Friday, June 1, 2012

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Dungeons & Dragon (2011)

     I have waited a long time to post on this book.  In part because I didn't want to simply give voice to my anger and disappointment that a purposely (seemingly) vacuous person has a position with the company that publishes – and seems to have great joy in rescuing and destroying – Dungeons & Dragons while having no real personal attachment to the game.  Shelly Mazzanoble writes about the lessons she has learned from D&D the way I could try to detail the length and breadth of humanity from having to aid them with finding the products that are right in front of them at the store.  Hey, I'll straight out admit that I used to visit the comparative stores in other markets when I was on vacation, meaning that I must have had some attachment and involvement with that job that went beyond taking home money every Thursday.  It would be extremely hypocritical of me to suggest that Mazzanoble could not have developed an attachment to D&D through her workplace association with it.  But I will insist that her connection is inferior to mine because mine is from my formative years.  Like it or not – and I came to terms with it over a decade ago – I am a Dungeons & Dragons guy.  Just not the kind that could get on board with 4E or be bothered to read any of the Forgotten Realms novels.
     Mazzanoble, on the other hand, is the kind of person that I think my brother aspired to be for about a minute in 1993.  By that I mean that I'm sure he would have loved to have interned at SubPop Records around that time, and he lasted a whole semester out in the Pacific Northwest at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.  Mazzanoble comes off as a cross between a self-doubting/self-obsessed ditz and a functional, conscientious person who has a clue on how to get through life without needing to relate it to a game where the goal is often to murder and rob others.  She seems to have to work backwards, giving information about her life and how her understanding is truly formed by her mother, and then inserting how Dungeons & Dragons doesn't countermand those important lessons.
     Like her other book, it would seem that Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Dungeons and Dragons (2011) was written in an effort to redeem D&D of its image from...well, I honestly don't know when D&D had an image problem in my circles.  I know there was some uproar about it when AD&D was breaking big in the late 1970s.  I also know that bad press continued into the mid-1980s.  But there were D&D boxsets at Toys 'Я' Us and Kay•Bee Toys, the AD&D books fully stocked at the tiny Palos Park Public Library, and a successful cartoon show during the 1980s.  Hell, the worst thing I can think of associated with D&D – other than how some of the players really did look like greasy trolls who shun meaningful human contact, but since many of them were teens or in their early 20s, it is entirely possible they just hadn't mastered good hygiene yet – is the Dungeons & Dragons (2000) movie.
     For all of my bitching, and there could be much more than what I'll show here, Mazzanoble isn't a bad writer.  She is just (in my estimation) writing for the wrong audience.  I have a feeling that the people who think that reality television on the opposite side of the spectrum from Mythbusters (2003-present) or Deadliest Catch (2005-present) aren't likely to be drawn to Dungeons & Dragons.  There isn't a huge Say Yes to the Dress (2007-present) vibe to most D&D sessions.  I'm not trying to knock shows that clearly appeal more to the ladies, but Dungeons & Dragons – even in its more introspective, personal moments – is usually not running short on testosterone.  Every character has a means to go about killing, and most games expect it to happen on a regular basis.  Hell, the original formula for advancing characters was largely predicated on how tough or dangerous the monsters were which the PCs were killing.
     Mazzanoble seems to see D&D as a cooperative game – which it is – but doesn't seem to grasp that it is quite different from a sedentary team sport.  There is almost no mention of character development, by which I mean how the player comes to know and understand his or her PC as a separate being (more than just an alter-ego).  Instead, she seems to think that character creation is the time to understand the character; after that, it is a figure to be moved around on the combat grid and a sheet on which abilities and powers are recorded.  She doesn't come across as cognizant of how D&D may be different from other roleplaying games.  Why could she not learn everything she needed to know from Rifts or Deadlands – except for the fact that she isn't employed by Palladium Books or Pinnacle Entertainment Group?
     She also largely ignores the role that having something that could draw a diverse group of outcasts together, as D&D did before the world became one that accepted and celebrated things like World of Warcraft or Skyrim, would have on the players.  Coming to the game as an adult, where one can play it at work (on the clock), I am sure that she didn't give it much thought.  Her one example of introducing it to children showed her to have little concept of how it might bring people with nothing else in common together.
     This wasn't a bad book.  But it certainly wasn't written with people like me in mind.  Then again, several WoTC employees had no problem telling me that they had no qualms if all the longtime D&D players walked away when 4E was launched (because they had a plan to get a new generation of players).  They also told me that they weren't interested in listening to feedback outside of organized play (because home campaigns can always change the rules as they see fit).  I really wish I had written down those guys names way back when, because I know that one of them ended up being a prominent player in 4E; more than that, I would like to be able to back up my statements by saying something more than the WoTC employees at the GenCon booth told me those things.
     Mazzanoble seems to have to make up for some of that damage, but she still isn't trying to appeal to longtime players.  And I would be forever baffled as to why anyone who wasn't playing D&D would buy or read the book.  It is a fake self-help book that is really an excuse for Mazzanoble to write about herself.  I won't begrudge her that.  I think a lot of us would do that if we were given the opportunity, and I know that I wouldn't be able to make myself as sympathetic as her.  I just don't think that her efforts to wedge D&D into her personal story served her, her story, or the property.

No comments:

Post a Comment