Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Light within the Darkness

 The universe is monstrously indifferent to the presence of man.”

Werner Herzog

The light and the cuddly darkness;
Vader the cat relaxes by our
faux fireplace.
Most holidays this time of year focus on the theme of a tiny light within the universe’s vast darkness. The candles on the Kwanzaa kinara. The twinkling lights on the Christmas tree. The procession of candles on the Hanukkah menorah. The Diwali lights in oil lamps, candles, and lanterns. The Yule log and bonfires. Finding hope in this especially bleak time in the Plague Year remains a challenge...and yet with the development of vaccines we find renewed hope amid a devastating pandemic. With the advent of this hope for humanity – as well as the hope in the light within the darkness we celebrate during this season – we can reflect on the bright spots that have kept us going. I expect I’m not alone in saying the adventure gaming hobby has certainly helped sustain me through America’s hellscape response to the covid-19 pandemic.

Dresed for the Governor's Holiday Ball;
Colonial Williamsburg, December 2019.
One of the lights that has uplifted me during dark moments in 2020 is the memory of the last big, geeky outing my son and I undertook: our mid-February trek to Williamsburg Muster, a regional wargaming convention where we ran several games for friends and fellow gamers, bookended by some historical sight-seeing to the Mariner’s Museum and Historic Jamestowne. I’ve attached to this all the other fond memories of geeky pursuits of the prior year: summer vacation to Virginia’s Historic Triangle and a holiday excursion to Colonial Williamsburg (including attendance at the Governor’s Holiday Ball in full 18th century costume); visits to other historical sites; our occasional treks to the regional used bookstore and game shops; our enjoyment of new movie releases in the catered setting of our regional Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. These memories remind us what we missed in 2020 and what we can joyfully anticipate once society returns to some semblance of normal.

Gaming with others has remained one of those great sacrifices of the Plague Year; but other activities have kept me busy and hopeful of the time when we can again visit our favorite hobby shops and gather around the game table. Avoiding exposure to others has curtailed many of our usual outings, but it’s also freed some disposable income to spend buying hobby materials online to occupy our secluded existence. I’ve indulged in ordering and exploring some block wargames from Columbia Games and Worthington Publishing. I took advantage of some sales to expand my collection of Armies in Plastic miniatures and started experimenting with basing and painting them. An order to the Phalanx Consortium restocked my stash of MDF bases and gave me some more crate piles to paint. I re-based and refurbished some classic Grenadier and Ral Partha fantasy miniatures from my misspent youth, though this ongoing project is far from complete. I found inspiration for gaming with my son, both to reinforce his online distance learning curriculum by designing a multiplication game and by creating a kid-friendly skirmish game using existing and soon-to-be-received holiday gift figures. Of course I’ve also focused time on my creative game writing projects like Hobby Games Recce and The Infinite Cathedral.

This holiday baking project has
stollen all of my time.
These solitary gaming pursuits do not diminish the cherished contact I’ve had with gaming friends online. The holiday season brings the warm smell of freshly baked Dresdner stollen to our kitchen; several loaves undertake treacherous adventures through the beleaguered land of the US Postal Service to (however briefly) delight gaming friends. Many have sent me packages of holiday cheer as well – both edible and hobby related – which often lift my own spirits when I descend into gloom. Our generosity has not been limited by the holiday season alone. Throughout the year we have sent each other gifts, gaming and otherwise, to bring some light into our lives. My wife’s college friend’s soap business – Stella Marie Soap Company – has run enough sales to inspire me on several occasions to send hand-crafted, uniquely scented soaps to gaming friends; a chance to encourage frequent hand-washing, lift some spirits with unexpected gifts, and support a small business. An old friend sent along some games he knew I’d like, a few Old School Renaissance (OSR) titles for roleplaying inspiration and the 13 Minutes and D-Day Dice games that appeal to my historical interests and my penchant for games with solitaire variants. I exchanged some wargaming miniatures with another online hobby friend, giving us some new toys to paint and deploy to the game table. Along the way we’ve corresponded, shared our good news and comforted each other through the bad news, talked about games, and reminded each other we’re not alone. I hope fellow gamers have taken opportunities to lift each others’ spirits throughout the year, whether with encouraging messages or generous gifts or other forms of support. Even if friends cannot gather around the gaming table in person, their presence kindles a warm ember in my heart, reminding me we’re not alone, and kindling my gratefulness for these hopeful blessings.

I sincerely wish everyone finds some light of hope to celebrate during this darkest holiday season. Our fandoms, hobbies, and other interests offer some momentary escape from the tragic chaos unfolding around us during the Plague Year; but they can also inspire us to look for the wonder within ourselves, to appreciate the gifts we enjoy in our lives, and celebrate the lifting of darkness and the growing light of hope in the year to come. Until then, stay healthy and safe – wear your mask, wash your hands frequently, and maintain social distance – that we may all do our part to return our hobby, our society, and our world to a new sense of normal, with a greater appreciation of those who have helped us manage through these trying times.

But in the end it’s only a passing thing, this shadow; even darkness must pass.”

Samwise Gamgee

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