On the Anniversary of Columbine: A Place in Time

On April 20, 1999, I watched the horror of Columbine unfold on my television. I couldn’t tell you whether I was working as at Wired magazine while I watched, or if we’d left the office to watch it at one of the San Francisco SoMa bars. Those particulars are forever gone from my memory.

I can tell you that I remember two distinct emotions.

The first was horror for all of the students at that school. The terror that some must have felt as their lives were extinguished, the grief of those who survived, and the sickness that engulfed the student gunmen.

The second was a sensation that burned more slowly, one that crawled into my gut as rumors and details about the lives of the student gunmen were released by the press. That sickness came as I listened to the frightened adults who were searching for answers using terms as if they were explanations: Violent videogames. GothTrenchcoat mafia.

I was sick because of the violence and I was sick because of the coming backlash against geek culture that I knew would engulf young people across the country who had nothing to do with Columbine.

The media circus, fueled by politicians on both the Left and the Right, sought to score cheap points by painting as violent and wild anyone who read comics, played games, dressed differently, and played with “socially-isolating” technologies.

There were children dead in Columbine, and we needed something to blame.

Blame is how we make sense of the senseless. Without blame, we can’t return to our lives secure in the knowledge that the senseless won’t happen again.

So I watched the tragedy unfold on the television and I listened to the pundits rage. Inside me, the Dungeons & Dragons playing, comic book reading, video game player felt the sting of the words even though I’d largely been spared the brunt of these verbal attacks when I grew up. I could play baseball, and so I had a hall pass into a more socially acceptable world.

Still, I had some understanding of how kids across the country felt as the politicians and media rushed to blame comics, video games, Dungeons & Dragons, goth music, and any other part of youth culture that felt different. On several occasions that day, I wondered aloud how many students would get beat up because of the backlash.

Had I lived in a time before the Internet, that’s how I would have remember the day. Columbine would exist solely as a tragedy of unimaginable magnitude, and I would have wondered what happened to the lonely, isolated, and mocked kids in cities and towns across the country.

But I didn’t live in that time. I’d been on the Internet since 1984, long before the World Wide Web made it graphically simple to navigate cyberspace. I’d found refuge in digital communities, oftentimes dialing into BBSs or chat rooms dedicated to comics, or games, or sports, or whatever I wanted to talk about.

I wasn’t surprised that what came out of that awful, terrible day was the best example of Internet journalism we’ve ever seen. Jon Katz opened up a thread on Slashdot, a news site where people share links about nerdy things, and asked people to talk about being bullied after Columbine.

What happened was nothing short of amazing. Thousands of kids from across the country shared stories about the fear that gripped them as people in their towns began looking at them as threats. That simple thread, dubbed “Voices from the Hellmouth,” opened a window into a culture of geeks, freaks, gamers, goths, and other social outcasts, and gave them a platform to tell their stories.

The stories resonated so deeply with me that when John and I worked on Dungeons & Dreamers: a story of how computer games created a global culture, we constantly referred to it as our emotional center. Our book needed to represent the “Voices from the Hellmouth”, to explain to a larger audience exactly why those geeks, freaks, gamers, goths, and social outcasts gathered online.

I don’t know if we accomplished that with our book, but that is one reason that the idea of community sits at the center of our narrative. And when we got back the rights to our book, we decided that we’d always make free the part of our book that explores how this country had used geek and youth culture as a scapegoat in times of tragedy.

We couldn’t re-create “Voices from the Hellmouth,” but maybe we could help people understand that geek culture just a little bit better.

* * *

On the anniversary of this terrible day, I invite you to revisit (or visit) “Voices from the Hellmouth.” Then, if you’re looking for more, you can always find “Part IV: A Darkness Falls” from Dungeons & Dreamers, which John and I made free when we published the book because we felt like that facts, data, and stories in that section were too important to lock away. 

Part IV: A Darkness Fall

Game Time: The best stories about games, culture, and community (April 10-16)

With the help of my graduate assistant Sammi Kirby, each week I’ll pull together stories about games, culture, and the art and design of communities. Where Dungeons & Dreamers: A story of how computer games created a global community ends, this blog begins. If we’ve missed a story, let us know. Or share your story with us in the comments.


Tabletop Games

  • Tabletop gaming more than Monopoly: Saturday was International TableTop Day, and it’s celebrated around the world. Tabletop games are very diverse, and off-shoot board games can even bring role-playing games into the arena.
  • The rise of cooperative games: There is a new board game form called cooperative games where there is a common goal that all players work as a team to achieve. Unlike the classic player versus player game, this game means everyone wins or everyone loses.

