On Becoming a Gamer, Part the First

 

I, Arthur Gosney Erickson, was born in May 1972, and grew up in Dorchester (Boston), Mass. My mother was a clinical social worker, and my dad was a professor of civil engineering. My siblings are all much older. I was the youngest householder by a considerable margin, and the least important one. I spent a lot of time listening, watching and playing alone. These factors, and others, conspired to render me a quiet, sweet, shy, insulated, chubby little kid.

When I was sent to the John Winthrop School kindergarten, followed by the Learning Project Elementary School (both in the Back Bay) the destiny of spending my youth as a social outsider was more or less sealed. Both schools emphasized character education in a stable, nurturing, hippyesque environment. They were tiny and had extraordinary staff and teachers. I made a small number of very close friends. I could potentially have gone in lots of directions—computer geek, nerd, mathlete, emo, goth, stoner, etc.—but I was surely not going to be mainstream or preppy by any means.

With my temperament, the hands-off parenting I received, the schools I attended—all during the Golden Age of pen and paper role-playing games— I consider my long evolution into a gamer to have been more or less inevitable.

In the 2nd grade my friends and I discovered Dungeons & Dragons. At that age, we played it all wrong, the rules of the game being far too complex for us. But we were hooked on the concept and committed ourselves entirely. D&D (and other role-playing games) was my main leisure activity (after TV) from the 2nd through 10th grades.

While in the 8th grade, at the Boston Latin School, an after-school gaming group was formed. It was mostly made up of upperclassmen. One week, an 11th grader invited me and a classmate to play a tabletop, miniature wargame involving American and Soviet infantry companies doing battle. My classmate chose to play the Americans, which left me with the Soviets. The 11th grader refereed, explaining the rules and whatnot.

Looking back on it, I see now that that game was quite simple and clumsy. But it sparked an abiding interest not only in wargames, but also in military history, strategy and tactics that has stayed with me throughout my life.

When I was younger I knew that being a gamer was a social liability. It was only late in the 10th grade that I started to care. My friends and I stopped playing RPGs for the most part, and started doing more of the stuff that normal kids do. My circle of friends expanded. I became much less shy. And I started to become… not quite cool perhaps… but no longer objectionable.

I went to Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, where I studied philosophy, learned a little German, had sex, started to grow up, got depressed, got undepressed, and did all the other things late-bloomers do in college. Gaming was not a part of my college experience. Not so much because of having turned my back on it. I was just busy with other stuff.

It wasn’t until after college, in my mid-20s (married, working, living like an adult) that I rediscovered gaming. I’d never stopped liking it and never stopped being a gamer at my core. I had just put the hobby on hold.

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