Script is available (in ebook form) at all major online retailers, and at Smashwords.

Cameron McNary is the author of Of Dice and Men, a play in two acts about a group of friends and roleplayers who find themselves having to cope with some life-changing, real-world decisions. The show has found some critical acclaim, and even changed some minds about the roleplaying hobby and the people who play it.Cameron explains the inspiration for the play in the introduction to the script:

Around my 30th birthday, the following things happened:
  • I got married and became a father, and moved out of my parents' house for the last time.
  • I was in a truly stellar production of a truly mediocre play.
  • I realized I had never seen any art about tabletop roleplaying geeks that was not suffused with self-loathing, if not just-plain-loathing.
  • My best friend enlisted in the Marine Reserves, and was deployed to Iraq.
This left me:
  • An adult, all of a sudden, albeit one with all sorts of childish hobbies.
  • Inspired to write, as only forced participation in bad art can make one.
  • Inspired to correct an oversight.
  • All kinds of conflicted... and with something to write about.
The basic questions I was struggling with are the same one John Francis is faced with in the play:  how can one be an adult with these goofy, childish hobbies?  How can playing a stupid little game about wizards and orcs and unicorns mean anything in the face of my best friend leaving for war?  Why do I play at all, really?

This play is my answer to those questions.  The first draft came out in one fevered lump: 120+ pages in just under a month, from someone who had never managed to finish writing even a short play before.  It took a couple years of shaping to get it into performable shape, but it was always insistent.   It never sat quietly on my hard drive; it was always demanding to be finished.  I don't know if I have more stories to tell, but I had to tell this one.

Cameron spared some of his time to talk to me about the play and the story that lies behind it.

Tell us briefly what is so great about Of Dice and Men.

It's a real, honest-to-god play about D&D players in their 30s, and what happens when one of them enlists to go to Iraq. It's the first work of Gamer Geek Art (that I know of) without a trace of self-loathing in the humor.  It's a play that speaks for our tribe; it's one you can take your grandmother to, sit her down, and have her *get* why we game.  It repudiates gamer stereotypes, and speaks to a broad, general audience, as well as to ourselves.

We (Critical Threat Theatre) premiered it at PAX Prime 2010, in a professional, Equity production, after a very successful reading at PAX East.  If I may be frank, we blew the doors off the joint.  Packed a 550-seat theatre, turned away too many people to count, just... rocked the house.  It was one of the high points of my artistic career.

The play made Tycho's (of Penny Arcade) mom cry, a lot, and then go watch her son play D&D for the first time ever (at this event), and then apologize to him for the D&D/fantasy-related rift that had existed in their relationship in his youth.  He wrote about it on the Penny Arcade blog.  This was also one of the highlights of my artistic career.

(You can see some video from that production here.)

Why a stage show and not a short story or film? What made you choose this particular medium?

Two reasons:

1) I've been working in live theatre for over a decade; it's the medium I know best and am most comfortable with.

2) I saw a unique opportunity to portray the in-game characters using direct address that wouldn't work the same way on screen or in a book.  I wanted to show that each gamer's experience of the game is very different - when you see an in-game world portrayed on film, it's usually a shared, generic world with the players in fantasy costume.  Having each of the Player Characters come out and address the audience meant I could play with the audience/actor relationship (by having Throg try to attack the audience, for example) in a way that commented on their each of their player's personalities and relationship to the game. It also meant that when I did portray the shared imaginative game-space, I could do it in a nonrepresentational way that I think really captures the joy of tabletop roleplaying - in a way you'd have a really hard time doing onscreen.

Ultimately, tabletop RPGs are a shared storytelling experience, which means they ARE theatre, by and for the people playing the game.  It translates so well to the stage because RPGs and plays are really just different uses of the same medium.  If you don't believe me, roleplay with some actors some time -- generally speaking, we rock it pretty hard once we grok the concept, because it's what we do, just with a different set of conventions.