Education + Culture

League of Legends

Apple

  • How an RPG works on an Apple Watch: Runeblade is an RPG for the Apple Watch where users will have five to 15 second battles. It’s not out yet, but the trailer for the game is included in the article.

The Culture Wars

  • A 12-year old girl takes on the video game industry: Maddie Messer did some research and found that female characters in video games are both limited in number, and are almost never free. The Washington Post published her op-ed about the results, and after it came out Temple Run and Disney changed some of their previous decisions about female characters.

Game Time: The best stories about games, culture, and community (April 3-9)

With the help of my graduate assistant Sammi Kirby, each week I’ll pull together stories about games, culture, and the art and design of communities. Where Dungeons & Dreamers: A story of how computer games created a global community ends, this blog begins. If we’ve missed a story, let us know. Or share your story with us in the comments.


Culture

Education

Tabletop

League of Legends

Game Time: The best stories about games, culture, and community (March 26 – April 2)

With the help of my graduate assistant Sammi Kirby, each week I’ll pull together stories about games, culture, and the art and design of communities. Where Dungeons & Dreamers: A story of how computer games created a global community ends, this blog begins. If we’ve missed a story, let us know. Or share your story with us in the comments.


Storytelling

  • Games, Stories, and Worlds: People can’t agree on the meanings for the terms “story” and “game,” so the relationship between the two is going to differ based on how the individual person defines the two. Arguments about the relationship need term definitions for real explanatory value, otherwise the argument ends up being almost meaningless.
  • New RPG Pillars of Eternity: Silly Name, Terrific Story: Pillars of Eternity is an old-school PG role-playing game funded through a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $4 million. It’s a beautiful, methodical, slow-paced, story that the users interact with.

 Cultural…Things

D&D Things

VR


Game Time: The best stories about games, culture, and community (March 19-25)

With the help of my graduate assistant Sammi Kirby, each week I’ll pull together stories about games, culture, and the art and design of communities. Where Dungeons & Dreamers: A story of how computer games created a global community ends, this blog begins. If we’ve missed a story, let us know. Or share your story with us in the comments.


Why Games Matter

  • Press Start: Here’s why video games matter: According to The Consumerist, 59 percent of the country play games, and these games create serious business. Because of the variety available, video games are interactive entertainment that anyone can enjoy.
  • Tabletop in the Classroom – How I used RPGs to Teach: A student teacher decided to use tabletop RPGs to teach history to six classes, a total of 140 students. They explored the Westward Expansion by breaking into groups relevant to the time and playing their parts, and by using RPG methods the students had a fun and educational experience that broke from the traditional model.
  • Four Lessons Role Playing Can Teach You About Fitness: RPGs and fitness have parallels: everyone starts at level one and has to work and learn in order to go further, people need to pick one thing/class to focus on that aligns to their current goals, save points help compare progress even after setbacks, and you shouldn’t judge yourself because this becomes rationalizations that hinder your progress.

Virtual Reality

Culture

Game Time: The best stories about games, culture, and community (March 12-18)

With the help of my graduate assistant Sammi Kirby, each week I’ll pull together stories about games, culture, and the art and design of communities. Where Dungeons & Dreamers: A story of how computer games created a global community ends, this blog begins. If we’ve missed a story, let us know. Or share your story with us in the comments.


Tabletop

  • Kickstarter Tabletop Roundup: Cards, Dice, Heists. And Pandas: There are a number of kickstarter campaigns for tabletop games that are ending within the next month. Examples include the quick card game Seven7s, Entropy involves weaving together storylines into one world, The Family Arcana uses cards to create a rearrangeable story, Halfsies Dice is just a cool dice set, and Above and Below lets the user choose their own adventures as they build and explore the game world.
  • UNL residents strengthen friendships through tabletop games: Resident assistant Adrienne Ricker introduced tabletop board games to her residents at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a way to connect with her residents, and as a way for the resident to connect with each other. Other students also introduce board games, like Dungeons & Dragons, as a way to connect and to have fun.
  • If you were teaching a course on Tabletop RPGs, what rpgs would you cover?: This reddit thread where people are adding to a list of tabletop rpgs that should at least be read, not necessarily played, by a design class. The definitive list from the author is FATE Core, Pathfinder, Anima: Beyond Fantasy, World of Darkness, GURPS & RIFTS, HERO, OVA, Kuro, Edge of the Empire, Numenera, Golden Sky Stories, Dungeon World, and Tavern Tales.
  • The Dungeons and Dragons Session That Became a Real-Life Phenomenon: Comptiq, a Japanese computer magazine, serialized a Dungeons and Dragons game played by a group of friends called Group SNE. The “Record of Lodoss War” became so popular that it spun off into popular novels, books, anime series, manga, video games and another ruleset, but it never really took off outside of Japan.
  • WIL WHEATON ANNOUNCES INTERNATIONAL TABLETOP DAY 2015: Wil Wheaton announced that April 11 is International TableTop Day 2015. People can celebrate by playing with friends, but they can also see if any hobby shops or gaming clubs are putting any events on that day.

