Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Adam Muszkiewicz: RPG Podcaster, Blogger, and Zine Guy.

I've long wondered what draws me to certain entertainment and hobbies, why do I like what I like, and how come I'm different from most of the people I know. Being part of an online game community is my only real connection to people who share my interests. So, inevitably my question, 'Why this stuff?", has grown from a self-centric perspective, to wondering about the childhood play of other gamers, and if maybe there's some similar quality to our early development. That's the place where this blog comes from. Plus, hey, I still like toys.

I first became aware of Adam on G+ for his Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad zine collaboration with Wayne Snyder and Edgar Johnson. Reading his online game posts and his game blog, Dispatches From Kickassistan, made me think there's something familiar about Adam that reminded me a little of myself. Later, when he and Donn Stroud started their Podcast, Drink Spin Run, Adam's exuberant enthusiasm exuding from my speakers, and the ease at which he could launch himself into a passionate rant about music, games, or books--all the things I can't stop myself from ranting about--made it seem like I was listening to an audible mirror. My wife overheard me listening to DSR one night and asked, "OMG, who is that guy? He sounds just like you."

Adam and his wife Katie, just had their first child, a son named Stanley. Seeing Facebook photos of the family at play made me yearn for those years when my 2 children, Ian and Emily, were first born. Those are amazing years when you get to see the world fresh and full of wonder through playtime with your children. It was while watching a short video of Stanley playing with blocks and letting loose with incredible joy and laughter that I started to develop the idea for this blog. The premise is simple; what was childhood playtime like for the people the the game designers, writers, artists and players who I find interesting. I'm really happy Adam agreed to do the interview. It was important to me that his would be Appendix N Happy Meal's inaugural interview.

Favorite Toys

What were your favorite toys during child hood? Like, the TOP 3 TOYS of all time and pick your favorite of these toys. What is it about any of these toys you most identified with? What made this so special? How did you play/enjoy this toy? (shared or solo play).

Adam: I was a child of the 80's, so the big toy brands were the go-to toys. Transformers, He-Man, that stuff. Star Wars was probably king, though, because that was a world-definer for me. One of the interesting facets of my childhood, though, was the fact that in the big faction franchises (Transformers, etc.), I would always get the bad guys and my younger brother would always get the good guys. I think that this inherently adversarial (completely arbitrary) decision might have set me up for DMing in future years, but I'm not too sure.

I think solo play as a child is unavoidable. There are always going to be times when kids are alone. Most of my play, however, wasn't. I always had other kids of the same (or similar) age around, and if that failed, I had my little brother and a bunch of cousins to get to play with me the way I wanted. Which might also have been a thing. Somehow, it always seemed like I was the kid defining how we played. Not that everyone else was a pushover, I was just louder/more convincing. 

Favorite Films and TV

What were your favorite films or TV during childhood and what age were you for each favorite? What did you identify with about these shows? Do you think these shows had an influence on the adult you? 

Adam: The absolute biggest influences on me in my childhood were Star Wars (naturally) and Doctor Who. I discovered Doctor Who via a commercial for the show on my PBS station when I was really little and got hooked at an early age. The idea that the magical, demonic or fantastical was really just a different brand of science is all over that show, and it left its indelible mark on my tastes in what we'd later "learn" were "supposed" to be separate genres: fantasy and sci fi. For me, growing up , there couldn't be one without the other. Although I might have strayed from that path at various points in my life, rediscovering the thing I knew at age -- how old? Seven? Yeah, that was a pretty big bombshell that I came back to in my advancing years, surprised that I had known what was up even way back then. 

Imaginary Worlds

Think about playtime, did you create games or imaginary worlds as a child? If so, please describe an important original game or play world you enjoyed.

Adam: I wish my memory was better; answering this question has taken some serious digging and I'm still not much better off.

I know that none of the games that I found myself surrounded by in youth were ever really satisfying. Everything lacked something. I knew that, so I was always house ruling games, changing them to work in a more satisfactory way. New victory conditions, alternate obstacles or objectives, stuff like that. And of course few cardboard boxes survived in our house for long before I took scissors to them to make my own game boards and hand-made cards and stuff. I'd love to tell you more about games I made, but too few of them survived more than a few weeks, then they'd either get thrown away (as often by me as by my parents) or ruined or I'd forget the rules or I'd get accused of designing games that only I could "win."

