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Friday, June 20, 2003

Harry Potter, D&D and me.

I haven't read the books. I'm curious, but Heather looks at me with a cocked eyebrow every time I mention a serious book purchase. As she has accurately noted, Stately Price Manor 'tis a tiny and shrinking place, an abode for two adults and two adorable short demanding people who are growing by leaps and bounds. SPM is currently best suited to purchases of paperbacks or the occasional "I can't live without it!" purchase, which is currently pending. It's a reference work related to our parish's fledgling bible study, but that's neither here nor there.

The point is, there's plenty of chatter about the books (check here, here, here and here for a taste of the debate).

All I can say is that some of the criticism sounds pretty familiar to the stuff I heard about Dungeons and Dragons back in the 1980s. "It's a doorway to the occult/Satanism/black magic/paganism!"

How do I know? I used to play D&D. A lot. It was a prime outlet for socially-inept-but-otherwise-brainy boy nerds. It was that, and listening to lots and lots of Rush.

Modern day warrior/
Mean mean stride/
Today's Tom Sawyer/
Mean mean pride...

[Anyone who can explain to me what that song was about gets $5. Or my gratitude.
Make it gratitude. It's easier to email.]

But I digress again.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, D&D is a (Dr. Evil voice) "role-playing game" that is awash in magic. In fact, the "role-playing game" is premised upon it: spells, swords, staves, potions, artifacts, armor, scrolls--the works. The goal of the characters in this "role-playing game" is to get experience, become more powerful and acquire increasingly potent magical abilities, weapons and equipment. Of course, to do that, you had to battle your way through or around increasingly deadly foes who were similarly equipped. But the goal was worth it, especially when you could brag.

"Dude, I got a +5 Vorpal sword, two-handed! Add that to my Plate Mail +3, Shield +4 and my Girdle [no, really] of Frost Giant Strength, and I'm ready to go smite something! I'm one bad Fighter Lord!" boldly declared the Shaft-Quoting Pasty Guy Still Scared By Girls In Real Life.

Your equally-albinoid companions indicated their approval, ticked off their own fictional bona fides, and off you went to pretend that you were intrepid glory-hunting adventurers exploring the Tomb of Horrors for the next 3-5 hours.

Actually, my first character was a "magic-user" (read: wizard). The character became pretty powerful, tossing fireballs, lightning bolts, even disintegration spells. Next to that, Harry's broomstick seems a little, well, fey.

I still have most of my books. eBay has ensured that the out of print stuff continues to appreciate like mad.

Anyway, people were making the same accusations about Dungeons and Dragons that they do now about HP. There was a veritable hysteria that arose, frequently driven by evangelicals: claims of suicides, devil worship, and even a bad Tom Hanks TV movie about a college kid (played by Hanks) who went nuts because he became obsessed with a thinly-fictionalized version of the game. I even remember one claim that a mother who burned her son's books claimed to hear them scream. [Of that, I have no doubt. It was very likely the identical scream a mother hears when she tosses her son's baseball card collection out.]

That there were weirdos who were associated with the game is undisputed. That they were regarded as weirdos and mocked accordingly by the Pasty Regulars is also undisputed. Obsessive types gravitate to these things like moths to halogen lights. They even become obsessed by sports. Rotisserie leagues, anyone?

Of my regular gaming buddies, to my knowledge, none have become high priests of Wicca or otherwise thralls of the occult. One's a city manager, another has an astronomy doctorate, one's a medical doctor in family practice, and the others are college-educated regular Joes with non-cat sacrificing jobs. Many of them are now married.

Yes, to girls. No lie!

However, there is one exception to this litany of normalness: me. After years of D&D playing, I became a Catholic. So, I guess those evangelicals warning about paganism were right after all. Heaven only knows what will happen to all those Harry fans.

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