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Industry Insights: Commentary from the Industry

Interesting Times

by Greg Stolze
September 21, 2001  
You've heard the one about the Chinese curse, right? "May you live in interesting times"? I heard that one years ago and, after some thought, I got it. Clever. I snickered a little.

Now, I don't just get it. I'm living it. These are interesting times and I hate them. I want to go back to ordinary times, like we had on Monday the 10th.

About three years ago, I wrote a scenario for Unknown Armies. It's called "Fly to Heaven" and the basic premise is that two men seize a plane and try to fly it into the Sears Tower.

It got published in an anthology called "One Shots" and I didn't think about it all that much until Tuesday the 11th.

I saw the whole thing on TV. Usually I don't watch TV news in the morning, but my wife does. She was home from work because she had an appointment with her obstetrician that morning. (She's due to give birth to our first child in about two weeks.)

One minute, Good Morning America was doing a puff piece about how hard it is to commute in NYC. The next minute, they were talking about how the World Trade Center was on fire. "We're getting reports that a small plane may have crashed into it!" They had their cameras focused on it, live, when the second plane smashed into the second tower. I remember, vividly, that the newscasters were just as shocked and surprised as we were.

On Friday, I'm going to write 2500 words for White Wolf. Normally, this is fine. But this isn't going to be an ordinary Friday.

I still have to do that work. It's my job, I signed a contract and, when the baby comes, I'm going to quit my day job, mind the infant, and write at home. Creating gaudy fictions about ghosts and vampires will pay for my child's diapers and strained carrots.

This Friday, I think it's going to be hard. I think there's going to be some part of me that says "The world is falling apart and what are you doing? You're making up stories about more violence and more horror in a world that's already stuffed to the brim!"

This current crisis makes it very hard to enjoy American culture -- the culture that gave us cheeseburgers, "Star Wars" and, yes, roleplaying games. It makes it easy to feel fat, incompetent, puerile and useless.

I'm not curing cancer. I'm not saving lives. I'm not selflessly spending my life volunteering in the Peace Corps or working at a battered women's shelter.

I'm not doing that, and neither are most people in America. Most Americans are -- or were -- more concerned with sports, movie stars, music. "News-lite" pieces about the difficulties of commuting were just about our speed. We're not like firemen, or cops, or emergency medical technicians. I'm guessing that most of you gamers reading this aren't either. In a crisis, it's very easy to hate yourself for not being a lifesaver. It's even easier to hate yourself if your hobby involves pretending to be one.

(Every time I've run "Fly to Heaven," the heroic PCs have overpowered the hijackers and saved the day.)

On the other hand, when was the last time you got up in the morning and said "Wow, I hope the cops have to come to my house today"?

I'm not demeaning cops. I'd hate that job. I would hate any job that basically boils down to dealing with people at their worst. And if you're a cop, or a soldier, or an FBI agent, that's what you do: You deal with people who are angry and defensive and making trouble. Or if you're a rescue worker, a doctor or an EMT, you deal with people who are in danger and terrible pain.

These jobs are absolutely necessary, as the attacks in New York and Washington have amply shown. But... here it comes, my slim and meager reason for continuing to write game stuff as the planes crash and bombs detonate...

There's more to life than what is absolutely necessary.

Would you want to live in a desperate place where all of everybody's time is devoted to crisis relief? A place with no musicians, no novelists and no one making ice cream?

Maybe I'm premature, but I'm guessing that the people who did this came from somewhere very much like that. Some place that's always "interesting."

Lots of us stopped gaming. Gaming is all about pretend excitement, pretend danger, pretend horror. In ordinary times, it's fun to imagine such things, because danger and horror and risked lives are things that are much better to contemplate than experience.

When things calm down -- when the prospect of actual violence recedes -- when we can once again say the word "terrorist" without that sickening crunch of immediacy -- when things get back to normal... well, maybe then we'll feel like gaming again.

Maybe things will get worse before that happens. Maybe the situation will degenerate to the point that they're drafting underweight, nearsighted writers. I hope things won't get that bad. I hope we've seen the worst of it, but I don't know.

I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know what to think or what to do. In a crisis, I guess that's pretty normal. So on Friday I'm going to go donate blood, take a load of clothes and school supplies to the homeless shelter, and write my 2500 words for White Wolf. I'm doing what I do because I believe that some day, it's going to be ordinary time again.

