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Critical Hits


by Dave Smith
Jan 06,2004



I didn't plan on using a collection of hazy memories as the basis of my second novel, but about a year and a half ago, I sat down at my computer and began doing so. My first book, Axis Mundi Sum, hadn't had any particular unifying element to it, but this new book would. Like most fiction, there was reality at the heart of the new book, and that reality consisted of a gaming store I'd occasionally visited several years earlier. The store, which I'd renamed Critical Hits for writing purposes, would be the aforementioned unifying element.

About five years ago, I started my sophomore year of college at a new school, Sam Houston State University. My roommate moved out less than halfway through the first semester, leaving me alone in a two-person room, which was fine by me, except for my utter lack of friends. Under these circumstances, I found myself not doing much except reading and, on weekends, going home to Spring hang out with my dad. It was there that I found Frontier Games, which would later become the model for Critical Hits.

Frontier was an ideal gaming store. It sold only games, which was a nice change from the comics-and-games model. I have nothing against comics by any stretch of the imagination, but let's face it, there aren't enough gaming-specific stores out there. It was clean, well-lit, and well-stocked. Most importantly, the people that worked there were neither the tattooed subcultural trolls I was used to seeing at another local store, nor were they dour middle-aged men who preferred their comics in bags.

I remembered Blake, the owner of Frontier Games, from another store I'd visited years before. Gamesmasters had been nowhere near our house, but my brother and I had cajoled my parents into taking us out there on occasion, usually to play Man O' War against grognards three or four times our age. A friend of mine who also frequented Frontier told me that Blake had called it a day at Gamesmasters and decided to set up shop in my neck of the woods; why he'd chosen this location, I didn't know, but I wasn't going to argue with the fact that a pretty nice guy was selling games down the street.

To be completely honest, I didn't visit Frontier often. The absence of anyone to game with made the purchase of role-playing material somewhat pointless, although I occasionally ignored said pointlessness and bought stuff for the hell of it. I do remember Blake being friendly to me, and just about everyone else, including my buddy Brad. In fact, he invited Brad to his Halloween party that fall, and Brad invited me. This was a turning point in my attitude towards Blake and Frontier: here was a guy who didn't mind a virtual stranger showing up at his house to playing Guillotine and shoot the breeze with his family and the other guests, most of whom I believe were also customers.

It was that gesture of humanity that burnt Frontier Games into my mind, more than any visit I ever paid to the place. When a man has nothing to do with anyone around him five days out of seven, appreciation of legitimate human contact increases exponentially; that Halloween party was, by just about any standards, definitively legitimate human contact. Because he'd shown me hospitality despite barely knowing who I was, I'd never forget Blake. He'd gone above and beyond his duties as a retailer, something I've never seen anyone else do, not even my own employers.

Either the next year, or maybe the one after that, Frontier Games closed. Again, I didn't know exactly why, but the story went that Blake had gotten burned out. At least he hadn't gone down in fiscal flames. I hadn't been to the store in a long while, but I was sad to see it go. I have no idea what Blake's up to these days, but I wish him and his family the best.

As I stated at the beginning of this piece, I turned my hazy memories of Frontier Games into a concrete centerpiece for the novel I'm currently writing. And hazy they are; I can only honestly recall buying a copy of Noir at Frontier, briefly speaking to Blake and his wife a few times, and attending his Halloween shindig, where I remember him talking about Over the Edge and Naked Lunch. The fleeting nature of those memories is a good thing, though; as Kierkegaard says, to "live in recollection is the most perfect life imaginable"- especially when you can turn it into something to write about.

That's it for now. Take it easy, folks.

D.A. Smith

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