August 9, 2000
AM: First memorable
T-shirt: "Your Village Called — Their Idiot Is Missing"
PM: GenCon —
my fourth gaming convention since July 1. I can't believe how
much I've learned about the gaming community from these weekly
gatherings. I've come to know intimately the
miniatures, the fairy wings, and the tireless, sweaty,
rhythmic intensity of unplugged gaming.
We've been booked in a hotel that
is a 20-minute drive from the convention center in order to avoid
the strong magnetic rays that emanate from downtown Milwaukee
in the pre-dawn hours. At least that's what my co-workers say
when their lips aren't moving.
I brought along NetRunner
and Illuminati: New World
Order in case we come back to the hotel after work
this week, and in case we aren't distracted by "G-String
Divas" on HBO [Note:
Four days after arriving, the cards went unused. But my,
my, my, those strippers really do have complicated personalities!].
I'm sharing a room with Terence,
our PC editor. I'm not used to sharing space like this:
My girlfriend and I host a lot of houseguests, and when
they're in my house, I feel perfectly fine prancing about in my
underwear, acting the fool. But with my esteemed colleague I think
I'll have to act more respectable … when I'm cavorting about in
Thursday August 10, 2000
Allan and I were able to take Gary
Gygax to lunch. Gygax is the faceman for the
first edition of Dungeons & Dragons. With help
from some friends, he established contemporary roleplaying in
the ‘70s. He smoked unfiltered Camel cigarettes nearly without
pause. He expressed a healthy libido. He's a lifelong libertarian.
He was gracious about the corporation and body of men now reconstituting
his game for world consumption.
Allan asked Gygax how Allan might encourage his young daughter
to take up role-playing games. Gygax said, "Well, it's simple,
let's play 'let's pretend.’" And he proceeded to illustrate
how he would explain the games to a child: "Who do you want
to be? How about an Arabian prince, traveling through the desert?
You come across an evil djinni. What do you do? If you want to
attack, we'll roll this six-sided die — 1 through 3, you hit the
djinni, 4 through 6, you don't." It was a perfect insight
into the soul of role-playing games.
PM: Today I am
able to briefly enjoy the company of the business development
guys that Gamers.com have sent on this trip. Taylor and Hardy
were sent to make deals with game makers — advertising partnerships.
Out of the thousands of gamers in the GenCon convention hall,
Taylor was one of two attendees with short, gelled-up hair and
a polo shirt. He recounted some of his GenCon adventures to me:
Walking up to a game publisher's booth, he asks, "Can
I talk to your marketing person?" Their reply is usually "Huh?"
It's funny to think of preppy, hygienic Taylor fishing for business
amidst the sword-bearing, unwashed gamers. They care more for
twenty-sided die than they do for R.O.I.
PM: Tonight after
the convention, Taylor Hardy and I went swimming. They’re smokers,
but they were still hell-bent on proving their lung capacity by
holding their breath while swimming laps underwater. When Taylor
came up the last time, gasping for air, I was surrounded by a
very thick stale tobacco smell. Yum!
Later we were in a hot tub
with two ladies, one from Pennsylvania and one from Idaho. I had
my glasses off so I was squinting hard at them while Taylor and
Hardy made conversation. The youngest woman said she thought Milwaukee
was nice, to which Taylor responded, "Yeah, but you're from
The ladies were in town to learn finance software
for administrating loans. We were in town to hang out at a gaming
convention. And here we were thrown together in this hot tub of
fate. The moment overwhelmed us. They stepped out to go to the
pool, and we three returned to our cohort upstairs. But between
us, forever, there remained inescapable feelings, a universe of
unexplored possibilities in those swirling warm waters.
August 11, 2000
I really enjoy the Neo
Geo Pocket Color. It's a great portable electronic
gaming device. There are some wonderful games made for it. My
favorite so far has been Card
Fighter's Clash. So when I read in the GenCon program
that there was a CardFighter's Clash tournament, I signed up.
