably would be thoroughly embarrassed by the following ode, but because I think he stands as a shining example of what it means to be magnanimous in a hobby that has more than its share of grognards and grumbling grannies he deserve this nonetheless.

Now, the thing is, I count myself as one of those erstwhile grognards of the more irritatingly vocal type. Hell, my entire blog has been a tribute to critiquing the current wave of gaming as a nostalgic clarion for the preservation of the gaming past. And I have not always been magnanimous in my efforts. Thus Jolly and his character and personality have served as a good example for me to more carefully consider my words about gaming and how they might make others feel; and more importantly how they might negatively effect the hobby as a whole.

Jolly's example, however, is less about pontificating this fact than living the life of what I would consider a gamer who lives by and honors the old guard while eagerly and openly embracing the new media, movies, books, games and talent that serves the industry we love so much. In other words Jolly is old school. About as old school as it gets. But Jolly is also on the cutting edge, enjoying, celebrating and reveling in all the new talent and creativity that is serving the speculative fiction industry has to offer. So in him I have a role model that I can identify with as having come from the same old school roots as myself -- AD&D 1e and 2e, while boldly championing the evolution of gaming and its offshoots in all directions.

When I first came to KODT, and later Hackmaster--my preferred in-print game--Jolly struck a chord with me because he was so clearly steeped in an old school ethos. However, one cannot read KODT or the current iteration of Hackmaster and not appreciate how he and his fellow designers at KenzerCo also are keenly aware of and sensitive to the new wave of gaming as well. I know Jolly gets a lot of the lime-light in regards to Hackmaster and KODT, but he is quite clear that Dave Kenzer, Brian Jelke, Steve Johansen and his wife Barbara and others deserve much of the credit, power and creativity behind both products. Another sign of his magnanimity; and, I'm sure, of his much more public profile in social media circles. Jolly is immanently approachable in that sense.

In addition, having listened to numerous podcast interviews and video segments, Jolly is always self deprecating, humble, and refuses to be drawn into edition wars and criticism of other companies, other games, and especially other designers. He is just a nice guy. I have also watched as he interacts and listens to others on his Facebook page, on KCo's, now somewhat quieter, forums, and other outlets where he is willing to engage old friends and new comers alike with the same open, honest and welcoming attitude that endears him to so many. In this way, and I am not sure he has simply taken this role because he is a natural at it, if he really likes it, or he drew the short straw at KCo, Jolly has become the "face" of KCo to the public. When one thinks of Hackmaster and KODT, one cannot help but have Jolly spring to mind. Though I know the other designers are as every bit as involved as he is. And this in no way is meant to steal any of their thunder, skill or importance as I have watched interviews with them and video snippets of their play as a group as well. I also greatly admire Dave Kenzer for different reasons, but this post is meant to communicate how inspiring and important it is to be magnanimous as a gamer in today's world. I hold Jolly in that esteem.

And while we're on the subject of Jolly, if there's anyone who knows gamers, gaming culture, tropes or gaming psychology any better they are certainly not making it known like Jolly and the KODT crew. I simply can't communicate how important KODT is to me. I'm not going to say it's more important than gaming, but KODT has kept me going when there has been no gaming in my life. In a world where my gaming past seems to hold itself up as a golden age that cannot be reclaimed, KODT is there for me, like a breath of rarefied air of an age of gaming that, to me, represents the Camelot of the gaming world. It makes me laugh, smile, nod knowingly and hang on every cursed cliff-hanger each issue. I don't know how Jolly does it, but he captures something for me that is the very essence of gaming. Something rooted not altogether in the games, but the gestalt of the games, and the unique and priceless gaming community of which we are all a part. My hat goes off to him, my heart goes out to him and I pray the magic never ends.

But Jolly's magnanimity doesn't just end at gaming. I have seen him be a proud champion of movies, books, TV series and the like which sometimes get too much negative press and add a bit of positivity, humor, practicality and support. The most recent Ghostbusters re-make was a prime example. Before it was even out, fan-boy haters were griping because it wasn't the original cast, it wasn't funny enough, they were all women, and one actress in particular singled out for being "wrong" in even more ways. The fact is, many of the critical comments were misogynistic, racist and just plain bull-headed. But Jolly not only defended the film as a reaction to those prejudicial negativities, he championed the film to give it a chance. And he did. And he was in a camp of numerous distinguished critics who also found the film funny and engaging. Was it different from the original, yes. But a good film re-make or update does not have to be a copy of the original in tone or detail. I'm a fan of the new ST movies. I don't quite like it as much as TOS or TNG, but I did enjoy them. And by all critical accounts the second was worse than the first but I liked it better! I think, and this is just my take, that magnanimity requires that we extend to new efforts in speculative fiction of all types, games, and entertainment that caters to what could be called the nerd-geek-gamer culture a benefit of the doubt and a fresh open mind and perspective. The fact is we live in a world awash in superhero/heroine movies, Sci Fi, games, tabletop and video, and even comics are seeing a resurgence, or at least coming back. We should rejoice that what started long ago with Tolkien, Stan Lee, R.E. Howard, Carter, Lovecraft, and yes Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson has become the de facto entertainment industry of the world. It is a good time to be a gamer. And if we become too bitter, critical beyond reason, or just plain nasty we not only hurt people, we hurt the industry and ultimately ourselves. I think Jolly does a good job of modelling how to be a positive force in teh gaming world.

So, is my reason for posting this just to point out how awesome Jolly is? Well, maybe a little. But truthfully the reason for this post is that I'm sharing a bit of a vision for myself and my blog. What I would hope to do is be excited about all gaming, all facets of it. D&D has spawned so much of the current interest in and products of the current spec-fic craze. It is not alone of course, Comics, literature, and film all synergistically work towards the present day. I hope to do so with graciousness, with serious discussion, with humor and with magnanimity. I say we sit back and enjoy it some. As my brother said, it is a good time to be gamer. Let's all complain less and be a little more magnanimous. I'm certainly going to try.

~Important end-note: The above post in no way represents the opinion of the owners of this blog or the gamers it represents. That one "weak-kneed", mamby-pamby, pansy dice caresser can't buck up and own what real gaming is, and denounce the rest is not our problem. Sure he may deserve some kudos for being all soft and friendly with those imitators and wannabes that are gaming diceless and playing inferior systems, but we certainly know where the truth lies. And, if he really is such a devoted fan of KODT, as he claims to be, then he would realize the magazine itself makes known in no uncertain terms that anyone who is out there suffering through Pathgrinder, wasting their time behind a screen playing World of Hackcraft, or challenging other gamers to tournament sessions of DAWG the roleplaying game should cash in their dice bag and go take up shuffleboard. Respectable gamers everywhere have a duty to be the gatekeepers of quality and true old school gaming ethos in film, in literature and at the gaming table. And we all know what that means--if you don't play Hackmaster, you're not gaming. And if you aren't using officially licensed product, your not playing it right. We are sure this Jolly fellow is a nice guy in as far as that goes, but don't let yourself get all fuzzy over some guy who can't tell the difference between diceless roleplaying and superior Hard Eight products. And yeah, the new Ghostbusters wasn't all that bad, but H8's upcoming SpookHackers the RPG will give you a much closer experience to the original, classics films. 

-- The management

The Man Himself