These Are My Dice. There Are Many Like Them, But These Ones Are Mine.

It was the summer of 1990. I was at "camp," which wasn't Camp Winnepesaukah or some other thing with a made-up vaguely Indian-sounding name where you went to the mountains to paddle canoes and make hideously ugly hand-tooled leather wallets for two weeks. It was the sort of thing where GATE-type kids like me went to the University of Northern Colorado dorms and played improv games and made hideously ugly Hypercard stacks for two weeks. The great thing about this camp is that it was just swimming in nerds. Nerds just like me.

One of these nerds had with him the Marvel Super Heroes role-playing game. I had a set just like it at home, but I had never found enough people to play with me to make the game any good. I also had a Star Wars role-playing game with which I'd encountered the same difficulty. I'd bugged my brother enough to let me play some Middle-Earth Role Playing with him and his friends previously, but like any group of junior high kids saddled with an annoying younger brother, they got rid of me as quickly as possible. But here was a fellow nerd, with a game I desperately wanted to play, actually asking me to join his group. I readily agreed, and during that first session, I even got to play Wolverine. What nerdy seventh-grader wouldn't want to be Wolverine? For several evenings over the next two weeks in a quiet-study room at James A. Michener Library, Wolverine, Spider-man, Captain America and the Silver Surfer battled the nefarious machinations of Dr. Doom and his minions. Later on, one of the counselors also got a Star Frontiers campaign going. I was in nerd heaven.

The next year, I brought my Star Wars game along when I went to camp, and led a group of heroic Rebel soldiers in a campaign to rescue an important scientist (whose name, in a titanic feat of uncreativity, turned out to be "Dr. Pepper") from the clutches of the evil Empire. I was hooked. I played a ton of the late, lamented West End Games D6 Star Wars all through junior high and had a blast doing it, even though several of my friends tried way, way too hard to be Luke Skywalker (giving themselves names like "Jeff Windrider"), no matter how I tried to dissuade them from it.

In high school, I got into theater and forensics and had to seriously devote myself to shirking my homework, so I didn't have much time for gaming. A few years later, I got back into it in a big way. One of my roommates had a huge stack of old Iron Crown Middle-Earth RPG books, just like the ones my brother and his friends had used years before. We got a game going, and it turned out to be every bit as much fun as I remembered it being.

I think it is nothing less than a tragedy that adults are expected to suppress their imaginations and never venture into the realm of make-believe. When we're kids, we spend a tremendous portion of our time in fantasy worlds. Playground jungle gyms become castles to be defended or besieged. Swings become jet fighters or spaceships. Anything is possible as a child - you can go around telling people that you're Batman or a knight or a cowboy or anything else and no one bats an eye. Grownups are supposed to be "above" that. But why?

I'll readily admit, I get an enormous kick out of getting together with some friends and spending a few hours pretending to be a Jedi Knight, a superhero, a barbarian warrior, a wizard, or whatever else I can imagine. It's play. You remember play, don't you? Fun, merriment, that sort of thing? It's something we're apparently supposed to grow out of, but for the life of me I can't figure out why.

Here's what I really don't get. When my friends and I play Dungeons and Dragons, that makes us nerds of the highest order. People can't understand why grown men (and women) could possibly want to do something like that. But when a bunch of guys "draft" football players, obsess more than usual about "their" players' statistics, and in general spend months at a time pretending to own and run a football team, this is considered normal adult behavior. And what's the difference? None at all. Well, that's not true. Fantasy football is, at its core, about watching other people do something. Role-playing games are ultimately about personal imagination and creativity. But other than that, I defy anyone out there to really explain to me why fantasy football (which I do enjoy) is any different than D&D. How is the former a valid adult activity and the latter something infantile and silly that people waste their time with?

I loved playing at being Wolverine when I was 12. I don't think anything's really changed. It's still absorbing and entertaining to put myself in the place of a larger-than-life figure whose life is full of action and danger, who can't be hurt, who always has a cool, witty response to every smartass out there. What's not to love?

Best of all, now that I'm an adult, the gaming sessions involve beer instead of soda. The new edition of the Star Wars RPG is coming out next month. I may have to see if my friends are interested in tracking down that noted Rebellion scientist, Samuel Adams...