Considering the Neo Geo Pocket Color was recently pulled from
the American market, this may be the first and last official CardFighter's
Clash tournament. This was my one chance to seize the title "Milwaukee's
Best — GenCon 2000 CardFighter's Clash Winner."
arrived in the ballroom where the tournament was held. Thousands
of gamers crowded around us. There was a deafening din of cards
and conversations, as people readied for their own games. I had
six supporters with me, my Gamers.com co-workers. Tim, the man
who sponsored the event, emerged from the crowd with his black
briefcase. Inside was the prize, a Bust
a Move Pocket. There was some confusion as my opponent
took some time to materialize. Finally, I met my match, cloaked
in the blue raiment of Wizards of the Coast, Shawn Smith. His
playful, dyed blond locks belied the steely demeanor of his bespectacled
eyes. As thousands of gamers milled about, we discovered that
we were the only two people with enough guts to register for the
CardFighter's Clash tournament. It would be just me and Shawn,
settling our own unspoken score. Thousands of other gamers, overwhelmed
by the intensity of the event, persevered grudgingly with their
own card games, pretending not to pay attention to the impending
clash of the titans in the center of the room.
were each handed our rules, limits on our deck configuration.
I picked my best cards and met Shawn in battle. After twenty minutes,
it was settled. It had been a close game, but he utterly slaughtered
me. I never even damaged him in the first game, and in the second
game I did some patently stupid stuff. I felt pretty bad about
losing, because I had wanted to win so badly. I was consoled by
the realization that I had at least balanced out the Gamers.com
legacy: we've had gaming champions working for us before — even
company’s founder was the best in the world at Quake.
I, however, was honored
to be able to bring to the company a humane loser's perspective.
August 12, 2000
PM: Besides the
miles of gaming and reassuring familiarity of the unplugged scene,
I was excited to visit Milwaukee to sample the sausage. My friends
the Steuers have for years imported Usinger's,
the bratwurst of their Milwaukee home, to the Bay Area, so that
North Californians might experience the pleasure of eating those
thick, white meat logs. How badly did I want it? Well, I made
no effort to find an appropriate brat restaurant for this trip.
But I still allowed my desire to delude my senses, and I may have
been turned away from meat stuffed in intestines for weeks to
the last night in Milwaukee, we were eating at the Polaris, a
revolving restaurant on top of the Hyatt. There was something
called weinershnitzel on the menu. My co-workers and I agreed
that it sounded like sausage. Brian ordered it, and I ordered
it too. Before I finalized my selection, I confirmed with our
waiter, "What is this weinershnitzel exactly?" "Berneweh,"
he answered. "Ahh. What?" "Bernudah." Not
wanting to push the conversational “what” limit and confident
that I was going to get what I wanted, I ordered weinershnitzel
with a side order of sauerkraut.
after the restaurant had revolved us from the Milwaukee waterfront
to a view of the local technical college, the waiter returned
to our table with a pounded flat piece of mystery meat breaded
and baked. I was so disappointed that I considered roleplaying
as a disgruntled customer with a Strength of 18, a Wisdom of two,
and a Charisma of one.
Later to digest our dinners, and before retiring from our
last night at the conference, we decided to pay one last visit
to the heart of the gaming at GenCon. The U.S. Cellular Stadium
had been turned into the role-playing equivalent of a LAN party:
hundreds of gamers perched themselves on the arena floor, gaming
into the next day. Walking amidst them, I began to hear the call:
rolling dice, pouring through books, looking for obscure rules,
trying to outwit the gamemaster. "Take me away, my friends,"
I gestured to Serdar, Allan, and Brian, "I'm coming dangerously
close to roleplaying." And so we wandered out into the midnight
Milwaukee night. I left behind a group of imaginative storytellers
engaged in social play for another night alone with my computer.
Some day I'll be worthy.