O Escapist, Where Art Thou?
(Featuring A Birthday, Some History, and a
ife is what
happens to you when you're busy making other plans.
that? John Lennon or Mark Twain? No
matter. If you've been wondering what the fate of this site was
for the last several months, you weren't alone. Many of you
have written asking if the page is on vacation - or even if it will
ever seen another update. Those of you who managed to get an
answer out of me heard the same thing - life, for me, has had other
The page has
been on hold for several reasons - some of them personal, and some of
them technical. I won't bore you with the personal stuff
(let's just assume that all of it is pretty big), but since September
of 2000, I've run into the following technical setbacks:
A "server burp"
in September that caused everyone who tried to come to this site to be
redirected to the site of a web design company in Australia
The infamous Gaming Outpost
hack in November, which shut the site down for a couple of weeks
A hard drive
crash in January, right after we moved back to Delaware
A second drive
crash in March, on the brand new replacement drive
- this crash wiped out roughly 8 hours of work that I had put into the
that required replacement of my motherboard
there are greater forces at work here. Someone, or something,
has been holding my efforts back. My mind has been racing
with conspiratorial possibilities, but I certainly wouldn't mind
getting some second opinions. So for fun, I've composed a
little survey - if you think you have an idea as to who (or what)
has The Escapist in his slimy grasp, by all means, let me know!
Tried To Kill The Escapist?
"unholy clique" of Donald Wildmon, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson
- an irate
Jolly Blackburn (who is still ticked off over last
year's April 1st stunt)
guys that sing "Who Let The Dogs Out"
of the Coast
- Al Gore
combination of the above
(Fill in the blank! Name your OWN patsy!)
think you know who set me up the bomb, send your
theory to me via e-mail.
I'll announce the winner in a future installment of Random Encounter.
The winner will receive random, threatening calls
at 3 AM, a pile of flaming computer parts on their doorstep when
they're entertaining important guests, and my eternal scorn (for what
it's worth). For great justice.
April-Fool's kidding aside - I'm currently working on getting the big E
back up to snuff. This means catching up with the news
stories I've been sitting on, recovering all of those changes and
updates I had made and lost, and getting to work on all of those new
projects and additions I've been wanting to do for some time
now. I even have my own little goofy codename for this: the Lemons
to Lemonade Project, (L2L for short).
Once I get
started on this project, expect to see updates to the page each
week. They may be minor changes, like a few short
entries on one of the FAQ
files; or they may be big, like an interview, or an entire new
section. In any case, I'll always be relying on your creative criticism
to keep me on the right track.
much time caused me to miss something that is sort of a
milestone. In December, this site turned the ripe old age of
5. This, to me, is quite an accomplishment, considering the average
lifespan of all of the other "great projects" I have attempted in the
past. (That average, in case you were wondering, is about 9
has become very important to me, because it's probably the biggest difference
I have made in the world to date. I'm not trying to brag,
just to convey how glad I am with the way things have turned out.
e-mails - sometimes on a daily basis - from people all over the
world. I get messages from all over the U.S., Ireland,
Scotland, Denmark, France, and of course Brazil (where gaming is still
a big part of popular culture). Sometimes, I even get those
messages in English.
I get mail
from kids who thank me for helping them convince their parents that
playing Warhammer isn't dangerous. I get mail from parents
who thank me for helping them convince their friends and neighbors that
you're never too old to play these silly games. I get mail
from teachers who want to know more about using games in the classroom,
and from students who want to do their next paper on the gaming
culture, or the urban legends surrounding it. I even got a
letter from someone who cursed me for speaking out against
Satanism! (which I never did... except to say that games
aren't inherently Satanic).
enough, I've never gotten a letter from anyone
warning me that I might be going to hell for defending role-playing
games the way that I do. And that's the kind of mail I've
been expecting all this time.
