Tuesday, 9 August 2016

How Fear Of The Bomb And The I.R.A Made Gaming All More Enjoyable...

I have been musing a little more on the subject of the enjoyment of gaming as a kid in the first years of the 8th decade of the 20th century, or as the cool kids call it, 'The 80s'.

Back then the gaming scene was a pretty fresh one, a virgin of the imaginary waiting to be sullied by a million acned youths with only a few demigods-come-assholes lording it over them like protective pimps in a dark alley of the fantastic. There was, I think something else which sharpened the experience and added a piquancy... Fear!

Back then, we had the I.R.A threatening us in our own homes, reaching out to us via the evening news reports, where a seemingly unending roll call of the dead and maimed seemed to be in operation. Even those seemingly harmless prog rockers Marillion, wrote songs about it, warning us of 'fiery gifts on the supermarket shelf' and the follies of ending up in the army.


And if that was bad bad enough, then there was the threat of nuclear holocaust turning us all to a pile of fine grey dust as walked to school or stuffed our faces with Findus crispy pancakes (with chips and beans of course...) most probably before we even got as far as the Angel Delight and second glass of Tizer.

 My school library was filled with books about the effects of nuclear war, and Barry Hines ramped it up to the max with the terrifying film 'Threads', which I was an extra in, and which saw my hhome city of Sheffield written off by the Reds who lurked under our beds. (Actually that was complete bollocks, because there was that much junk under my bed in the form of RPGs, Action Men, Mobile Action Command figures and copies of 2000Ad, that not even a small Russian paratrooper was going to get under there.)

It was all very depressing indeed.

But, the nett result, was that we all seemed to live that little bit harder. My god, we partied hard I can tell you... The world was about to end for you and your 2nd form nerdy mates so, you forgot about thrift and spent 12p rather a more sensible 10p in the tuck shop, you grabbed the bum of that girl in the 4th form you fancied at the lunchtime school disco, and if you were the hedonistic libertine (albeit with a basin haircut) that I was, you'd go on the dance floor with the 6th form post-punk crowd and 'pogo' and 'backwards run' to 'Stiff Little Fingers', even though it meant those 'hard lads' in your year would spit on you and give you a 'wedgie' for daring to be something other than a sheep.

God, the horrors of England under siege... It was hell, hell I tell you.

The point was, I believe that I and my peers all needed that escape, truly needed to escape from it all, and the easiest way was to do so by jumping the fence of reality into the emerald green pasture of the imaginary. If I try to make even a moderately complete list of the stuff I bought, then my brain goes into meltdown. We had so many shops to choose from that there was always a way to get rid of every last penny. There were magazines, the first Fighting Fantasy title, crappy dice marking crayons, single sheets of hex paper. figures at 25p for a high end model, the first Japanese made giant robot kits, the Dungeons & Dragons animated series, Knightmare, fantasy inspired Letraset sets, Dark Tower, Fantasy Games Unlimited,... And so much more. You augmented your pocket money by either not eating, or finding a cheap lunchtime option, so that you could save another £1 per day to spend on the addiction, to a habit a million times worse than cocaine ever could be.

I remember that we found a local shop which sold home made pies for about 45p that were so large, you spent the afternoon in the history lessons, sleeping at the back of the class. And then one day, we actually looked into them (I can't recall why) to find that they were made of dog food. Not figuratively you understand, but literally, and thus the next day it was back to chips, curry sauce, peas and 'scraps' and a 25p increase in the cost of living, every lunch time.

And always, in the background, was the fear... That certainty that sooner or later, the sky would turn orange, then white and then a dull, unending grey, the Kate Bush song 'Breathing' playing in the stereo of your brain. 

And I can sense that the fear and uncertainty is returning. The faces behind the black masks are different this time, but the nuclear threat is returning like an old friend with smallpox to infect the world and resurrect the 80s zeitgeist.

And so, I'll watching with interest, to see if gamers once again bury themselves in a protective cocoon of rules and figures, disengaging from the cold, hard hand of reality once more.

I never re-engaged apart from when I had to when Dungeons & Starships collapsed in the late 90s. I am  happy in a world of my own choosing and design. My friends join me for as long as they see fit, and we ignore the mundane and the mortal, and become for a while those immortals we believed we were 3 and a half decades ago, when the idea of being half a century old seemed so very far away. Doubly so because we knew so definitely that we would all soon die horribly.


TTFN

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