I’ve done geeky things. I used to play role playing games (RPGs) once upon a time. When I first played it was the late end of the Satanic Panic, which in rural Australia seemed to lag on for longer behind the heyday of the source moral panic in the US.
You know how many Satanists, or witches, or delusional people I was exposed to in those early years, thanks to Dungeons and Dragons or Battletech? None. Not one. Nada.
In fact, the first person geek-adjacent that I encountered who could be categorized thusly was someone who deluded himself that he had psychic powers. He had a lot on his plate both socially and mental health wise, and I certainly don’t wish him ill if he’s still alive out there. He introduced me to the better side of anime – the non-creepy kind – but at any rate, he had nothing to do with RPGs.
Nope. The RPG crowd were all a bit bog-standard Stranger Things, really. Mundane.
Then the mid-90s came around, and I was introduced to some new acquaintances, and a new RPG that was published under the banner “White Wolf”. You’d be fair calling the me of this period a cranky pomophobe; I had prejudicially little tolerance for anything remotely post-truth, and the “White Wolf” games were very post-truth. Think “that’s just like, your opinion, man” in gothic fantasist mode, with added lashings of affected-scholarship.
The pretentious references to fetishized academics, and the insular caricatures of “technocrats” and rationalists; blech. You didn’t have to be any kind of rationalist to find this stuff bothersome, but boy did some pages wind me up more than I should have allowed them to. The source books would have been a whole lot more tolerable if the authors seemed a little less impressed with themselves. Cerebral narcissism is always ugly.
At any rate, it was a small mercy that at least the gamers in question didn’t emulate this pseudointellectualism in its full ugliness. No. Instead, some of them imagined that they had magic powers and/or the ability to alter reality through sheer will.
When it’s the middle of a deep recession, a lot of people your age are out of work, and you’re scraping together funds for living in a dingy flat, you can get the impression that you don’t get to be too picky about the company you keep. Never mind what this may do to your own mental health, or theirs, or what your state of mind may do to your employability or educational prospects – you don’t want to be a snob, right?
Sometimes a young, trollish, bored individual will want to break the monotony with a bit of thoughtless, impulsive, consequences-blind fun. Why not? (Well, because it’s childish, obviously).
So rather than confront people about their delusions, or do something otherwise productive, a sceptical friend and I egged them on. One time we exchanged sideways glances while one of them attempted psychic healing. Another time we watched, all the time trying not to giggle, while they attempted to increase their “mana” through an amplification loop. This other time one of my flatmate’s friends hid with me in the bushes of a local park while we giggled and watched a couple of the guys attempting to draw power from the “node” of a “leyline”.
What are the odds that the “node” was on public land, and not in one of the neighboring private yards of the very-much residential area? And only just around the corner from the flat, too. How convenient.
I’m sure if I asked, I would have been told something along the lines that the “node” affected the minds of council planners, causing them to allocate the space as a place of public wellbeing. You never have to be wrong when you can warp reality though sheer power of will!
Their theology for the most part was lifted from Mage: The Ascension, which gave them the idea of others simply being “un-awakened” individuals who collectively suppressed magic through the power of their consensus: Sheeple, albeit magically. You could see this manufactured special status in any number of “metaphysical” bookstores or crystal shops in the 1990s; “my life is drab, people don’t think I’m special, but I’ll show them! I have a special relationship with reality!”
Yes you do, Moonchild. Yes you do.
Despite this having been a bit stressful to tolerate near constantly, and despite it helping to speed up the fraying of my own sanity, I don’t want to piss on these guys. They could be fun to be around. They could be creative. They tolerated a good deal of my bullshit when they shouldn’t have. And some of them had serious personal problems leading into the reality warpage to begin with.
At any rate, this low standard for grasping at reality left the door open for other sorts of weird-and-creepy. Of course a friend of my magic-believing flatmate’s magic-believing friend, visiting at one point, would inform us that women enjoy being raped. My mouth flapped-wide-open at that. I wanted to say something, but it was one of those “so obviously wrong, but so hard to find where you went wrong” type scenarios; I didn’t know what to articulate.
Suffice to say that despite my shocked muteness, that guy never got to enter my home ever again, and I haven’t seen him again in over twenty years. Good riddance.
Fantasy was the over-arching theme with these guys: Having reality your own way. Sadly you get a lot of that around geek stuff, and it’s a good part of why I don’t really do geek conventions. It’d be nice if fantasy would more readily stop at its genre boundaries and stay out of everyday life.
It bears repeating, time and again: You may want to help them, but unless you have a reliable support network, and preferably some clinical qualifications, there’s a severe limit on what you’ll be able to accomplish. Back then mental health awareness wasn’t what it is today, but encouraging people to get help should have been the prescribed action. I still feel that I failed some of these guys in that respect, and of course failed myself.
And whatever you do if you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t do what I did, which was to fall into the trap of morbid curiosity: “What the hell is it with these guys? Why on Earth? I need more data!” You’ll just end up wallowing in an unhealthy, creepy environment. This is especially problematic if you already have mental health problems of your own.
Escape, and escape with anyone else you can get away with who needs to! Don’t let a feeling of disloyalty, a bleeding heart, or a post-truthy kind of inclusion born of a role-playing game tell you otherwise.
Next in Adventures in Creepersville, I think I’ll address an interest in the work of View Askew Productions, renting videos, reading comics, laughing about what terrified us, and bad habits acquired.