SWR: L’Ellcrys

Shrink-Wrapped Recall – An occasional series about memories of old game shops. The rest of the series can be found here.

The stairs leading to L’Ellcrys

Have you ever had one of those weird coincidences happen when you’re talking about something and it suddenly materialises in front of you? The kind of thing that bad sitcoms immediately follow with “…and I also want a million dollars!” Well… that once happened to me with an RPG shop.

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REVIEW: World of Darkness – The Documentary (2017)

I have written a few pieces about the history of roleplaying games and the books that are attempting to piece it all together. In some of these reviews I complain about the writers’ reluctance to take even a centimetre’s critical distance from official corporate narratives, in others I bemoan the obsession not just with Dungeons & Dragons but with the period of the game’s history for which it was under the creative control of E. Gary Gygax.

My complaints are rooted in the fact that there are a number of historic moments that would really benefit from sustained critical scrutiny. Books could be written about the early years of Games Workshop, the boom in collectible card games, the weird bubble that surrounded the launch of the D20 open gaming license, the first disastrous attempt to shift the hobby closer to MMORPGs that resulted in D&D becoming second fiddle to its own licensee, and that’s without mentioning the fascinating social histories that might come from thinking and talking about non-Anglophonic gaming scenes. However, as instructive as these various moments may be, none has greater potential to disrupt existing cultural narratives than the history of the games making up the World of Darkness. While we may not yet have a book about the creators of Vampire: The Masquerade, we do now have a film written by Kevin Lee and directed by Giles Alderson.

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SWR: Games People Play

Shrink-Wrapped Recall – An occasional series about memories of old game shops. The rest of the series can be found here.

Tip of the hat to the Duke Mitchell Film Club for sharing this image.

It is fascinating how some memories rise effortlessly to the surface while others lay buried.

One of the reasons why I decided to start writing about old game shops was that I have a very clear memory of the first time I visited the Virgin Game Centre on New Oxford Street. I can remember getting the bus all the way along Oxford Street, I can remember wondering why all the interesting games were hidden on a mezzanine, and I can remember the face of the friend who took me there as I headed back home. I would say that I was probably around 14 when this happened.

Having written about all of the game shops I visited most frequently, I started casting my mind around for other places I happen to have bought games. I can remember visiting a horrible shop in Paris, a lovely shop in a shopping centre in Brussels, and a shop in Lausanne by a set of steps that seemed to appear just as I thought ‘wow… this would be a great place for a game shop’. I would love to write about these places as I do have some memories of them but I can’t quite remember their names. Then I was struck by another memory, a memory of being taken to a game shop in Notting Hill years before I had ever encountered even the concept of an RPG. I pulled on the thread and yanked free a number of images but I couldn’t remember when or why I had been to this place.

Then it started to fall back into place.

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REVIEW: Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt

A book that talks as much about the history of Dungeons & Dragons as it does about the book’s author. One of these subjects is considerably more interesting than the other.

Dungeons & Dragons seems to be doing pretty well for itself nowadays. The game’s fifth edition is said to be its most popular ever, people pull down six figure salaries for playing their games in public and entire online platforms exist just to help you find players and run games over the internet. It is easy to forget, but this present was not unavoidable.

Back in 2013, D&D was in trouble. An unpopular fourth edition had failed to rally the troops let alone gain purchase with people outside the hobby and a large chunk of the game’s existing audience had been lured away to Pathfinder. These were thin years for D&D, years without professional DMs or streaming audiences large enough to allow people to quit their day jobs.

In 2021, Dungeons & Dragons is dangerously close to being cool. In 2013, it was what might be referred to as a low-status pastime. The associated feelings of shame cast a long shadow over Of Dice and Men, a book that is as much about the history of Dungeons & Dragons as it is about the author’s conflicted feelings about his love for the game.

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