When I look
back at all the letters, I see that I've helped a lot of people in a
very small way - and that makes me very happy. I can make no
honest guarantees as to how long I'll continue to maintain the
page. Really, I'm very surprised that it's lasted this
long. But I will say that it would make me doubly happy to
write the Random Encounter column celebrating the tenth anniversary...
in whatever form the World Wide Web will take by 2006.
meantime, look for some surprises in 2001, as we celebrate the big E's
fifth birthday. I'm not going to give any hints about what's
coming up because frankly, I'm not even sure myself. I'm
making this up as I go...
|A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ESCAPIST
began as a way to keep a promise, while saving a starving college
student some hefty online fees.
In 1995, I
was taking a Technical Writing class at Delaware Technical College -
and our final paper for the course had to focus on a problem and some
possible solutions to that problem. I debated on my topic for
a while, and considered writing about RPGs more than once.
something terrible happened - a young man from Collegetown, PA named
Caleb Fairley murdered a woman and her baby in a children's clothing
store. Police investigations at Fairley's home revealed
several Dungeons & Dragons and Vampire
books and Magic cards,
and the media went wild. The Philadelphia Daily
News slapped Fairley's shamed face on the cover and captioned it with a
statement about his "obsession" with "devil games"... news reporters
swarmed to local game stores and the goth club where Fairley often
spent his evenings, searching for anyone willing to admit that there
could be a connection between gaming and murder... and a disc jockey on
the Philadelphia station Y100 ranted about the "freaks" that play those
types of games.
outraged - not only because my favorite hobby was being maligned, but
because everyone seemed to be blaming something very trivial for the
loss of two precious lives.
decided. I would write my paper on gaming.
assignment had several stages to it - we were to conduct an interview
and a survey with charted results, among other things. For my
interview, I got in touch with David Millians (whom I finally got to
meet in person at Origins last year),
a teacher from Georgia who uses roleplaying in his classroom.
For my survey, I made a collection of questions about gaming and
religious beliefs, and pondered about how I would get enough responses
to warrant making a nice chart.
It came to
me after a couple of days - I would mass e-mail it to other gamers
until I got the amount of responses I needed. As an incentive
to fill out the survey and return it, I promised that everyone who
filled it out would get a copy of the finished paper e-mailed to them.
I learned a
lot from that experience - and not just about technical
writing. For one, AOL doesn't like it when you send out mass
mailings. I got a strike against my account for that little
stunt (no matter - it was all in the name of research!). I
also learned that AOL's file transfer system was, at the time, less
than conducive to such an effort - I would have to send the file to
nearly 100 AOL users, one at a time, racking up serious online charges
in the process, as this was some time before AOL offered unlimited
access to its users (and before I discovered the benefits of using an
One of the
gamers who filled out a survey suggested that I post the paper to the
web space that AOL offered to all of its users, thus making it
available to everyone with internet access, and easily downloadable to
those whom I had promised to send a copy.
I gave the
site the incredibly original and unpredictable title of "The Gaming
Advocacy Web Page." To this day, some sites and search
engines still list it under that name.
In May of
1996, I turned the page into an online gaming 'zine, using a title I
had been banging around for a print 'zine I had wanted to do earlier
(one of those 9 day lifespan things, I'm afraid): "The
Escapist." The page would, according to my
nefarious plan, cover all aspects of gaming, with a regular section on
gaming advocacy. Nate Trier and I submitted articles at
random whim for a few months before we both lost interest in the
project, and the page sat dormant for some time. Then, I had
the idea to devote the entire site to advocacy, and leave the other
material to sites like Gaming
Outpost and rpg.net.
The rest is,
as the cliche goes, history. People from all over began
sending me news stories, requesting more information, or just sending
me some words of encouragement. I started getting invitations
to speak at gaming conventions and other events (and have yet to be
able to do so). When Rod Ferrell and his "vampire clan"
murdered Heather Wendorf's parents in 1996, I was contacted by a
reporter for the Orlando Sentinel for an interview (that you can read here),
and the site has been quoted and referenced in countless papers written
by students in high schools and colleges in several countries.
of 2000, the site had another change - this one to it's own domain
name, supplied graciously by the Gaming Outpost,
which made finding it online a lot easier than trying to remember the
domain supplied by AOL. This brought even more people to the
If it sounds
like I'm bragging, I'm not. I'm still just a guy who likes
gaming, and who thinks that more people should either give it a try, or
leave it to those who want to play. And I'm very happy at the
response I've gotten from the effort I've put in over the years.