Aside from formal games, in terms of general play, I feel like I was less interested in inventing new games and more interested in remixing the ones we were already playing so they'd do something else. Riding bikes + long cardboard tubes = bike jousting. Stuff like that.

In many ways, I've never gotten over the urge to tinker with other people's work. I'm less interested in making my own systems/games/whatever, and more interested in making other people's work do what I want it to. 

Play Community

As a child how did you feel about how you fit in with the rest of the world or community or friends? Like, were you very social or did you prefer spending time alone? Your environment, was it rural or urban? Were siblings a big part of your playtime? Did adults interact with you in game play, and if so was it structured play (sports, scouting, clubs, etc.) or free form? 

Adam: Until I was 12, I didn't have to do a lot of stuff alone. We lived the suburban dream in Grand Rapids, MI, and my folks deliberately moved to a neighborhood where most of my friends lived. In that group, I was always a sort of leader, if only because I had specific things I wanted to do or play and the other kids just seemed to go along with whatever seemed most interesting. I suppose you could call me social rather than asocial, but that doesn't mean that I wasn't awkward or strange by normal-kid standards; instead, I was more of a "chief of the dorks" when I was growing up.

A lot of that changed when we moved out of state (to Indiana, of all places) when I was 12. Sure, I developed friendships there, but I spent a lot more time alone over the years I lived there. I was more of a social outcast in Indiana, and in ways that I really wasn't prepared for since I hit the state in the middle of the Satanic Panic and met with serious religious bias for the first time in my life as well as ethnocentrism (Polish Catholics aren't quite the norm in Mennonite/Amish country). We moved again when I was 16, so I had to start over again and by that time was starting to get good at it.

My brother was always involved with my gaming development; always. We discovered HeroQuest together, WarMaster, Cosmic Encounter. He was one of my first D&D players when I got my Mentzer Red Box at a garage sale, stuff like that. He's four years younger than I, but he got to hang out with the big kids almost by default; Phil was already there, so why not include him, too? Phil's always been my most constant friend, too, so I've always tried to involve him in gaming. We still play in a weekly rotating game every Wednesday.

I think adults were only part of play at the very earliest of ages. At later ages, if they were involved, it seemed like it was only ever in a very structured way. We were playing a board game or card game that the old folks could understand (which typically meant "less fun than the ones they couldn't understand"). Over the years, Phil and I have gotten our folks to consider some games that would have been pretty well outside their scope when we were kids, which I think bodes well for when my own son, Stanley, is old enough to need folks to play with, himself. 

Playtime Impact on Adult Games

Do you have any thoughts about any aspects of your childhood playtime that might have influenced your passion for RPGs? Have you ever intentionally incorporated memories of childhood playtime into game work you have created as an adult?

Adam: One of the interesting things about being a kid is that the concept of playing a "character" during any sort of play is much more intuitive than when folks get older. All the cartoons, all these comics, the people in them aren't people, they're characters, but they're also characters in a particular aesthetic. He-Man isn't the same as Thundarr because the aesthetic was different. I talk about aesthetic being a guiding principle a lot, that Game X should feel like this and Game Y should feel like that and I think I developed a sense early on for the boundaries of aesthetics, but I unfortunately framed things in poor terms back then ("you're doing it wrong!"). But it did set me on a path to figuring out how to communicate aesthetics, which is pretty much the ongoing hunt in my DMing career. 

I feel like I always wanted to do things my way. I wanted the fictions I was exposed to to work the way I wanted the to work. So, like any kid, I started making my own things. My own superheroes, my own ancient deities, my own mythoi and ethoi, so I was sort of primed for the concept of RPGs when they entered my attention. 

I think in a lot of ways, by the time I was exposed to RPGs, I was already turning pretty much every game into an RPG. We told stories about our and around our games of Monopoly or LIFE or whatever. Making that be the focus of the game was more of a slight veer than a total change of game. If anything, it meant we were integrating the things we actually enjoyed and cared about into the existing play a little more closely. 

And of course, when I say "we," I really mean "I and anyone who I roped into playing whatever with me." 

Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad Zine available here:
Drink Spin Run, A Tabletop RPG Talkshow Podcast:
Dispatches From Kickassistan Blog:

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