Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Adventures In Time - An Introspective Ramble Into The 80s

I've been thinking a lot about my life, my hobby, the matter of mortality and such, and so forth.

I've lost 3 friends in 3 months to Mortis and alienated myself from a lot more in the last 3 years by seeking to do the right thing. My interest in gaming has waned and waxed, but I still find myself looking at the 'Golden Age' of the 1980s and coming to the conclusion that we drew so much more from it back then.

So, that led me to consider why that might seem to be the case?

From the outset, I'll state that it's more than the glow of youth compared to the more subtle shades of middle age, nor simply the rose tinted recollection times past.

No, the 80s were frankly, pretty bloody grim. We were in the dying years of the Cold War and under very real threat from the I.R.A's various campaigns on the British mainland. We had the Falklands, we had Chernobyl, we had the terrifying film 'Threads' depicting the prelude to and aftermath of a direct nuclear strike on my own city of Sheffield (I was in Threads as an extra, for the record, and what a grim but fun weekend or two of filming that was, particularly when three of us managed to worm our way into the BBC crew 'canteen' and enjoy some pretty good food compared to the bread roll and soup of the rest of the extras. Oh my yes, roleplaying gave you the balls of steel needed to bluff and coerce your way anywhere.

If you are reading this and was the BBC crew member in the red goose down jacket, who got a large cold cup of coffee on the head when you walked through a door in the old Royal Infirmary, then I apologise for the antics of the three of us.

Anyway, where was I?

Set against this 'grim dark future' (screw you GW, we lived it, you just nicked the name) was a generation of gamers, who were on the shirt tails of the first wave of 'O.Gs' just as the whole genre burst out before the eyes of the world, becoming a craze that was still not the over hyped, carbon copied, corporate shite that we see today. Games Workshop was only 4 or 5 stores strong, most gamers were into rock (but the odd post-punk was to be found) of some or all types, jeans were tight, basketball boots and shemaghs were worn with combat jackets, and mullets and long 'rock-locks' were the badges of our perceived superiority over the bland proletariat, the sports mad teenagers with their Panini sticker books, the 'hard lads' who made the lives of those who looked or thought differently an absolute misery at school, but who were careful not to do so away from school because many of us had older brothers who knew 'Bikers' and who took a very dim view of the persecution of their brothers and their pain-in-the-arse mates, because they too had been picked on a few years earlier, for their music, hair and artistic tendencies. Now they were quite often working in good jobs, rode powerful bikes and frankly had found that they didn't need to take any shit.

Anyway, we existed in a kind of limbo, once the ground rules had been laid out to a few unfortunates. Every so often we got a bit of brutal treatment, but we were treated more as lepers than victims, an untouchable caste.

There was more to life than just games however. One of the odd things about the 80s and the rise of the the hard left and hard right, was the idea of art and culture being key social aims, or in some cases weapons of class war. The art and culture which abounded was phenomenal, if you took the time to look. We lapped it up... Nena sang of 99 red balloons sparking World War 3, contemporary and experimental art spoke of a brave new world and even in the grim industrial North we had art installations which had taken Europe by storm and which, thanks to the Left-biased local government were normally free to view. I remember a stunning exhibition of automata/robotics which was installed in the Graves Art Gallery and which after seeing featured on the regional news, had me dragging my mates to see it. It was freaky, eerie and oh so arty... I was blown away and I knew there and then how I wanted to spend my life. I wanted sharp designs, I wanted starships, I wanted art, I wanted to live in a fantasy world, far away from the madness of the mundane.

Games gave me that to some degree, because they allowed me to travel to distant cities on my own, with friends or in the nurturing and educational hands of guys 10 and 15 years older than me. There was beer, dice, figures, games, dice, figures, games - and my first real hangovers.

There were very few 'clone' games, because frankly there seemed to be a surplus of imagination thanks to the 60s and 70s and I presume some pretty good drugs.

Walking into a game store or convention was a real feast for the senses. You didn't see the carbon copy retailers pushing the same few games, where production quality seems to be more important than the content. You had to really read the old rule sets, learn about a period or the background and UNDERSTAND it. Research and knowledge were invaluable and moreover expected.

And for us, it was no chore, because we were scared shitless of the world outside our bedrooms and so taking solace in a pile of games, unpainted lead and the like with some challenging progressive rock on the turntable, a pack of biscuits and glass of milk was the easy way out.

We really did have things to be scared of, unlike today's kids who have a hissy fit if they are looked at in the wrong way or who after going out of their way to say 'Hey look at me... I am a real freak' get a slap up the head. We were not riding on a wave of nostalgia, because we were pioneers, writing the stories which feed todays nostalgia industry of the retro-nerds who see our generation as twee and quaint.

And now, we are seeing many of the pioneers fading into the West Lands. The world is getting darker and is losing something.

Today, I received a box of exquisitely painted Battle Honours Napoleonic British, and they immediately took me back to when those models were 3 times the cost of the most expensive contemporary models at the time. These are you understand the 'real thing', the English Pewter versions, and I was struggling to convey to my brother all afternoon, just what an impact these models made back then. Indeed they still outshine most modern sculpts.

To those of you who are trying to recreate the era of my generation, PLEASE, watch some old documentaries, re-runs of the music shows and TALK to those who were there at the time. I think that if you can really understand where we were coming from and running to, you will get so, so much more from your adventures in time. Listen, learn and carry our memories on for the generation which if carefully curated and nurtured will in their turn, seek to be just like you.

Think whatever you like, but please don't allow us to be forgotten.



  1. "or in the nurturing and educational hands of guys 10 and 15 years older than me."
    Never knew it was called nurturing before. :-)

  2. 'Nurtured' is giving them the benefit of doubt and protecting the guilty.


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