Monday, July 29, 2013

I Was A Geek At Heart

My very first RPG purchase, when
TSR was the entire gaming universe.
I attended my first convention in July of 1986. I was a month shy of my fifteenth birthday, and didn't quite know what to expect when my cousins brought me down from the SF Bay Area to Los Angeles for this strange event.

Not yet a year in the U.S., still unaccustomed to the local slang and patois (though I could speak English quite well -- it was Math that gave me difficulty), and not yet aware that trusting complete strangers could be a dangerous thing -- I attended the Origins Game Fair with my cousins.

My geek cred could have been considered quirky at best and laughable at worst.

I had read the entire Lord of the Rings series of books, had enjoyed The Hobbit, and had been stymied by The Silmarillion. Dune was not a mystery to me, nor were some of the other works of Herbert (like Hellstrom's Hive and The White Plague). But due to the ordering policies of Philippine bookstore chains, there were gaps in my collections -- there were nagging holes in my Eternal Champions books by Moorcock, and I'd never been able to the existence some of the books listed in the D&D Appendix N acknowledged in the school libraries that I'd scoured. Authors were just names to me, their histories limited to the short bibliographies found on their hardcover dust jackets or just before / after their short stories in SF/Fantasy anthologies.

You don't think B.J. and the Bear was
Science Fiction or Fantasy? Maybe
it was horror.
Exposure to Fantasy & SF via TV was even more challenged. Growing up, everyone in Grade School watched the same thing at night or on weekends, because there was usually only one channel showing anything worthwhile to growing kids at any given time. And what a mix of shows we got. We knew Space: 1999, Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rodgers as well as we knew B.J. and the Bear. We watched The A-Team and Sealab 2020 and The Herculoids and Knight Rider. On Sundays, we'd try to sneak in the shows my grandfather watched: The Wild Wild West, Star Trek, Green Hornet. We also got a healthy dose of Japanese animation, and -- amid a slew of U.S. detective shows and sitcoms -- managed to sneak in rare episodes of Sapphire & Steel (which we didn't even know were rare) when the parents were away and unable to enforce our slumber curfews.

Movies were delayed, but we soaked them up in the movie houses and via BetaMax. That's right, BetaMax was the go-to standard in the Philippines when I was growing up. By the time I was in Los Angeles, I was familiar with Star Wars, based on the movies and the toys and the occasional compilation of Marvel Comics hardcover annuals that came to the Philippines by way of the U.K. I knew Mad Max and The Road Warrior from the BetaMax rental stores (apprently, outright piracy) that were everywhere at the time. Yes, even the Star Wars Christmas Special was well known to us, because of these stores.

My gaming exposure came from the two local hobby shops, which also sold toys and games and models (cars, planes, tanks) to growing boys and girls. And one out-of-the-way hobby store that was more focused on martial arts gear, I think. They never had the main rulebooks (when I went there -- I had to get those from the bookstores, when they finally started carrying the rulesets), but it had D&D modules and other TSR stuff like Top Secret and Star Frontiers. No Champions or Traveller.

It was with that rough mindset that I attended Origins, and was blown away. Thousands of people interested in the same weird things that I liked. A huge selection of SF/Fantasy/Horror paraphernalia in the Dealer's Room. A panel discussion where George Takei spoke about his experiences in acting, and promoted Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. RPGs and modules made by TSR, and RPGs and modules made by non-TSR companies!

He was dressed kinda like this guy, but older.
I was so aware of the gaps in my knowledge when walking around -- I remember asking who a guy dressed in a very long, multi-colored scarf was supposed to be... and why someone greeted him as a doctor. References to Silent Running and Darkstar eluded me, but I was able to offer plot and character answers to discussions with absolute strangers about Planet of the Apes, Conan the Barbarian, Westworld and Soylent Green.

My memories, possibly softened by nostalgia and definitely blurred by time, tell me that people were generally eager to share their knowledge about their respective fandoms. I felt like I could admit absolute ignorance about certain things, indicate interest, and I would be enlightened by people happy to add a potential fan to their ranks. I can remember vague surprise at my ignorance in some areas, despite my knowledge of other things, and helpful people pointing my this way and that way to find out more. I can remember no negative memories, similar to the ribbing that I got later in High School for not being a jock or for excelling in academics or for not being part of the cool crowd.

By standards of the time & certainly by modern standards, I may not have been a true geek. But I was a geek at heart, and was happy I was welcomed into their ranks at that time. This is why it saddens me immensely when I hear about excluding people who are deemed to be Fake Geeks (male or female).

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