I hadn’t mentioned it, but earlier this summer the second volume of “that graphic novel about RPGs” — the one full of thinly veiled references to me and my gaming group — came out. (I don’t like to mention the title because I don’t want to give publicity to this author who considers my life to be OGL content.) -^- I’m always skeptical of books and movies about gaming written by non-gamers — “Game first, THEN judge!!!” is what I would say — but there are so many problems with this book, it’s hard to know where to begin. My copy is already full of yellow sticky notes, just from a first readthrough.
From the first book, it was clear that the author doesn’t really play RPGs but was just faking, and from the 2nd book it doesn’t seem like he had a late-in-life conversion. Anime/games/RPGs references are crudely scattered throughout, but they feel like insincere fanservice, as if the author had cribbed from Wikipedia, or bribed unpaid interns with Fortune Cards to make sure his lingo was accurate. When depicting tabletop RPGs he makes a confused muddle of 3.0 and 4E, and he depicts plastic minis as still being widely available, apparently unaware that production ceased earlier this year. In another scene, the author depicts a MMORPG PvP tournament being suddenly turned into a PnP RPG tournament at the last minute, as if they were interchangeable, not depicting how incredibly difficult this would have been for the DM in question. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that only the greatest DM on Earth would have been able to make a horde of angry MMO players, and the tournament organizers, accept such a substitution.
Several events which happened IRL are absent from the narrative, such as Malakbel and Moggrathka’s first PvP match in WoW (oddly, since the author seems eager to show gamers hurting gamers in other contexts), and our road trip from Escondido to Irvine. Jen, Mike, Callie and Bill, all of whom are valued members of my gaming group, are almost absent from the story, something they are surely grateful for. But a much bigger problem is the “over the top” presentation. Everything is loud, loud, loud, turned up constantly to 11. It reads like a bad Pokemon fanfic. In the author’s world, tabletop roleplaying is a barrage of loud noises, explosions and player-on-player IRL violence, as if it wasn’t exciting enough without adding a bunch of special effects. It’s like if in the movie version of Gandhi’s life, Gandhi (a pre-eminent political and ideological leader of India during the Indian independence movement) has to fight the Thuggee cult and defeat the reincarnated Kali Durga, the tentacled death mother goddess, by driving the Howrah-to-Hoogly railroad into her body. Disputed dollar figures of property damage caused by gamers keep getting trotted out in some lame attempt at ‘authenticity.’ My foldout dice sling is shown being used as a deadly weapon, instead of a nonviolent crowd dispersal device.
The truly sad thing about this is that it misses all the quiet, emotional, character-driven moments that the author could have focused on. The way that we had to bathe Shesh’s body with hand towels while he was in the middle of his WoW spree, for instance, or the many touching player-and-DM moments between the encounters, when we loved, laughed, or just looked into one another’s eyes before rolling the dice. If the author truly loved gamers, he would have shown this soft, intimate side of gaming, akin to the romantic, sympathetic way that Kio Shimoku presented otaku in “Genshiken,” or Bryan Lee O’Malley in “Megatokyo.” But instead, gaming is just grist for his “excitement mill,” which he uses to shake excitement wantonly all over the table, like Adam Sandler as the waiter at the Italian restaurant in that Saturday Night Live skit on youtube.
In short, this book is the latest in a long line of negative depictions of gamers. I only hope that, instead of causing people to flip through it and think “Bah! Gaming is lame!” and turning into hardened RPGophobes, people will at least let the word “RPGs” stick in their head and maybe, the next time they see a man on the corner playing D&D or the next time someone comes to their house asking them to make a character for their campaign, they will stop and lend them a helping hand or at least cock their head quizzically and ask them “This RPGs thing…. is this like that book?” And then, the gamers can explain what RPGs are REALLY like, and the door will be open for a dialogue between gamers and non-gamers. In that way, at least, the author may have inadvertently helped cast Knock on that formidable barrier.