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Main > Features > The 1999 Year In Review > Page 1  2  3

The 1999 Year In Review
Page 1

wjw: Thanks for joining us for the 1999 Gaming Year In Review, in which Spencer Lease and I will be recapping the events in gaming and gaming advocacy of the last year.  Since this recap of 1999 will be appearing on both of our web pages, we should probably introduce ourselves. Spencer, you go first.

sml: Well, as my readers know, I'm the editor of the sf/fantasy/gaming e-zine Beyond, as well as the maintainer of its host site, which shares the name. Those of you familiar with the Escapist have probably seen my name at the bottom of a few reports on various gaming-related events; I tend to keep an eye on known anti-gaming groups in an effort to identify problem areas. I'm probably most infamous for the Jesse protest of early 1999, but we'll get to that in a while, so I won't go into it. At any rate, my current projects include some work tying up loose ends for CAR-PGa as well as a few game designs. Back to you, Bill.

wjw: Thanks. As my readers know, I have been maintaining the Escapist for just over four years now. The page began as a site for people to view a paper I had written on gaming for a technical writing class in 1995. The site expanded into a gaming e-zine for a brief period, then narrowed to a devoted gaming advocacy site. Those of you familiar with Beyond might remember my name on a piece I wrote for Spencer's page in 1999, "Dealing With Anti-Gamers." My current projects include sprucing up the new Escapist, writing regular advocacy columns for two gaming magazines (Valkyrie and X-Gamer), and an upcoming project with Spencer that is still in the early stages of development.

Where to start? Well, let's start at the beginning...

Wizards of the Coast kicked 1999 off with a bang, releasing the Pokemon CCG on January 9th. Over 400,000 copies of the game sold in the first six weeks, putting it through four printings. Gaming stores became (and still are) swamped with youngsters scrabbling for booster packs.

sml: I'm still amazed by Pokemon's popularity, and quite frankly I'm a little mystified. Here I've been operating on the principle that ultimately, children want to be treated as equals, and here comes the Pokemon TV series, which is among the most inane television shows I've ever encountered. Well, it has some interesting ideas, and if the trading card game and new "Junior Adventure Game" bring new gamers into the hobby, more power to Wizards of the Coast. I just wish the whole phenomenon were a little more intelligent.

wjw: I have to agree with you there on all points. The show pales in comparison to much of the other kid-friendly anime I've seen. The game does take a fair amount of brainpower to play, and even if it doesn't turn kids into gamers, at least it's warming up some gray matter and making them think. It's funny that the anime circles I frequent feel similarly about the Pokemon craze that gamers do, that it's not the best product out there, but if it creates awareness and brings some new fans, it's worth the annoyance.

Along with Pokemon's popularity has come a share of controversy. Many religious groups have spoken out against the game, believing that it contains themes of occultism and witchcraft. Mark Juerva, a children's pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Colorado Springs, spread the word by burning cards and chopping action figures with a sword in front of 85 Sunday school children.

Some of the concerns about the game include the fact that one of the characters sprouts horns when it evolves, two other characters are named "Abra" and "Cadabra", and that by visiting the official Pokemon web site, children can easily find links to sites about Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons. 

sml: Honestly, conservative Christians crack me up sometimes. It's not a nice thing to say, I know, and not all of them are that bad, but it's true. He preaches against the occult and then practices what would seem, to untrained eyes, to be ritual sacrifice! If you took out all the references to Christianity, and conducted a sort of "taste test," I wonder how many people would connect Juerva's behavior to occult practices.

And of course, I'm NOT surprised D&D got into this. You know, I saw an article on Focus on the Family's website where D&D was referred to as a sign of the end of the world - well, that's the short version. Essentially, they said that public interest in the occult was a sign of Christ's imminent return, and we all know where that sort of talk
leads, don't we kiddies? Sadly, the article - which was entitled "Birth Pangs" - seems to have disappeared from the site.

wjw: A little bit of belated self-editing, no doubt. 

Likewise, Harry Potter, another popular icon among today's kids, is getting the same sort of welcome from people who see the books as leading children into occult practices.  With Wizards of the Coast's latest acquisition of the Harry Potter license and future plans for card and role-playing games, we can't expect to see things get much better on that front.

January 21st saw the infamous episode of NBC's "Jesse," in which the titular character accompanies her math teacher to a "special club" that turns out to be a D&D game. During the episode, the players are portrayed as rather geeky, bowing before their DM and displaying all sorts of odd personality quirks. In the end, Jesse leaves the game and dumps her date, even though she shows a brief moment of actually getting into the game. Eventually, when I find the time (and my tape of the show), I will have a transcription of the scene on my page.

When asked for comment, WotC President Peter Adkinson had the following to say:

"The staff here at WotC worked closely with the writers for the Jesse episode in question and we even granted approval to use some of our trademarked terms, like   Dungeons & Dragons and Dungeon Master. While it's true the episode did portray   D&D fans as geeks, there are many positive aspects to this show. They did NOT   portray D&D fans as satanists, they portrayed the game as social, harmless, and   having a math professor as a player is certainly a positive rolemodel for D&D   players. On the whole, we're pleased with the exposure, and would be delighted if   D&D was thought of by the masses merely as geeky and not geeky and satanic."

Our own Spencer Lease staged a protest of the show, grabbing the attention of TV Guide's Online Edition, as well as sparking a flame campaign against him. Several internet users posed as gamers in an attempt to undermine his efforts and "expose" him as a clueless fanboy. As if that was not ridiculous enough, a message from someone claiming to be the late Brandon Tartikoff berated any gamers who dared to be offended by the episode.

sml: You know, it's a funny thing about the whole Jesse situation. I wasn't lying when I said that the gamers I talked to were angry about this: they all were. And before anyone accuses me of having fanatics for friends, let me state, for the record, that under ordinary circumstances these are pretty level-headed people. So I thought by starting a protest I was doing something good. Maybe I should have thought a little more about it, but you can't change the past.

I'm not even going to bring up the events during the protest: it's still a sore spot, and I'm through arguing about it. I thought I was doing the right thing. I obviously wasn't. I'm sorry. That's all he wrote, people, and that's all I'm ever going to say on the subject. The Jesse protest is over - let it rest in peace.


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