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A Gaming Carol

We have endeavored in this Ghostly little post, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put our readers out of humor with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with us. May it haunt their tables and consoles pleasantly, and no one wish to slay it.

Their faithful Friends and Servants,
N. S. D.
: Despite my painstaking labors in the study of chronomancy, the holiday season is again upon us, and, along with it, its attendant gremlins of stress, confusion, violent clashing over textual interpretations at both household and societal levels, and beverages that should, by no means, be alcoholic, but have nevertheless been made so. Luckily, these are all things we, as gamers, are quite used to dealing with. One story, though, seems to withstand cultural shifts, keeping its basic moral and message intact and universal through adaptation after adaptation, even in an era when media is quite comfortable preaching its exact opposite: Charles Dickens’ “Ghost Story of Christmas (In Prose)”: A Christmas Carol. (It’s a Wonderful Life, with its pro-working poor, pro-immigrant, anti-capitalist message is also particularly timeless, but there’s only one version of that, thank heavens.) And so, in the metaphorical Spirit of Dickens’s “Ghostly little book,” and the uncertainty the Omicron COVID variant has brought to our lives, we thought we would share what visits from the Ghosts of Gaming Past, Present, and Yet to Come might look like for each of us.

A: Scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of long long ago, indeed. As Bugsy mentioned, the Ghosts of Gaming Past haunt us today, and while there are bits we’d all like to forget, these ghosts are here to stay. The campaigns that ended too soon and gaming systems left unplayed. It can be hard to forget how those apparent failures made us into the GMs and players we are today. As far as glories go, it's hard to remember a time when tabletop gaming could happen weekly, sometimes even multiple times a week, for several hours. One glory, or ghost of gaming past, I’d like to bring back is group worldbuilding. While Bugsy and I are doing a bit for another project, worldbuilding at the gaming table with my group would be a fun project. Adapting a favorite movie, show, or game universe you all enjoy, but doesn’t already have an enjoyable system (or one that doesn't fit your needs), can really bring a group together. Long ago, some friends and I did this with the Masters of Orion, slotting them into the Star Wars gaming system. It's a fun project I really recommend to anyone interested in worldbuilding.
B: I picture the Ghost of Gaming Past leading me to a bookstore in a clean, well-lit mall, sometime in the late 1980s, some place like Waldenbooks that had both RPG titles and a small section for higer-brow computer games - the kind of place that, prior to COVID or even the 2008 recession, had long ceased to exist, superseded by larger, more specialized stores, big box chains, and internet distribution. The games came across as well-produced, slick possibility, shiny and new and corporate. It's a sheen that came off during the 1990s publishing glut and the growing awareness that many of the titles were, paradoxically, both too vague and too specific, trying to be all things to all players, but often too clunky and burdened with the inertia of supplements and add-ons to succeed at even their original intended purpose.

But Gaming Past, for me, was a time before that, when content was very much curated, but presented with gorgeous imagination and depth, when Atari box art suggested worlds infinitely beyond what the games themselves could present. It's a spirit still present today, of course, to one degree or another, but doesn't grip me and fill me with wonder the way those shrinkwrapped RPG books did as I pored over their breathless backcover descriptions below humming fluorescent lights deep within an edifice dedicated to the selling of dreams. Innocence was believing everything they told me, but the capacity for that, the willingness and need to believe, is something I never want to lose touch with, and something I actively try to reach in others through the stories I tell, the words I write, and, as Andy says, the worlds we can create together through the games we play.

: As far as gaming present for me, life has been busy away from the tabletop. Between health issues, a new job, and other projects, I don’t believe I’ve been the best Dungeon Master for my regular group lately. As we enter a new phase of our campaign, I hope a few weeks off will give me the time I need to catch up and be prepared to run better sessions in the future. While less-prepared sessions can still be fun, I prefer to give my players the best I can. That should be a reminder to all our readers out there to take time off from your games when you need it. Even electronic gaming has been a challenge with my schedule - I haven’t sat down at a console since the middle of August! Fortunately, some downtime with one of my kids led to some time spent with the PS4 and our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

B: While the Ghost of Christmas Present showed Ebeneezer Scrooge the hustle and bustle of the world he had been ignoring, I fear my own Ghost of Gaming Present would show a far more solitary and static existence, but, I hope, a thoughtful one. Aside from taking part in a one-shot during Virtual Balticon and a short Star Wars game run by Andy, I have yet to adapt to the requirements of tabletop roleplaying in the pandemic age. But, as readers of the blog will doubtless be aware, I have taken a dedicated approach to tackling my massive backlog of electronic games, and, thanks to Never Say Dice giving me an outlet in which to share my explorations, engaging with the narratives and ideas they contain. This is the form gaming takes for me now, and, while I long to return to play with other humans, it's something I embrace. I have made it my own in a way my younger, naive self might not have understood, but I hope the joy I find is something we both would share.

A: What will the future hold for my gaming and for Never Say Dice? I’ve already mentioned a few wishes for my own gaming future, but only the spirits know for sure which will come true and which will find their lonely graves in a foggy cemetery. As for Never Say Dice, Bugsy and I have a number of things in the works. If you haven’t seen the news on social media, we’re working with Big Dice Games on a Risus project. We also have a few other projects in the works as well as a hundredth post coming up very soon! It should be an exciting year for the blog, and I hope you all enjoy returning week after week for our posts.
: In the original Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come showed Scrooge a dark future in which never changed his ways and died friendless and alone, and, while our Gaming Ghosts may not be as dramatic, the sentiment should at least be acknowledged. For me, then, the potential tragedy would be my games forgotten, left to collect dust or even given away or sold off - trifles for which I could never make time or allow myself to prioritize. It's a thought that fills me with a dread no doubt approaching that of Scrooge as he read the name engraved on his tombstone - this is a part of me that I like and want to keep enjoying, but is also likely to be pushed aside in favor of more "productive" adult activities. It's all too easy to say "I'll get to that at some point" for years on end until you've completely lost touch what what drew you to something in the first place, and the loss of all that potential fun, joy, and fulfillment is a terrifying one.
This stark image will, hopefully, affect me the way it affected Ebeneezer Scrooge, reminding me that is is only the "shadow of what might be." That it is important to make time for these things, even when it's only a little and even as the world ramps up it its stresses and obligations. That I should keep seeking novelty and newness, learning about new games and new ways to game, to keep my eager past self excited and full of wonder. And that I should keep finding new ways to talk about them with your, our dear readers. It may not be as visceral as running through the streets of London in a nightgown, but, with a little luck, it will be just as freeing.

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