Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Pilgrimage

It is Gencon week, the national game convention created by the venerable elder of our hobby, Gary Gygax himself. I was one year old when the Lake Geneva Wargames Convention was created, later to become Gencon. I have never been. It is a black mark on my gaming credibility. Gencon is a little like the Muslim hajj, a pilgrimage you should attempt to engage at least once in your life. In that respect, I can say I haven't been to Gencon yet.

We can look at the pilgrimage example and see why you might find something like Gencon relevant to you. A pilgrimage is necessarily foreign and a bit dangerous. You hope to grow by overcoming your fears. There is real danger, emotional and physical. Failure is on the table. When I was 16, after going to just one local game convention, I decided to run a series of public D&D game at a local convention, Strategicon. I needed to see if I could do it. I also needed to break out of the orbit of my local gaming group, where I was mostly just a player.

Did I have the rules mastery, the table charisma, to run a very subjective AD&D game for a bunch of strangers of all ages? It was a harrowing test in a foreign environment. I passed the test. I was a dungeon master, and I've played that role in my gaming groups since. It's odd, but that's an important part of my identity, since age 16. It was a pilgrimage, an initiation, and a kind of self ordination. I put that experience away until a friend found his Strategicon schedule while we were hanging out recently, 38 years later. Oh right, that's how I got here.

Gaming for you might be a touchstone, a life line, a reason for being. A comfort in a cruel world. I know that's how I felt at 16. A pilgrimage might be a communion with the hive mind. You might hope for personal transformation, confirmation of identity, even if it's just boosting the confidence of a teenager. I see people try to parse complex metaphysical topics, normally the purvue of religion, using the wisdom of Yoda and Gandalf.  For many, geek culture is their source of meaning and wisdom. Of course you'll consider a pilgrimage.

A pilgrimage is an inherently solitary activity, even when surrounded by thousands of people. Everyone attends for their own reasons. My friends did not join me in those Strategicon games. It was a thing I had to do by myself, as a budding master of dungeons. If you think you may never go, consider this: Because it is inherently solo, you can always plan to go next year. Those who wish to accompany you on this pilgrimage will appear in your life, once you've established the intention. Or not, the solo trip itself being an important part of your experience. I wish you a safe and fulfilling journey.

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