It was February 14th, and my hopes that I had entered a world where there was no Valentine's Day were not quite realized. Drew and Shannon were around, not doing much, although Drew's energy was unflagging as ever. Shannon was leaning forward on her elbows over the open-gaming tables and wasn't saying much. It was tough to draw her out, and Drew was trying with nearly all his might (all the might that wasn't required to get his clock cleaned at his first game of Icehouse, anyway), repeatedly asking if it was about the whole Valentine's Day thing. "I'm just tired," is all she would say. A few other friends of theirs wandered by the table, tried to get her interested in things, failed. One guy said he had to skip out on the con for the afternoon and head to the local multiplex for a showing of You've Got Mail with his girlfriend. Finally Drew abandoned our Icehouse game in progress and he and Shannon went back up to their hotel room to lie on the bed.

Gaming has at least one thing in common with sports: the "Not Now Honey, The Game's On" syndrome. Ever since I began thinking seriously about geek culture I've had to contend with the apparent reality that geek-nature occurs more often in males than in females, and with what that means. After all, sports fandom and hobby gaming both attract people who are drawn to systems for their own sake... and you don't hear much about football widowers. I have a number of theories on this, probably all wrong. The one I've settled on for the moment is that lovers prefer the illusory fusion of identity to the reality that they are, and will remain, different people. That they will have different passions and interests is inevitable; when they're lucky, their moods more or less coincide and they can understand this in each other. But now and then, one will get all geeked about a video game just when the other craves intimacy, leading to a crash - a crash that seems to hold the whole world in the balance, because it threatens the we-are-one illusion. Did that make sense? Anyway, I ran into Drew again later in the day, asked if he had determined the real source of her melancholy if it wasn't Valentine-related (as she claimed it wasn't). It was. She had felt the need to deny it, and I guess that's the only reason the whole event really scared me.

And oh yes - there were the knights in full armor.

whack-a-knight The Society for Creative Anachronism's demonstrations used to be one of the highlights of the con for Allan and I. It's a nationwide organization with a large, active chapter in Northern California. They pursue research into and reenactments of medieval lifestyles and warfare. A little bit Ren-faire-ish, but much more serious. The combat, all foam-and-duct-tape weapons and chainmail, is approached (to hear them tell it) like a sport: several costumed spotters protect the perimeter of the demo area with long staves (that's the correct plural spelling of "staff" - some of my old D&D education actually held!) and call out "Hold!" when a couple of duellers roam too far toward the onlookers, or whenever some armor fasteners or other safety equipment looks awry. The combat demo goes in rounds, each set up with a different premise or gimmick (the "torch" blew out - stop the combat and put blindfolds on everyone!), usually concluding with a sequence of combats strung together to form a "dungeon crawl" storyline not unlike those of basic D&D. The combatants themselves are agile in heavy armor and padding, display high endurance under the afternoon sun, and tend to burst out with the kind of goofy humor that you'd probably come up with if you were inside a form-fitting tin can getting beat on. Apart from the demos, the SCA has its own conference room with weapons and custom shields on display, and holds seminars.

The SCA demos used to draw a pretty big crowd, but not so much anymore. The demo used to draw a massed, milling crowd out by the pool of the hotel at the old Oakland location for the con. Non-armored SCA staffers would step onto the field briefly between fights and shout some half-sensical, mock-medieval pronouncement about the nature of the next round. Since my four-year hiatus, a rectangle of folding chairs and an erudite costumed MC or sorts has taken over. I had no trouble finding a seat. Truthfully, it was a little embarrassing, having these big bashes with half an audience, as if there were nothing unusual about them. (That and there were no knights who stood still long enough for me to get a good sketch done. Dammit.)


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text and drawings © copyright 1999 Mike Sugarbaker