Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Sense of Place

I recently had a conference in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and though I did not get much of a chance to wander around and get a sense of the place, I was acutely aware that I was in the place where my favorite hobby was essentially born. It reminded me that within a four hour drive south one could also find the birth place of both GDW, creators of Traveller, in Normal, IL and Judges Guild in Decatur, IL.

Recently, James over at Grognardia asked the question if there was such a thing as “California games.” He cites Runequest, Arduin and Warlock and now (thanks to Dan of Gobinoid Games) Wizards’ World is also part of that tapestry.

In Orthodox Christianity, there is still a very strong pull towards the pilgrimage. I myself have done so on several occasions — to Mt. Athos, Thessaloniki (to follow the footsteps of St. Paul), and the island of Aegina and the tomb of St. Nektarios. There is a personal presence that accompanies these places because of the people I went to see — the various saints of the Orthodox Church. There is also a very powerful sense of the holy.

Lake Geneva, Normal and Decatur are not Mt. Athos, Thessaloniki and Aegina, but I cannot help but wonder what it is about the plains of the Midwest that inspired such a creative explosion in the 70s. It is a reverse of James’ question about California: Are there common themes in gaming cultures that coalesce into a certain kind of game? I would ask: How much does a sense of place have to do with these expressions?

Given that the primary place for gaming culture is no longer something one can find on a map, is this question even relevant any more, or am I just waxing poetic because of a deep sense of nostalgia?

As G+, FLAILSNAILS, Kickstarter and POD become the new gaming norm, what sense of place do we as gamers have anymore — if we ever had one in the first place?


  1. When I first encountered DnD the place it occupied was Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains, which were twinned with just-out-of-sight places in my native England and Germany, except there were lots of things that didn't fit, which I put down partly to American (mis)conceptions and partly to my own ignorance (not of the Appendix N sources but of the medieval world, western magical traditions... stuff I knew little about back then). In other words I felt a great sense of place from those books, but it wasn't the midwest, it was wherever my imagination thought it lived. I think that still holds.

  2. OK, that was incoherent. I'm watching Miyazaki's film, Kiki's Delivery Service, and like several Ghibli films it's set in this weird recognisably Japanese Europe, which is like and unlike any actual place. For me, DnD was and is set in a place like that. I don't quite know what the rules of that place are, it's uncannily familiar but unreliable... was that Wisconsin, rather than California? I don't know, but in some sense I think the question short-changes the original work of creation that's there?

    1. No, you were quite clear in your first post, although I do like your illustration of Miyazaki's films being a cultural pastiche in the same way that D&D is. And, in practice this illustration is quite apropos.

      What I am contemplating, however, is something a tad bit different. Whereas in the end, what appears in our own experience of D&D doesn't necessarily depend upon whether the game originated in Wisconsin or California, I do find it interesting that these small towns in the Midwest played such a huge role in the early history of the hobby. I realize that this is an unanswerable question, but would the hobby be the same or even exist if not for Lake Geneva, Normal or Decatur?