Since I do
put a lot of time and effort into the site, and since this is the
site's fifth birthday, I gave some serious thought about dedicating the
site to someone.
first about dedicating it to my father, who passed away in
1986. He was a hell of a guy in addition to being partly
responsible for my appearance here. I also thought about my
stepfather, another great man and excellent role model who left us in
1989. I considered my mom, who has been through her own hell
lately, fighting off both cancer and diabetes with an amazing amount of
thought about doing something sappy like dedicating it to my entire
family, or "all the gamers out there..." But I think I'd
rather do something that everyone above would probably prefer.
Let me tell
you about my sister, Karen.
something a long time ago that proved to me that she loves me very
much, and I'm not entirely sure that she even remembers it, or realizes
how much of an impact it had on me... or even how it is the reason that
this site even exists.
news of Irving "Bink" Pulling's death got out, it made all of the
newspapers, including the Wilmington News Journal.
Since it was an AP story, every paper got basically the same news -
that a kid took his own life, that he was an avid D&D player,
and that his mother believed that some sort of D&D 'curse'
killed her son. I saw the story the day it came out and
laughed it off - after all, the first paragraph mentioned that he
killed himself the week before finals, and we all know how stressful
final exams can be on a kid, right?
thought differently, however. She saw the article, knew that
I liked to play D&D, and got concerned. So she cut
the story out and mailed it to my mother with a note saying "Is this
the kind of game that we want Billy to play?"
Karen and I
didn't always see eye to eye on everything, especially during my teen
years. So naturally, this made me very mad. How
dare she?, I thought. It took a lot of fast talking
to convince my parents that I wasn't going to go over the deep end (my
first pro-gaming debate, if you will), and this didn't help my
frustration towards Karen at all.
that I first got hooked on D&D while staying at her house, by
two of her neighbors, and that I played my very first game in her front
yard is one that bears mentioning.)
The fact is,
and it's a fact that took me some time to realize, that Karen was doing
her duty as a sister. And that's something that we have to
remember about many of the people who attack gaming
as a dangerous or evil pursuit - they're looking out for our better
interests. No matter how wrong they may be, we still have to
respect how much they care about us.
exceptions, of course - like the reporter who is just after a more
attractive headline, or the televangelist who is really more interested
in the contents of our wallets, or the average joe who wants to make
himself feel better by putting someone else down. But Karen
was none of these. She was someone who didn't want to see her
little brother end up like "Bink."
Karen accepted that things would be okay with her little brother, and
that he would either outgrow this phase, or never outgrow anything at
all (which, of course, turned out to be the most likely
scenario). In fact, over the years she became more
understanding than I'd ever expected.
When I made
the announcement last year that I was moving away to try to make a new
living in Ohio with a game company, Karen didn't question my plans -
instead, she told me how proud she was of me, and insisted she help us
with the first month's rent in our new apartment.
got tough, and we couldn't manage in our new place, she helped us out
again. And when things got really bad,
and we had to move back to Delaware, she helped us again.
All without a single word of defeat or "I told you so" (which, by the
way, are the four most dangerous words you can say to me).
have easily said "See, I was right all along. You should
never have gotten messed up with these stupid games. Now look
where it got you." But she didn't.
So this page
- all of the writing and research I've done, all of the phone calls
I've made, all of the hair I've pulled out learning HTML and wrestling
with HTML editors that don't work like they should, all of the crashes
and the server problems, all the rants and the raves and the passion
behind them, all of the letters I get (even... no, especially
the one from the Satanist), and all of what is to come,
this thing that I made that has made a difference, I dedicate to you,
were very right to be concerned. That's what big
sisters are for.