More than that, I've come to believe that ordinary time is, in very important ways, better. I believe that the American culture in which I lived -- with all its silliness, its overindulgence, its corniness and hype and saturated fat -- is better. Even at its worst, its most dumbed-down, its lamest, it was better than constant fear and anger. Even at its worst, it didn't producing legions willing to kill and die. I want to go back to that culture, which I didn't cherish until I lost it. I want my child to grow up with that being normal.

I do not think I can ever run "Fly to Heaven" again. TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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All Industry Insights

  • Gareth-Michael Skarka interviews China Mieville, April 24, 2002
  • lizard's Condensation of All Game Fiction, April 18, 2002
  • Sandy's "God or Whore?" GTS'02, March 26, 2002
  • Allan Sugarbaker with GAMA Trade Show '02: An Inside Report, March 22, 2002
  • Aldo of Impressions on the GamePlay CD, January 3, 2002
  • Gareth-Michael Skarka interviews Ken Hite, February 8, 2002
  • Gareth-Michael Skarka interviews Tim Powers, January 18, 2002
  • Aldo Ghoizzi on Inside the Making of GamePlay, January 3, 2002
  • The RPGnet Awards Cabal presents the RPGnet 2001 Awards Results!, December 5, 2001
  • Ken Whitman teaches us with A Note About Creating a Good Promotional Campaign, October 12, 2001
  • Sean Jaffe on The Fallout, September 27, 2001 [about 9/11]
  • Sean Jaffe on Interesting Times, September 21, 2001 [about 9/11]
  • GodLike: Dennis Detwiler and Greg Stolze, September 14, 2001
  • Jared Nielsen on Tribe Gamer, August 31, 2001
  • Mark Bruno teaches about Copy Editing, August 16, 2001
  • Ratings not just kid's stuff for RPG industry, reported by Matt Snyder, August 9, 2001
  • GenCon '01 News, reported by Matt Snyder, August 3, 2001
  • Origins Report: Would you send your mother to buy from them?, part 4 of 4
  • Origins Report: Booth Babes, part 3 of 4
  • Origins Report: Overview, part 2 of 4
  • The Origins Awards, part 1 of 4, reported by Jason Paul McCartan
  • Gary Gygax Interview, part 1 of 3, by Scott Lynch
  • Why I Write Gaming Materials by Greg Stolze, November 16, 1999
  • Blowing out the Nostalgia Candle by John Wick, October 19, 1999
  • Interview with Sean Pat Fannon, Shards October 5, 1999
  • Portuguese is not Spanish! by Thad Blanchette, September 14, 1999
  • Intuition and Surprise by M. J. Young, July 27, 1999
  • Fear and Loathing in the Wizards of the Coast Game Center by John Tynes, January 26, 1999
  • Breaking In,, on how to break into writing for RPGs, by Steve Kenson, December 22, 1998
  • ALT.RPG, first of a series looking deeply at what gaming is all about, by Matt Miller, September 1, 1998
  • The Night They Tore Old Mecca Down, GenCon report by Randy Porter, August 20, 1998
  • GenCon Fun: con, city, and even housing tips from Randy Porter, June 30, 1998
  • GenCon Lore Vol 3: Program Books, update on GenCon 98 attendance, by Randy Porter, June 23, 1998
  • The Missing and the Dead, update on GenCon 98 attendance, by Randy Porter, June 2, 1998
  • The Definitive Count on who is and isn't attending GenCon 98, by Randy Porter, April 28, 1998
  • How to Scam Games Part II by Steve Johnson, March 24, 1998
  • The Perils of Penniless Publishing by Aaron Rosenberg, February 3, 1998
  • Polyhedral Dice & Mirror Shades, by Greg Costikyan (or, the death of paper).
  • Ken Whitman: A Love Hate Relationship by (of course) Ken Whitman
  • Interview with Sean Punch, GURPS line editor, by Bob Portnell, October 1997
  • YOU DID WHAT? Perspectives On Becoming A Full-Time Writer In The RPG Industry, by Steven Long, September 1997
  • A Resurgence of Role Playing, by Gary Gygax, August 1997

    Other columns at RPGnet

    TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg