I Stink, Therefore I Am

StinkyI miss playing D&D, I really do. I stopped playing nearly two decades ago when I went to university. Between work, classes and assignments and, ZOMG a girlfriend, I was too busy.

There is a social aspect that modern (read computer based) gaming can’t replace. Sitting around a table with chili and dice. Lord of the Rings Online can’t replace that.

In online games, facial expressions carry no weight. There’s always some idiot that can’t even get voice working, or worse, they don’t have a proper head-set and you get to listen to reverb all night. A DM doesn’t lovingly craft that night’s session to maximize fun and story development. I can’t pass you a beer. You can’t cheat on a dice roll. And the system NEVER fudges the ruleset to achieve the greater outcome.

And besides, even if you could convince everyone to bring their gaming rigs to one location, beer and chili aren’t good for keyboards.

It was in this frame of mind that I dug out my crown-royal bag of dice and headed off to the local RPG club. It was in the musty basement of Church on the metaphorical “other side of the tracks”. And when I say musty, I don’t just mean disused, I mean it stank of mold. Badly.

There were two groups of old cards tables set up. A single heavy set figure in green polo sweater and yellow shorts sat at the one further to the back of the room. Six more sat at the closer table. The larger group welcomed me immediately to their campaign. The whole group took an hour to help me roll my character (a thief). They explained, in near excruciating detail and exact chronological order, the changes that had occurred to the rule-set in my near 20 year absence. We joked about the lone loser at the other table, a GM whose group hadn’t bothered to show.

They were friendly. There were all the usual stereotypes. The fellow whose quick rolls always averaged high teens. The guy who knew (and could quote) every rule. The DM who secretly hated the guy who knew all the rules but who gave in anyway, ’cause it was easier than arguing. The long haired pale guy whom you were sure probably made his parents call him by his “elven” name. I felt at home.

And yet something disturbed me. Its recognition started in my subconscious and bubbled slowly up. Masked by the moldering church basement, I had missed it at first. But it was there … another scent. Subtle at first, growing more cloying as the session continued, until finally, it could not be ignored. It was powerful, it was everywhere, and it clung. The stench of the unwashed .. but different.

The Smell of Geek.

Smell is a amazing sense. It’s easily 50% of taste. True Fact: it tunnels right to your brain and opens new vistas of seeing and understanding. What I hadn’t noticed at first, the Smell of Geek made clear. I would never introduce my friends or family to any of the cellar dwellers with whom I now sat.

The evening ended and I went home. I had enjoyed myself. I felt dirty. I had been comfortable there, in that dingy basement with these denizens of imaginary realms, pretending to be a Halfling thief or some such. But the smell was on me! I had to shower before going to bed, lest the smell get on my wife.

I never returned to the club. I told myself that my experience wasn’t reflective of role players in general … it was just a poor dying club in dirty neighborhood. I would find another group.

Recently my daughter and I went shopping in a suburban mall in good neighborhood in a great city. The mall had a store devoted to table-top top gaming in general and Warhammer 40,000 in particular. “Cool,” I thought as I steered my family towards it. I could see through the window a few upper-crust moms dropping off their kids for a session of miniature painting or gaming while the rest of the family shopped.

As I entered … it hit me. A veritable wall of the same odor that had driven me from the church basement. It was … the Smell of Geek.

I fled. I consoled myself with the belief that not all geeks stank. Surely, this was co-incidence … or at worse, the Smell was only endemic amongst Pen & Paper or Table-Top gamers. We who play our games on computers … surely we are a different breed. We are the Elves to the PnP Orcs: sweet smelling and pleasantly fragrant.

It was just last week that I had the opportunity to visit a local IT shop. A couple dozen skilled .Net developers toiling away on important applications using some of the latest technologies. An automatic set of doors separated the group from the rest of their office. As I approached, the doors slid open and the wave crashed in. The Stench of Geek filled entrance way.

I powered through.

Here I was amongst professionals. Well paid professionals. Computer programmers like me. And they stank. My mind reeled. Clearly geeks are imbued with an odor. Do I smell the same? Surely my wife would have mentioned it or filed for divorce or something.

And if I did not, why not? Am I not truly Geek?

Is a Geek some sort of new and emerging species of human (Homo Nerdus), evolution having granted them a gland from which they exude their noxious musk? If so, what is this gland’s purpose? Is it used defensively, like the skunk? Or is it meant to attract mates (if so, it doesn’t seem likely to be a successful evolution).

Or perhaps the Smell of Geek is a sociological, not biological, phenomena … like the exaggerated costumes of tribal shaman, the stench is meant to set the Geek apart and mark them as special.

Whatever the cause, it’s unfortunate. Imagine what PnP gaming might be today if it had been the chosen hobby of the sweet smelling and well manicured 30 years ago.

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