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April 1st, 2001

O Escapist, Where Art Thou?
(Featuring A Birthday, Some History, and a Dedication)


ife is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans.

Who said that?  John Lennon or Mark Twain?  No matter.  If you've been wondering What are YOU lookin' at?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 plans.

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 page 
Some glitches that required replacement of my motherboard

Obviously, 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!
Who Tried To Kill The Escapist?
  • Cthulhu
  • an "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)
  • Satan
  • The Bavarian Illuminati
  • Those guys that sing "Who Let The Dogs Out"
  • Mike Gentry
  • the one-armed man
  • Wizards of the Coast
  • Al Gore
  • any combination of the above
  • _____________ (Fill in the blank! Name your OWN patsy!)
If you 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.

All 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.

Losing so 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 days.)

This site 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.

I get 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).

Oddly 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.

In the 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... 

The site 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. 

Then, 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.

I was 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.

It was decided.  I would write my paper on gaming.

The 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 independent ISP).

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

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.

In January 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 site

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.

I thought 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 success.

I even 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.

Karen did 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.

When the 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?

Karen 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.

(The irony 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.

There are 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."

In time, 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.

When times 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).

She could 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, Karen. 

Because you were very right to be concerned.   That's what big sisters are for.

Play nice,

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