You mention that the show is free of geek self-loathing, and how it repudiates stereotypes, yet one of the best parts of the show (in my opinion) is the opening of the second act, which starts with one of the players trying to tell the audience about her character, and the GM is trying to make her stop. Is there a line where self-loathing becomes self-parody, and if so, where is it?

Self-parody is often rooted in self-loathing in one way or another, and that's not always a bad thing.  Some of the funniest comedy out there is based on baring one's own self-hatred.  But it struck me that every portrayal I had ever seen of tabletop roleplayers in popular culture not only featured it in some way, but was usually predicated on it.  Gamers were always the punchline, just because they were gamers, even in gamer art made by gamers for gamers.  That's no surprise, really; the trope of the cheeto-stained, overweight virgin with his dice and wizard robe has been internalized in many ways by a lot of us (myself included).  I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if I refused to let myself use it -- if I refused to let any of the humor be based on making fun of the characters simply because they play D&D, or because they're "geeky".  The play definitely deals with self-loathing -- it's an integral part of the geek experience, after all -- but the audience is laughing with these people, not at them.

For example, the laughs in the scene you're referring to come at the expense of Tara's character Alaya, not Tara herself.  For one thing, the scene is about Alaya (portrayed by the actress that plays Tara) telling the audience about herself; Tara is not telling the audience about her Player Character Alaya.  For another, it becomes clear during that scene that not only is Alaya a completely over-realized, overwrought fantasy cliche, she is WONDERFULLY over-realized, overwrought fantasy cliche, that Tara loves and enjoys immensely.  And that's infectious: it's hard to come out of the First Act not liking Tara; it's very hard to come out of that scene not loving Alaya.

The absolute closest the play flirts with geek-loathing is at the top of the show, when John Francis laments living in his mother's basement, and being "the fucking stereotype of my hobby".  But even that's self-aware; a real geek stereotype wouldn't know he was one. Either way, the play itself doesn't buy into John Francis's self-pitying bullshit.  And it assumes the audience doesn't buy into it, either.


Are the rights available for anyone to do a production?

The rights are available for professional, semi-professional, and academic productions. The ebook of the script is available at all major online retailers, and at Smashwords (link).

How has the audience response been so far?

I recently got back from watching the opening weekend of the regional theatre premiere at the Impact Theatre in Berkeley.  I was blown away
by the audience response, and some of the reviews the play has gotten there have just been stellar.  For example:

- "If you have ever been a D&D aficionado, get a ticket immediately. The audience loved it, tittered continuously, laughed loudly, and applauded uproariously..."  -- The Oakland Examiner (link)

- "Nerd-on-nerd love is something to behold. It’s sweet, it’s smart, it’s funny – at least it is in Cameron McNary’s sharply etched play Of Dice and Men..."  -- TheaterDogs (link)

- "Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Of Dice and Men is the ease with which McNary turns a fantasy game into an all-inclusive metaphor — for romance, football, the Iraq War, brinksmanship, and the nature of cliques."  -- East Bay Express (link)

What personal feedback I have gotten from audiences and individual audience members has also incredibly positive, and gratifying.  The audiences at the shows I went to were incredibly responsive, and the ovations at the end were really quite impressive for such a small house.  Laughter was consistent, strong, and where I wanted it.  I left Berkeley a very happy playwright.

Has the positive response to the play inspired you to plan any other geek-related projects in the future?

Well, the play was the impetus for my wife Maureen and I to form Critical Threat Theatre, with a mission to perform "Great Plays. About
Geeks."  We're currently reading scripts, trying to figure out what we want our second project to be.  There are plenty of geek-related plays
out there; the "great" part is a little tougher.

In terms of writing something, I'm definitely open to the possibility of telling another story related to geek culture, but I definitely
want to make sure I have a story to tell.  The muse hasn't struck yet, but that doesn't mean she won't.

Thanks for taking the time to tell us about Of Dice And Men, and I wish you the best of luck with it!

Thank you, W.J.  It's been a pleasure!

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