VR

A Hodge Podge

  • Millennium Falcon Papercraft Is A Work Of Art: Bernard Szukiel took four years to make an incredibly detailed paper replica of the Millennium Falcon that is over three feet long and 99 percent paper.
  • Multiplayer is More Fun When Your Friends Act Like Idiots Together: At this weekend’s SXSW Gaming Expo in Austin, Texas, there was a lot of interest in offline multiplayer games. There is video of a dancing game, a funny two-person wrestling game, and a game that’s a mixed up version of hockey, basketball and bowling.
  • Gallery: GDC 2015 shows off inventive controllers and Atari history: At this year’s Game Developers Conference there were over a dozen new unique methods for video game control. This article has photos and two videos that show the variety of controls, which includes a game that uses a giant tennis ball-trackball and a stuffed pug butt as its controls.
  • New BBC drama tells story of GTA, ‘one of the greatest British coding success stories’: The BBC Make it Digital initiative will have a 90 minute drama on BBC Two about Grand Theft Auto’s start and fallout, although no specific date was given. Although it was a big success, the violence of the game led to strong objections from influential groups, which led to its fallout.
  • Cards Against Humanity is free online starting this weekend: This weekend, Cards Against Humanity is launching a free web app for smartphones, tablets and Windows PC called Cards Against Originality.
  • Rise of the indie publishers: Indie games are getting harder to get discovered, so more effort should be put into marketing and promoting. Publishers like Versus Evil and Devolver Digital are actually working on helping indies, without taking away the IP rights, but Indie game developers really need to work on long-term success.

Game Time: The best stories about games, culture, and community (March 6 – 11)

With the help of my graduate assistant Sammi Kirby, each week I’ll pull together stories about games, culture, and the art and design of communities. Where Dungeons & Dreamers: A story of how computer games created a global community ends, this blog begins. If we’ve missed a story, let us know. Or share your story with us in the comments.


Cool Game Stories

Film + Other Media

Local + Real-Space

Social Issues

The #500words Writing Challenge. Join Me.

The hardest part of writing isn’t writing. I love writing. I love turning off everything in the house, delving into the world in my head, and bringing life to the page. I find a great solace in that, and if I go too long between sessions I start to get itchy.

For me, the writing is easy.

Instead, the hardest part of writing is making time to write. Whenever I set aside time for me, invariably something encroaches upon it. Instead of standing firm, I find myself pushing my time to the side because I can always just reschedule me.

But here’s the problem. There’s always a reason not to write. There’s always a reason to push aside my writing time or to devalue its importance in my life for other, more pressing issues.

The fortunate part of this problem is that it is self-imposed. The forces that keep me from writing are within my own grasp. It’s a me problem, which means it’s a fixable one.

The Solution: #500words

For the rest of March and all of April, I’m going to make time to write 500 words each day.

I have no expectations about what those words will be, or if those words will be good. That’s not the point.

Certainly I have two projects (So Far Appalachia, The Summer of Run) that need attention, but I’m not worried about cramming the words into that pigeonhole. Instead, I want to get back to valuing my time as a writer, and making my work a priority…at least for a few minutes a day.

I’d love to have other writers join me along the way. Don’t worry about what you produce. What’s important is giving yourself the space to write each day. When you’re done:

  • You can use the #500words hashtag on Twitter or Instagram;
  • Share your success here on the site in our comments; or
  • Just enjoy the writing.

So enough of the introduction, and on with #500words.

The Geeky Press Newsletter

Sign up for The Geeky Press Newsletter, a semi-regular newsletter of weird and literary things. It’s a curated collection of events, book reviews, interesting reads, and things that we can’t classify but that we find particularly awesome. Plus, we’ll never sell your data because that’s too much work.

Game Time: The best stories about games, culture, and community (Feb 27 – Mar 5)

With the help of my graduate assistant Sammi Kirby, each week I’ll pull together stories about games, culture, and the art and design of communities. Where Dungeons & Dreamers: A story of how computer games created a global community ends, this blog begins. If we’ve missed a story, let us know. Or share you’re story with us in the comments.

If you’re wondering where the summaries are for these stories, the answer is simple: The minions are on Spring Break, and thus enjoying life outside of graduate school. They will return next week…as will the summaries.


