That ’80s Game

So Google+ had some kind of ’90s meme that started, and thinking back on all of this stuff made me realize that 30 years ago this year I entered high school. While the ’90s were my golden age of coming into my own (and not remembering most of it), the ’80s were for me every bit the formative period depicted in The Goldbergs.

The ’90s: Dazed and confused doesn’t even scratch the surface

Being born in 1970, my biological decades are perfectly bracketed by the calendar. For me, the ’80s wasn’t just about puberty and awkwardness and discovering music that to this day I insist is the pinnacle of human artistic achievement. It was a complete transformative period.

From a very early age, I was fascinated by mechanics and game play. When I was a lot younger, I used to make my own board games. When coin op arcade machines hit and became all the rage, like most kids I used to save up quarters (i.e., tip over my dad’s recliner to claim the change that had fallen out of his pockets) and hit the Stop ‘n Go every morning before school and the pizza place after. A lot of companies started publishing cheap little guidebooks for various games. I’d actually take the maps and diagrams from those books, grab some markers, poster board, and construction paper, and make board game versions of the arcade games.

So at the beginning of the 1980s when I started playing Basic D&D it launched a parabolic arc of gaming experiences peaking in and just after high school. I quickly branched out to Star Frontiers and Gamma World, followed by Traveller, then Chill, Star Ace, Call of Cthulhu, Elfquest, Runequest, James Bond, Top Secret, MERP, Villains and Vigilantes, you name it. These experiences led to some interesting contrasts. I played Mekton, but not Battletech. I played Cyberpunk, but not Shadowrun. I played GURPS, but not Champions. By the time I graduated high school in 1988 I was already buying games that I read but never had time to play.

I also started to go to conventions when I was 15 or 16 – at first supervised day trips, but once my dad realized that there was little chance of me getting in any serious trouble I was arranging to go for the entire weekend with a group of friends. I learned a ton about financial planning, budgeting, and overall restraint from going to those cons. At least once, by the last day of the con we had eaten all of the food we brought, spent our last cent, and were forced to eat pickles from the condiment bar and drink tiny cups of water while waiting for my dad to come pick us up

By the beginning of the ’90s, I had started to slow down quite a bit. I was clubbing, going to shows, having overly complicated and dramatic relationships, hanging out in coffee houses philosophizing and smoking too much. I still bought games and read them, but in greatly reduced volume. My gaming settled around a few mainstays: CP2020, Mekton II (and then Zeta), the occasional game of V:tM. I started adapting and reusing rules a lot more. Interlock with parts of Dream Park grafted on for fantasy games, for example. But with BBSes starting to connect to USENet, along with the first presences of dedicated gaming forums on AOL and CompuServe, I was able tap into the wider gaming world and absorb more information on trends in rpgs, rules, theories, etc. But all of that had been built on a foundation that I laid down in the ’80s.

So, while the ’90s were a pretty cool time (my sons were born in the ’90s), the ’80s were definitely more my time, in terms of diversifying my gaming and personal growth.

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