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Justin's Journal

Wednesday August 9, 2000

8:46 AM:  First memorable T-shirt: "Your Village Called — Their Idiot Is Missing"

10:47 PM:  GenCon — my fourth gaming convention since July 1. I can't believe how much I've learned about the gaming community from these weekly gatherings. I've come to know intimately the Klingons, the miniatures, the fairy wings, and the tireless, sweaty, rhythmic intensity of unplugged gaming.

We've been booked in a hotel that is a 20-minute drive from the convention center in order to avoid the strong magnetic rays that emanate from downtown Milwaukee in the pre-dawn hours. At least that's what my co-workers say when their lips aren't moving.

I brought along NetRunner and Illuminati: New World Order in case we come back to the hotel after work this week, and in case we aren't distracted by "G-String Divas" on HBO [Note:  Four days after arriving, the cards went unused. But my, my, my, those strippers really do have complicated personalities!]. I'm sharing a room with Terence, our PC editor. I'm not used to sharing space like this:  My girlfriend and I host a lot of houseguests, and when they're in my house, I feel perfectly fine prancing about in my underwear, acting the fool. But with my esteemed colleague I think I'll have to act more respectable … when I'm cavorting about in my underwear.

Thursday August 10, 2000

2:21 PM:  Allan and I were able to take Gary Gygax to lunch. Gygax is the faceman for the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons. With help from some friends, he established contemporary roleplaying in the ‘70s. He smoked unfiltered Camel cigarettes nearly without pause. He expressed a healthy libido. He's a lifelong libertarian. He was gracious about the corporation and body of men now reconstituting his game for world consumption.

Allan asked Gygax how Allan might encourage his young daughter to take up role-playing games. Gygax said, "Well, it's simple, let's play 'let's pretend.’" And he proceeded to illustrate how he would explain the games to a child: "Who do you want to be? How about an Arabian prince, traveling through the desert? You come across an evil djinni. What do you do? If you want to attack, we'll roll this six-sided die — 1 through 3, you hit the djinni, 4 through 6, you don't." It was a perfect insight into the soul of role-playing games.

4:37 PM:  Today I am able to briefly enjoy the company of the business development guys that have sent on this trip. Taylor and Hardy were sent to make deals with game makers — advertising partnerships.

Out of the thousands of gamers in the GenCon convention hall, Taylor was one of two attendees with short, gelled-up hair and a polo shirt. He recounted some of his GenCon adventures to me: Walking up to a game publisher's booth, he asks, "Can I talk to your marketing person?" Their reply is usually "Huh?"

It's funny to think of preppy, hygienic Taylor fishing for business amidst the sword-bearing, unwashed gamers. They care more for twenty-sided die than they do for R.O.I.

8:09 PM:  Tonight after the convention, Taylor Hardy and I went swimming. They’re smokers, but they were still hell-bent on proving their lung capacity by holding their breath while swimming laps underwater. When Taylor came up the last time, gasping for air, I was surrounded by a very thick stale tobacco smell. Yum!

Later we were in a hot tub with two ladies, one from Pennsylvania and one from Idaho. I had my glasses off so I was squinting hard at them while Taylor and Hardy made conversation. The youngest woman said she thought Milwaukee was nice, to which Taylor responded, "Yeah, but you're from Idaho."

The ladies were in town to learn finance software for administrating loans. We were in town to hang out at a gaming convention. And here we were thrown together in this hot tub of fate. The moment overwhelmed us. They stepped out to go to the pool, and we three returned to our cohort upstairs. But between us, forever, there remained inescapable feelings, a universe of unexplored possibilities in those swirling warm waters.

Friday August 11, 2000

1:30 AM:  I really enjoy the Neo Geo Pocket Color. It's a great portable electronic gaming device. There are some wonderful games made for it. My favorite so far has been Card Fighter's Clash. So when I read in the GenCon program that there was a CardFighter's Clash tournament, I signed up. Considering the Neo Geo Pocket Color was recently pulled from the American market, this may be the first and last official CardFighter's Clash tournament. This was my one chance to seize the title "Milwaukee's Best — GenCon 2000 CardFighter's Clash Winner."

I arrived in the ballroom where the tournament was held. Thousands of gamers crowded around us. There was a deafening din of cards and conversations, as people readied for their own games. I had six supporters with me, my co-workers. Tim, the man who sponsored the event, emerged from the crowd with his black briefcase. Inside was the prize, a Bust a Move Pocket. There was some confusion as my opponent took some time to materialize. Finally, I met my match, cloaked in the blue raiment of Wizards of the Coast, Shawn Smith. His playful, dyed blond locks belied the steely demeanor of his bespectacled eyes. As thousands of gamers milled about, we discovered that we were the only two people with enough guts to register for the CardFighter's Clash tournament. It would be just me and Shawn, settling our own unspoken score. Thousands of other gamers, overwhelmed by the intensity of the event, persevered grudgingly with their own card games, pretending not to pay attention to the impending clash of the titans in the center of the room.

We were each handed our rules, limits on our deck configuration. I picked my best cards and met Shawn in battle. After twenty minutes, it was settled. It had been a close game, but he utterly slaughtered me. I never even damaged him in the first game, and in the second game I did some patently stupid stuff. I felt pretty bad about losing, because I had wanted to win so badly. I was consoled by the realization that I had at least balanced out the legacy: we've had gaming champions working for us before — even our company’s founder was the best in the world at Quake. I, however,  was honored to be able to bring to the company a humane loser's perspective.

Saturday August 12, 2000

8.14 PM:  Besides the miles of gaming and reassuring familiarity of the unplugged scene, I was excited to visit Milwaukee to sample the sausage. My friends the Steuers have for years imported Usinger's, the bratwurst of their Milwaukee home, to the Bay Area, so that North Californians might experience the pleasure of eating those thick, white meat logs. How badly did I want it? Well, I made no effort to find an appropriate brat restaurant for this trip. But I still allowed my desire to delude my senses, and I may have been turned away from meat stuffed in intestines for weeks to come.

On the last night in Milwaukee, we were eating at the Polaris, a revolving restaurant on top of the Hyatt. There was something called weinershnitzel on the menu. My co-workers and I agreed that it sounded like sausage. Brian ordered it, and I ordered it too. Before I finalized my selection, I confirmed with our waiter, "What is this weinershnitzel exactly?" "Berneweh," he answered. "Ahh. What?" "Bernudah." Not wanting to push the conversational “what” limit and confident that I was going to get what I wanted, I ordered weinershnitzel with a side order of sauerkraut.

Finally after the restaurant had revolved us from the Milwaukee waterfront to a view of the local technical college, the waiter returned to our table with a pounded flat piece of mystery meat breaded and baked. I was so disappointed that I considered roleplaying as a disgruntled customer with a Strength of 18, a Wisdom of two, and a Charisma of one.

10:34 PM:  Later to digest our dinners, and before retiring from our last night at the conference, we decided to pay one last visit to the heart of the gaming at GenCon. The U.S. Cellular Stadium had been turned into the role-playing equivalent of a LAN party: hundreds of gamers perched themselves on the arena floor, gaming into the next day. Walking amidst them, I began to hear the call: rolling dice, pouring through books, looking for obscure rules, trying to outwit the gamemaster. "Take me away, my friends," I gestured to Serdar, Allan, and Brian, "I'm coming dangerously close to roleplaying." And so we wandered out into the midnight Milwaukee night. I left behind a group of imaginative storytellers engaged in social play for another night alone with my computer. Some day I'll be worthy.








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