They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but it turns out you can decide to read one based appearance alone. Which is how, despite having no idea who Flint Dille was, I found myself reading his biographic.
It was all about the cover. And the title maybe might have helped.
How do you pass on a book called The Gamesmaster: My Life in the ’80s Geek Culture Trenches with G.I. Joe, Dungeons & Dragons, and The Transformers?
To be clear, I like transforming robots as much as the next male geek growing up in the 80’s, but it was the Dungeons & Dragons bit that sealed the deal.
My first foray online was via a 1200 baud modem (or maybe it was 300 baud, I forget) and an Apple ][+. The computer and modem had been handed down by my uncle, when he upgraded to an Apple //e.
I started calling BBSs from the listings in the back of the free computer magazines that had started appearing at the local public library. I learned that the ones with lots of phone lines – that didn’t just buzz busy all the time – generally charged for access. I learned that lots of them had basically the same games, and that just because a number was in my area code didn’t mean it was free to call.
This last bit turned out to be really important for a kid with no source of income.
One day I saw a listing with a promising name:
The Belching Dragon Inn & Tavern
You can’t judge a BBS by its name any more than a book by its cover, but this name had my attention. Having learned about “local toll calls,” my first move was to flip open the phone book to the list of local exchanges. As luck would have it, it was a free call from my parents house. I dialed in, and ended up “finding my people.”
These days finding like minded people on-line is basically a given. Doesn’t matter what esoteric interest you’re trying to match, there’s a community out there. Not so much in the 80’s. Finding a group of people who were also into pen-and-paper Role Playing Games, Computers, fantasy and science fiction… It was pretty incredible.
I had no idea, when the system asked me to choose a “nom de modem,” that my choice would still be with me over two decades later. Or that many of the people I connected with – first as glowing green characters on my monochrome display, and later in face-to-face living color – would leave such a lasting mark on my life.
By the late 90’s the BBS had succumbed to the siren song of the Internet. Connections and conversations shifted to email lists, then to Facebook. I could say that shuttering my Facebook account made me lose touch, but in reality the threads connecting the group had frayed before that. Most threads just wore thin. Some were snapped, cut, and occasionally set alight.
Communities are more than the net of the relationships of the people in them – but those relationships are key, and relationships can be fragile.
At any rate, just as I couldn’t pass up a book called The Gamesmaster, it turned out I couldn’t read it without thinking about those times, and about those people.
It nudged me into reaching out to a few folks I haven’t spoken to in too long. And when I was writing a message – tapping someone on the shoulder from half a world away – I realized I should probably use the name they knew me by best.
And that’s the titular name I’ve not heard in a long time.
One of my own.