When I was in high school, I was a geek. I liked to hang out in the library, read fantasy & science fiction books, and find interesting and inventive ways to avoid sports days and P.E. classes. I always had a book with me, and read in every class I could get away with it. (Except, interestingly, a class known as D.E.A.R., which stood for Drop Everything And Read. I may have been a geek who loved reading, but I hated being told what to do.)
When I wasn’t reading, I was scribbling madly in notebooks, writing my own stories. I didn’t do anything with them, but I loved creating characters and scenarios, and trying to work them into interesting tales.
One lunch time, I was walking down the hall looking for a quiet place to hide for the next couple of classes so I could write down a new story idea, when I heard someone laughing in one of the rooms. I stopped. I was curious as to who would be in the maths rooms at lunch time, but I was cautious about investigating. I didn’t want to stumble into a room full of “popular kids” and give them yet another reason to victimize me.
I was still standing there when the classroom door opened and three guys emerged. Adam, Matt, and Phillip were in a few of my classes. I’d spoken to Adam a few times in science, and I knew the other two well enough to talk to, if nothing else. (Matt was a little intimidating because he was super-smart, and looked a little like Brain from Pinky and the Brain.)
As they were passing, they said hello. And I just had to ask. “What were you doing in there?”
The three of them exchanged surreptitious glances, as though they were ashamed, and Adam said, “Nothing.”
Then they went on their way, lowering their conversation to mumbling whispers of excitement punctuated by the occasional burst of shared laughter. I peered into the room they’d emerged from. Nothing. Just the usual array of desks and chairs.
Back then, I was a curious girl, and not good at taking no for an answer. (Actually, not much has changed.) I kept an eye on the three of them over the coming days. Each lunch time, they would head back to that same maths room, close the door after themselves, and… well, I didn’t know what it was they were doing inside. But it seemed to involve a lot of exuberance. So I started going to the room myself, trying to get there first. I’d station myself outside, and try to eavesdrop on them. It never worked. (And it sounds creepy, in retrospect.)
It seems to me that this went on for months, but in reality it was probably only 3 or 4 days. (Memories are funny like that.) Finally, when the boys found me hovering around outside the classroom again, they asked what I wanted.
“I just want to know what you’re doing in there,” I said. And my persistence finally paid off.
“We’re roleplaying,” said Adam. The other two shot him betrayed looks.
“What’s roleplaying?” I asked.
Phillip was the first to answer. Now that the cat was out of the bag, there didn’t seem to be a reason not to continue spilling beans. “We’re playing MERP, which is really the Lord of the Rings of course, and you play a character and roll dice and fight monsters and go on adventures and it’s really fun,” he said, all in one breath.
“Oh.” I had no idea what he was talking about. And that should have been the end of both the conversation, and my interest in roleplaying. But it wasn’t. Because Adam spoke up.
“You wouldn’t like it.”
“Why not?” I asked. I was just curious. After Phillip’s ever-so-helpful description, I was inclined to agree.
“Because girls don’t,” he said.
I’ve never claimed to be a bra-burning feminist, but this statement made me see red. For one thing, it was insulting. Why would girls not like whatever-it-was? And besides, I didn’t like fashion or make-up or jewellery, and I wasn’t obsessed by chasing after boys, so I was already so far out of the realm of “what girls like” that the statement was irrelevant.
“Let me play,” I said.
The answer was fast and unanimous. “No.”
It took several weeks of haranguing to get them to agree that I could play a game and see if I liked it. So, unlike most people, I didn’t start with ye olde Dungeons & Dragons. I started with MERP (Middle Earth Role Playing). My first character was a Half-Elf thief. The game started with our characters aboard a ship, bound for lands unknown.
“What’s your character doing?” Adam, the GM, asked.
Matt said, “My Dwarf goes up on deck, makes himself a fishing rod, and begins fishing.”
Phillip said, “There’s nothing to do until we make landfall, so my Elf goes to sleep.”
They all looked expectantly at me. I had no idea what I was supposed to say. Then inspiration struck. “Are we sharing a cabin?” I asked.
I smiled. “Then while the Dwarf’s on deck and the Elf’s asleep, I go through their stuff.”
And thus began my 20-year love affair with roleplaying.