Gamer Origin Stories

I often listen to a gaming-oriented podcast called “The D6 Generation,” focusing on board and miniature games. Most episodes include an interview with a member of the game design community, and a question often asked at the beginning of the interview is to describe their gamer “Origin Story” – or how they became a gamer.

So how did I get into this hobby in the first place? For most gamers my age, it usually starts at Dungeons & Dragons, but actually, it started even earlier than that with regular straight-up wargames.

My first wargame I ever bought with my own money was a copy of Starship Troopers by Avalon Hill.  I’m still not sure precisely where I first saw it – it may have been at the the Navy Exchange’s “toy” department. Perhaps it was the local hobby shop where I started looking for models more varied than the standard department-store airplane kits. It sure as heck wasn’t the standard Kmart, Sears, or JC Penny’s.

A long-time Heinlein fan even at the age of eleven, I was hooked. I started looking at other games. Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for any hope of sanity on the part of my parents), the husband of the couple that provided before-school care for us while my parents worked – the D.C. commute was a stone cold b*tch even then – was a wargamer and had a rather nice collection of AH games.. I lost a lot of time there playing Afrika Korps, Dune, and other games.

It wasn’t until we started staying over at a friends place after school in 5th or 6th grade that I first saw a copy of Dungeons & Dragons – a “box” set intended to get a foothold in toy and game stores – and promptly bought my own.

I started paying more attention to the weird books in “that” corner of the hobby shop. Sooner, rather than later, several friends and I had a fairly complete set of D&D books: the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Monster Manual, and a number of modules. We also started looking at related stuff like Gamma World for post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi role playing, also by TSR.

Then I stumbled into a copy of The Traveller Book, a compilation of the first three manuals for the spacefaring RPG Traveller.

It was like finding home. I loved D&D – played it quite a bit through high school, but I’d spend hours going through the Traveller rules – especially the rather unique spaceship combat system (that used real newtonian mechanics!)

I’d also picked up a few more games – as I still played wargames. Panzerblitz and Magic Realm were added to my collection. I tried to convince my cousin to get into wargames by buying him a copy of Storm Over Arnhem based on the battle for Arnhem bridge that also inspired the movie “A Bridge Too Far.”

I also received my intro to Steve Jackson Games with the ludicrously fun “Car Wars,” spent a lot of money on Battletech right after it changed from Battledroids, and quite a bit of time in Shadowrun (magic and cyberpunk).

I then needed something with more flexibility, as the ever-changing editions to Traveller were driving me nuts, and I didn’t feel like keeping up. So I tried on GURPS (yeah, I know, I’m now a couple editions behind again, but that’s not bad for a game system I bought fifteen years ago…). While not very scalable and justifiably put down as fiddly, it had a unique character development system that allowed you to tailor your strengths and your weaknesses. It also had the flexibility needed to put out incredible resource books on everything from Vikings to Cthulhu and the far, far future. I ended up writing an article for the Pyramid (SJ’s in-house gaming magazine).

While dabbling in the vampire based games from White-Wolf games, I mostly skipped that as well as Magic: The Gathering, though I did end up getting quite a few cards for SJ’s loony “Illuminati: New World Order” card-based world domination game. The sheer lunacy of having Bjorne the viking dinosaur be the dictatorial ruler of California while running the world via TV advertisements was a sight to behold, and only a hint at the possible craziness in a game where all conspiracy theories could be true. Fasa actually had a very nifty game of armored grav tank combat that unfortunately petered out, but I dearly loved it.

These days, while I still have a few GURPS books, it’s mostly current boardgames, as I don’t have the time to invest in RPG’s. Descent, Survive! Warmachine, Mag Blast, Seven Wonders, etc. take up the majority of my monthly (sometimes bimonthly) playing time. I still have an old copy of Fortress Europa by Avalon Hill.