From small things…
This week a special event is taking place, Speak Out With Your Geek Out. It is a chance for those of us who consider ourselves geeks to share our geekitude with all of you, whether you’re a geek or not (and many people are a geek about something, they just don’t know it). Then, in turn, you can share yours with us (and everyone else).
It doesn’t have to be a page and a half on why Jean Luc Picard was the best Starship Captain in the Star Trek universe, but it can. You could talk about your borderline obsessive love for photography or My Little Pony. Anything that makes you happy. Me? I’m going to talk for a bit about how I became a geek, and one of my less well-known geek loves, world building.
I took my first step on the path to geekdom when I was young, probably less than ten years old. I discovered some of my dad’s old Airfix models in the garage. It was the wonderfully painted box covers that drew me in. Allied tanks patrolling the North African desert, Spitfires soaring through the skies above England, American half-tracks filled with GI’s. I’d been exposed to enough footage (both in documentaries and films) that I knew what I was looking at.
Upon opening the boxes, however, I was a little confused. The plastic sprues containing the component pieces were not what I was expecting. I took one of the boxes to my dad and asked him what it was. He explained that it was a model, a bit like the Lego I already had. Unlike the Lego though, once you put it together you couldn’t take it apart again. Not put off by this limitation, I set about putting together my first model – the 25pdr Gun and Morris Quad tractor.
I didn’t know much about how and where it fought during the war, but something about it spoke to me, urging me to open up some funny smelling glue, find a sharp blade, and put it together. I don’t remember how long it took me to put together, but I do remember having a lot of fun doing it. Maybe it was the glue muddling my brain, but something about the activity just felt right.
I’d never been an active kid. Sure, I’d played in backyards and climbed the occasional tree, but becoming asthmatic at the age of five put a crimp on more strenuous activities. While other kids learned to play rugby and soccer, I learned how to construct the landing gear of a Spitfire, or assemble the turret of a Churchill tank. Not the most glamourous of activities, but it made me happy.
I was also an avid reader and spent a lot of time at my local library. Sure, some of that time was spend reading and rereading the Tintin and Asterix comics, but I also discovered many other titles. Terry Pratchett and Tolkien were both discovered in this way (the latter being a graphic novel version of The Hobbit). I also encountered Dungeons and Dragons for the first time. The library had an activity room out back where after school programs were held. One of the cupboards in the room held a collection of brightly coloured boxes with vivid images on their covers. Unlike the Airfix boxes, these were fantasy scenes. Barbarians and wizards doing battle with orcs and dragons. Recognising Tolkien’s influence in some of the artwork, I asked if we could try playing that instead of whatever maudlin busywork was prepared for us. The answer I received was a firm, unyeilding no. It would be another ten years before I got another chance to roleplay properly.
One thing the library did have that I could play where choose your adventure books, both from the Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf ranges. These became my new addiction. I was still gluing together models, and even starting to paint them too, but these books could be read late at night, or on car rides, or during class if the teacher wasn’t looking. I was properly hooked. It was also here that I started to refine my tastes a little. While the Fighting Fantasy range had a wider range of titles, they were almost all individual stories, very few of which carried on a continuing adventure. The Lone Wolf series, however, told the ongoing tale of a warrior monk, the last of his order, striving to defeat the forces of evil and restore peace to the land. After reading the first two books I knew I had to read the rest. While I didn’t read the books in order, I did my best to follow the adventures of Lone Wolf from his early adventures through to his rebuilding of his order to its former glory.
From here my interests expanded to other roleplaying games. The library had some copies of the 2nd Ed ADnD books. The Players Handbook, Monsters Manual, and Fiend Folio were my entry to the world of ‘proper’ roleplaying. They featured with fantastical art, lots of numbers that made very little sense, and the promise of more adventure that could be fitted into a single lifetime. I had no idea how the game was meant to be played, but I liked what I saw. It was around this time that I left primary school and started high school. I decided to track down some like-minded kids and see if I could get my foot in the door of roleplaying.
It didn’t take long to find some fellow gamers. By the end of our first day I’d made friends with people with similar interests to mine, though none had ever roleplayed. It was up to the older kids to get us our first game. Oddly enough, my first roleplaying game wasn’t DnD, but some weird horror game with a name I’d never seen before. Call of Cthulhu. I had not read any of H.P. Lovecraft’s work at this point, and had no idea what I was getting in for, but gave it a go anyway. I don’t remember a lot of detail about our first session, other than we played with pregenerated characters, and ended up getting sidetracked by trying to pull some immature hijinks that resulted in us getting eaten by some monster. (A common outcome for CoC games.)
We tried a few other games in that first year, most of which I don’t remember now. As the year wore on, however, we began to drift as the older kids started playing a different type of game, one that used metal miniatures you had to glue together and paint yourself. I was about to become a Warhammer 40k player, I just didn’t know it yet. One of the older kids had some of the rule books and showed us what it was about. Heavily armoured Space Marines with the old style beaked helmets, savage (yet slightly comical) Space Orks, slendar Space Elves, and the short biker dwarves known as Squats.
I was already familiar with the concept of miniature gaming from my experience with Airfix. I’d read a couple of books on recreating WWII battles using the 1/72 scale figures. They were more conceptual in nature than proper rule books, but it was enough to have some interesting battles, pitting the evil Germans against the valiant Allies. The Allies always won, of course, because that’s how it really happened. This new game was different, however. It took place in the future, a time that was yet to come. There were no predetermined winners or losers, it was up to the skill of the players (and the luck of the dice). The only downside was the cost.
Even back then the models were almost prohibitively expensive, especially for a young kid with no job. This meant my first purchases were more random than towards building a proper army. I was more likely to get what looked good than what worked together. In a way, this influenced my later gaming purchases, right up to today. I tend to flitter between different armies, especially when I see something that looks particularly appealing or inspiring. I’ve got boxes of models for armies I never finished, or even properly begun. In a way I’m still that boy, sitting in his room gluing together models because they look fun or interesting. There’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily. It’s just the sort of geek I am.
[This ended up being a lot longer than I had intended, so I'll leave part 2 till next time. It's 1.30 here, and getting some sleep would be a good idea.]