Saturday, April 5, 2014

Gaming With Magical Thinkers

(Oh, since people are reading this post: Go check out my Kickstarter, in it final week!)

So, I posted this on Facebook the other day:

No, sweetheart, you didn't piss me off because you tried to use "real world" occult stuff in a Mage game. You pissed me off because you accused me of casting spells on my apartment that made you unable to question me. If I knew spells like that, I'd use them on the bureaucrats running my school district.

(You want further context, PM me.)

A lot of people asked for further context. So here we are. Before I start, though, I want to be clear that a) I'm not naming names, ever, on the Internet, and b) I do not harbor any real ill will toward people for what happened more than a decade ago. I'm a very different person than I was then, and I, as an optimist, hope that they are, too. Progress is good. With all of that said:

When I moved to Atlanta in 2001, I didn't know anyone in the city. I got on the White Wolf forums, and posted, "Hey, new in Atlanta, want to run a game, ping me." I got some hits, some of whom turned out to be fun people and others not so much, but this one guy contacted me, we talked on the phone, and he seemed cool. I set up a time to have a meet-n-greet and maybe make characters (since I'd collected about four people), and he said, "My girlfriend is interested in gaming, can I bring her along?" Well, I'm always keen to get new people into the hobby, and (not knowing this guy), I thought, "if he's functional enough to be in a relationship, that speaks well of them both, right?"

I was younger, then, and not as wise.

We decided on Mage: The Ascension, and the woman in question was a practitioner of Kabbala (she said). I should note, here, that at the time I was a practicing Wiccan, rather than the rabid (ribald?) atheist I am today. Anyway, that was fine, I pointed her at the Order of Hermes, because I figured their magical style would be something she could get her head around; Mage, as we know, can be an intimidating game to start with.  And then she asked if I wasn't concerned that, if he character did something magical, that something might actually happened in the real world.

Now, today, this would be a huge red flag. But back then, I believed in magic, too, and while her question seemed silly ("No, you're just rolling dice"), there was also a side of it that seemed reasonable. She'd never played before, after all, so she didn't have any context for what a game looked like. So we got passed that, made characters, and all was more or less well for a few months.

I had a habit, at the time, of going around the table after games and asking people what their characters had learned during the course of the session. It was meant as a character development thing, but also something I could do to help me see what players felt was important during the session (hell, maybe I should reinstate that practice). She and her boyfriend could never think of something. That's not altogether uncommon; after a long night of gaming, being put on the spot like that isn't easy for some folks.

And then, somewhere along the way, I got an email from her that was utterly fucking incomprehensible. As best as I could piece together (and remember, this was...13 years ago now?), she thought that I was casting spells on my apartment to make it so no one could question me, and that was contributing to her and her boyfriend's difficulty with answering the "what have you learned" question. There were other accusations, too, but they're not germane to the point and they're not something I'm going to get into here. Point is, casting spells.

This, mind, was the same woman who confidently claimed that, should she ever get pregnant, she would not quit smoking, because smoking wasn't as harmful as "they" said. So, there are maybe some issues at work here.  The point in all this, and the reason I made this a blog post rather than just posting it on Facebook, is that most of us have a story like this, some player in our groups or at a con who made us go, "Wow, you're kind of nuts." 

But I've gamed with literally hundreds of people, and that's one of, like, two stories I have like that. The rate of "crazy" is a lot higher, in my experience, in the non-gaming population, and the magical thinking rate even more so. I don't begrudge this woman her beliefs, and I only kicked her out of my games when she a) made false accusations against me and b) was obviously delusional. 

I hope, really and truly, that the ensuing decade has been as kind to her as it has to me. The story was funny, in a "GAH" sort of way, but y'know, shit happens. I do hope she finally quit smoking, though.

(Oh, the reason this came up was that she made a post on a mutual friend's FB feed, and it made me think of it. It's not something in any of my current games.)