Culture: In game

Culture: In fleshspace

Esports

Technology

Tabletop Games

Game Time: The best stories about games, culture, and community (Feb 19-25)

With the help of my graduate assistant Sammi Kirby, each week I’ll pull together stories about games, culture, and the art and design of communities. Where Dungeons & Dreamers: A story of how computer games created a global community ends, this blog begins. If we’ve missed a story, let us know. Or share you’re story with us in the comments.


Games and other nerdy stories

eSports

Reddit

Issues

Miscellaneous

Game Time: The best stories about games, culture, and community (Feb 12-18)

With the help of my graduate assistant Sammi Kirby, each week I’ll pull together stories about games, culture, and the art and design of communities. Where Dungeons & Dreamers: A story of how computer games created a global community ends, this blog begins. If we’ve missed a story, let us know. Or share you’re story with us in the comments.


Games Helping People

Games + Technology

Games + Culture

Indie

On Play

Game Time: The best stories about games, culture, and community (Feb 6-11)

With the help of my graduate assistant Sammi Kirby, each week I’ll pull together stories about games, culture, and the art and design of communities. Where Dungeons & Dreamers: A story of how computer games created a global community ends, this blog begins. If we’ve missed a story, let us know. Or share you’re story with us in the comments.


We’ll start our round up with one of the most important stories:

  • Game industry pauses to say thanks to the father of gaming: Ralph Baer, father of video games, died last year. In his place, his son accepted the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences’ Pioneer Awards at the 2015 DICE awards. This article details the speech, and how at the end those in attendance said thanks to Baer.

The Gaming Phenomenon

  • League Of Legends “Open Letter To Parents” Is Sensible Reading: The “Open Letter To Parents” that is a practical way to guide parents and “help them stop making their kids look like assholes.” This is just a short article talking about how it’s a good thing for parents to have.
  • Should computer games be considered sports? The story is a 56 minutes video where people talk about the idea of gaming as a sport. They claim that video gaming has the same elements of sports: stamina, teamwork, mental and physical agility, “the excitement, the adrenaline.” If you win a tournament, you can win a six-figure-salary, and the revenues and marketing are steadily increasing for gaming.
  • Studying RPGs as a cultural phenomenon: GroovyGoblin posted asking about university-level books and essays about analyzing RPG as a cultural phenomenon. The comments section is full of people trying to help with links to articles, or talking about how there are few articles on tabletop RPG’s.

The Art + Culture of Games

  • Worth Reading: When Games Make Us Feel Sad, Disgusted, and Empty:The author talks about how videogames are expanding into something that’s for more than fun, that people have disagreements of what videogames are. And with virtual reality, we’re just now starting to understand the long term impacts.The article also includes two videos, a list of crowdfunding projects, interesting tweets, and links to other interesting content.
  • The Surprising Benefits of Role-Playing Games (and How to Get Started): The author once thought role-playing games were for geeks, but found through experience that they can give you real world skills. The games are social gatherings that requires creativity and mental quickness. The article talks about the benefits of playing and gives information about how to get started.
  • A Pixelated Platform Game That Never Plays the Same Way Twice: Moonman is a game that has an old-school feel, can be finished in an hour, but every new session everything from tools, villages, forests, weapons and more are newly generated. The article includes a video of the game, and the rest is about the development of the game and its creator.

Tabletop Gaming

  • Why one of D&D’s biggest video game devs thinks that tabletop game has lost its way: Urquhart is quoted as saying that they don’t know how to go forward with D&D. This feeling of D&D losing something led to Obsidian Entertainment actually decided to create games based on its competitor Pathfinder instead. He thinks one of the problems is that D&D is actually under a company that’s under Hasbro, which led to it losing its identity and a certain necessary focus.
  • Engineering to Dungeoneering (And Everything In-Between): The author and his team created software that allows the user to have a free, limitless, interactive map for tabletop gamers. The software lets the users design the area of play, and allows for turn-based combat. The article includes two teaser trailers for the software, which will be released in March.

Virtual Reality

  • Game|Life Podcast: What Microsoft’s HoloLens Means for Oculus Rift: This is an hour long podcast, episode 137: Holograms! Peter Rubin talks about Microsoft’s augmented reality initiative, Bob Moore talks about his feature on #IDARB, and the author talks about Nintendo news.
  • Virtual letdown: Dying Light shows the difficulties of first-person VR: This article is about how Techland added Oculus Rift support to their game Dying Light, which Belle said was awesome but the author of this article disagrees. They found visual glitches, it wasn’t super simple to turn on the virtual reality option, the VR format is low resolution, the menu system and interface were unusable while in VR, and nausea when sidestepping. The rest of the article is about fixing the problems and emphasizing the point that you can’t just turn any regular game into a VR game without work.

Our Man Richard

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