3.09.2004

The Party Is No Longer Jumpin' (Momma Came Home)

So H's b-day went great. Lots of folks showed up and everyone that couldn't make it called in to wish her a happy day, so the fine lady was drowned in birthday wishes. Mission Completed.

A young boy (11 or so...) that H babysits came to the party. His family just moved out here from Utah, so he is the new kid in school. Combine this with his energetic passion for life (some might call it hyperactivity) and a distinct absence of social skills and you have a recipe for disaster.

This is the kid that takes Pokemon cards to school, in the hopes of playing with the cool kids, then has them stolen because he doesn't know enough to pay attention to them.

Did I mention he's just discovered Dungeons and Dragons? Actually I don't think he's got his hands on the game yet, but the collective grade school unconscious has begun to work via osmosis.

So while the party raged around us, he and I sat down before a chalkboard to play tic-tac-toe, but it wasn't long before he started doodling. He drew a little castle and explained that that was where the evil king lived.

Then he handed me the chalk and said that it was my turn.

So I drew in the forested ridge riddled with caves. We passed the chalk back and forth for the next hour, detailing the fantasy world turn by turn until the entire chalk board was used up. People from the party would stop and look on as we worked, but we managed to ignore them pretty well. To the casual onlooker, it no doubt appeared that we were simply drawing, but of course it was much more than that. We were working out a shared storyline, a mutually imagined land with heroes and villains, desolate deserts, dire swamps and isolated mountain ranges.

In a very rudimentary way, we were "playing" Dungeons and Dragons. And for one solid hour, the hyperactive boy was silent and diligent, intensely focused on our labor of world building.

I wish I could predict his future. Roleplaying has contributed enormously to my life, but it still breaks my heart when I see "that kid" sitting alone in the back of a cafeteria, reading the Player's Handbook. Just thinking about it invokes a confusing web of emotions. It is likely that the next 5-10 years of this boy's life are going to be painfully lonely. I came through it as a stronger person, with a clearer sense of my identity and individuality, but can I really endorse years of isolation as a means to those ends?

It worked for me because I was able to take a step back and tell the entire high school experience to bugger off. It worked for me because I spent my lunch hours writing on the computers in the Yearbook room. It worked for me because I knew I wanted to be a writer, and that one day I was going to be able to walk through the bookstore and pick my novels off the shelves.

But what about this boy? What if he doesn't have that desire? What if he is just a lonely kid that finds it easier to daydream than get along with a world peopled by cruel strangers? Can games work for him, or will they only increase the difficulties he already has?

I don't know.

(For the record, the punk side of me has the desire to say "screw it," and give the world the finger. The kid can do what he wants to do and the world is going to be cruel regardless. But again, that just worked (works) for me; as a blueprint for a life it is pretty damn flawed.

And then, in retrospect, what does it mean to live a life that I can't endorse for someone else?)

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