Some gamers mistakenly think that "edition wars" and "badwrongfun" are somehow unique to these modern times, but I'm here to tell you that's just not the case. Pretty much from the moment I entered the hobby, I learned that, even among gamers, there were "guys like us" and "weirdos." Weirdos were the ones who played games we didn't play and that no one we knew played or, if we did know them, we knew them to be somehow mentally and/or morally deficient and thus exactly the sort of sub-human who'd play "those games."
What were "those games?" As I said, they were any game we didn't play, but three in particular stick out in my mind:
- Chivalry & Sorcery: Playing C&S probably only counted as a venial sin, because most of us back then had succumbed to the temptation to try and make D&D "more realistic" or at least "truer to medieval history," whatever that meant. C&S -- or so we were told, as none of us ever actually played the game -- was a game for real geeks, the kinds of people even my friends and I would shun. They were the pocket protector and taped-up glasses crowd, as opposed to the "normal" guys we all perceived ourselves to be. Thanks to one of my readers, Richard, I've finally got my hands on a copy of C&S and will be reading it with great enthusiasm. My first impression, based only on a cursory scan of it, is that my old prejudice, while perhaps overly judgmental, wasn't that far off. C&S does appear to be too complicated by half, but then I didn't expect anything less from the company that brought us Space Opera.
- RuneQuest: Even my friend's metalhead brother thought RQ was too trippy. What I remember most were his rants about how it had anthropomorphic ducks -- "How can you take that seriously?" he would ask -- and that "everyone can use magic." I never actually played the game for any length of time myself until the star-crossed days when Avalon Hill published its third edition, but I remember reading about it in White Dwarf, which seemed obsessed with it. RQ gamers were generally considered "hippies" who had "done too many drugs" and so we didn't have anything to do with them. When I finally did play the game for myself, I found it hard to fathom what all the fuss was about back in those early days.
- Tunnels & Trolls: T&T was the game for guys who "couldn't hack D&D." It was widely considered a "joke game" and even more ludicrous than ones with duck men in it. I did get a chance to play T&T at the time and I'll admit that I hated it. Even now, I still bristle at the spell names and the tongue in cheek way a lot of it is presented. I have a greater appreciation fo some of its rules and presentation, but it's definitely not a game for me. I'm not sure it's a "joke," but it's nevertheless much more "jokey" than I like my RPGs to be.
There's a rich irony there, given that gaming, even in its heyday, was never cool or treated with the same respect as being a good athlete or good student was (it's worth noting too that not every gamer I knew was a genius; many of them were downright dim academically). But dividing our fellow gamers up and putting them into categories we could exclude just seemed to be the natural thing to do. It's something that's unfortunately stuck with me all these years and, though I try to fight against it, the old prejudices do bubble up to the surface from time to time.
Now, I'm not advocating the notion that games, being mere entertainments, automatically defy meaningful criticism or that we ought to like them all without qualification, out of misplaced solidarity -- the "we're all gamers here" syndrome. As I stated above, I still think Tunnels & Trolls is more than a little silly and thus not worth my time and could argue at some length in defense of my opinion. That's not the same thing as saying that everyone ought to feel the same way about it or any other game. What I do advocate is reasoned discussion about the relative merits of many games, because I think such is possible. It's also the reason why I don't bow to the notion that "old school" is a phrase empty of meaning. Simply because there is disagreement about its meaning doesn't prove that it has no meaning. To my mind, it only proves that we need to discuss the phrase more in order to refine its meaning, but then that's my way with most things.
In any case, reflecting on my past prejudices is a valuable exercise and highlights some of my blind spots and misapprehensions. Not every negative opinion I have of certain games is based purely on prejudice, but some of them are and I'm working on overcoming those that are. I can't make any promise that I'll succeed in my efforts, but do know that I am working hard at it, which is really all I can do.