Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cities of Heroes

It's fun to get together with your friends and sit around a table to play role-playing games. For the uninitiated, a role-playing game (RPG) is like playing pretend, but with rules and dice-rolling to arbitrate the actions of the characters you're pretending to be. Instead of running around the yard like when you were a child you sit around a table, using a map and metal miniatures to show the relative position of your characters and the environment in which they interact. Most of the general public knows this as "Dungeons & Dragons," although there are hundreds of different games spanning dozens of genres that perform the same function: allowing one to express creativity and tell stories cooperatively. The bottom line is that it's fun. Don't knock it until you try it!

I had played RPGs informally in college, simply because time was at a premium and it was tough to match schedules with so much activity. I tried various games, like DC Heroes, Marvel Super Heroes, and even D&D. But after graduation, I joined a group that changed my life. My friend Scott had told me about the group he played with in South Bend, Indiana, and how they had been playing in a campaign (an episodic series of gaming sessions)together for a few years. I sat in with them once, but again, was too busy during college to dedicate the time for it. But after I graduated from college in 1987, Scott had a serious car accident and he needed someone to drive him to the game. And since I suddenly had the time, I jumped at the chance to join. And the rest, for me, is history.

We played at my friend Doug's house, in his dining room. The game was called
Champions, a popular superhero game that uses a point-based system to create your very own original superhero. I have always loved the superhero genre, and had made up my own superheroes for years. It was amazing how each player's character came to life. Week after week, we met on Sunday, shared pizza and pop, and developed complex characters that would put the best author to shame. Hundreds of game sessions flew by. We went to dinner and movies together, played disc golf, and cultivated true friendships. A few players left here and there, but the core group stayed intact for the next six years and we all stayed in touch. Finally, we found ourselves distracted by real life as players got married, began careers and moved away. The game ended in 1994.

Well, here we are in 2007 and thanks to the internet I still play with my friends. We now play on online game called
City of Heroes. We play on Wednesday nights and the more things change, the more they stay the same. Instead of sitting around a table in South Bend, we sit at our computers in our own homes, whether they are in Virginia, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Michigan, or Indiana. We still talk to each other, too. We use a computer program called Skype which provides voice communication over the internet. So, we play with headsets on, and carry on conversations covering just about every topic that we used to discuss, ranging from movies and music to politics and religion. It's just that now we also talk about children and taxes too. The computer resolves the action for us, which is more fair, but I sometimes miss rolling 12 or more dice and watching them scatter over the table.

Those of us who still live in the area remain good friends. Doug and I were each best man for each other's weddings. We both have kids now, which makes it tougher in some ways to go to movies together, but Doug's son Sean is a
born gamer. I'm just trying to figure out the best age for the kids to all get around a table together so they can start rolling dice and becoming real friends. And if they move away as adults, I'm sure technology will provide the means for them to remain close, as it has worked for my friends and me.

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