Sunday, May 1, 2016

Edgar Johnson: Game Writer, Blogger, Social Games Researcher

Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad zine, work for Perils on the Purple Planet, bonus adventure for Bride of the Black Manse, Against the Atomic Overlord and more...Doctor Edgar Johnson III's RPG authorship credits are mighty impressive deeds. His academic credits ain't too shabby either. He's a Professor of Communication Studies with a B.A. in Sociology and a Ph.D. in Communication Studies. Besides teaching, he's also currently applying his academic background to study and research into the social aspects of gaming. I'm super excited about the completion of this project  In fact, when I first thought about doing this blog, Edgar immediately came to mind because of the survey's he was collecting a couple years ago for his research.

Through our online friendship on G+ I think we've both discovered a lot of common ground. I've been looking forward to meeting him in person but my travel plans get squashed every time the chance for our paths to cross presents itself. Hopefully, because of an upcoming event we're both scheduled to attend,  I'll finally meet him, his wife and daughter real soon. Edgar, thanx for taking the time to do this interview, Man.

And, for a glimpse of how I REALLY feel about Edgar's writing, you can check out this post from my other blog, Necropants'd. Edgar's work was featured in the blog's inaugural post back in August of 2014.

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).

Some Oddities about Growing Up Poor

This is a difficult question to answer. When I was growing up, and especially between the ages of 5 and 12, my family was dirt poor. As a result I had toys, but the ones I valued the most weren't necessarily the ones I wanted the most. So, for example, what I really wanted was things like GI Joe dolls (the one with the submarine and the kung fu grip) and Star Wars stuff, but I never got it. I wanted those because then I could play "pretend" games with them. That said, though, I did have some things that were my faves:

My Bike
I lived in Atlanta most of that time of my life, but in a lot of different places in and around there. My bike was my way to get around, yes, but it also gave me a chance to do some crazy (and probably dangerous) shit. We'd pretend to be Evel Knievel and Dukes of Hazzard and stuff like that. Jumping from earth and wooden ramps. I broke a frame on one of my bikes and had to get it welded because of that kind of thing.

Bikes were about freedom. We had a lot of it back then. I literally could leave my house without telling my parents anything about where I was going, and come back pretty much when I wanted to, usually afternoon/dinnertime. Later, as a teen, I often wouldn't come home at all, but that's another story. I'd have to say that my bikes were my best toy.

My Stuffed Animals
I had a collection of all kinds of stuffed animals, some of which I got for presents and some of which I got as hand-me-downs from my mom's sisters (she had six of those), two of whom were not much older than I. They were about pretending. My brother and I would do all kinds of stuff with them. I loved those things, and had to repair a fair share of them, usually with things like modeling glue and masking tape, because I didn't know how to sew at that time. Funny thing about me was that I never really thought about asking my mom to do it for me. We were always very independent that way.

I think that came from my early years. We lived out in the country (rural Georgia) when I was really young, between the ages of about 2 and 5 (when my parents divorced, and my dad became a criminal for some years). Back then we lived on five acres near my dad's business partner. They built two houses, one for each family. It was me, my brother, my mom and dad, and the other family and their two boys. So we spent a LOT of time outside, playing in the woods and generally raising hell. And remember, we were really, really young, but we had forests and streams and hills and all that. I remember when a tornado took down a bunch of trees near the house. The roots got ripped out, so there were these holes/hollows where they used to be. Playing under those was a blast. I think that's where I developed my love of digging and building forts and that kind of thing. Which led to…

The Fort
My step-dad had spent some years working with my uncle, the carpenter (that's how he met my mom), and later he worked at West Lumber, on Buford Highway, near Atlanta. Six days a week, 10 or so hours a day. His boss was a take-no-excuses kind of guy. As hard as it was, one benefit was that he got to take scrap/irregular lumber for free. So he managed to accumulate enough to build a fort in the backyard of one of our many houses (we moved a LOT). It was two stories high, with a ladder on the outside. No walls, just platforms. My stepdad put up the framing and my brother and I had to do the floors. We even built some primitive siege engines. My uncle was a carpenter, and my brother and I spent a lot of time on jobsites, because we couldn't afford daycare or babysitters. I learned to make stuff during those years. I still do a lot of stuff like that. We used to have wars with the kid on the next street over. Those guys were assholes, and their family was kinda white trash (not that we weren't, but my parents were hippies, not rednecks). At one point I remember throwing a brick at one of them, and (luckily) missing his head by about six inches. We were fucking crazy. I loved that fort, though. It was a cool thing.

I also should tell you that it was in this period (probably in 1978) when I first started getting really, really into reading books. I don't include them in my toys, because most of them were library books. I loved fantasy stuff, and my step-dad was a real fan of science fiction and horror, so that's where I caught that bug. A lot of those influences came from a very short period between about 1978 and 1980 (ages 9 to 11). It's also important to note that my folks didn't restrict my reading. I read everything in the house, and that included stuff like National Lampoon and my step-dad's collection of underground comics, and I even read Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut when I was about… 11 I think. It had pictures in it. I remember that.

Those were really important years for the development of my love of stories and gaming. It was about this time (1979) that I got into D&D, and got the Holmes Basic set. My friend, Eric, though, was a rich kid. His dad worked on the Alaska pipeline. He had everything, and sometimes I went to the mall with him and his mom. She kind of took pity on me and bought me some miniatures one time. That was really cool.

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? 

Edgar: I loved Battle of the Planets and Star Blazers. Those were on one of the UHF stations every afternoon after school. I think I liked those because they were different and weird. Same thing with Ultra Man and Land of the Giants. I also dug Dukes of Hazzard and BJ and the Bear (It was the South, so naturally this was The Shit for kids like me). That is to say, there were a lot of shows I liked on TV at that time, but I guess that’s mainly because they were stories, and I was really into good stories. I started writing about this time, as well. Oh, and I saw Harold and Maude on my 10th birthday. It made a big impression on me.

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.

Edgar: I've talked a little bit about this, above, but there was something I did that I will always remember. One of the books I discovered was by some dude named Zoltan, and was a book of magic. My mom was sort of in a New Age-y sort of period of her life (which would go on for some more years). So I built sort of a hideout in my closet, using big cardboard boxes and crayons and stuff, and read the magic book. I don't know what happened to that book, but I do remember it leading to me being interested in the occult and, later, things like astral projection and the movie Altered States.

My imaginings were always also about having a private place to be. I'm a really territorial person to this day. I didn't have much that was mine, but jealously guarded it, and had a place that was mine, as well. That comes, I think, from after my mom's divorce, when we stayed with various friends and family for about three or so years, and I never really had a place of my own. After the age of 11, when my brother and I no longer shared a room, I made that place my bedroom. Now, it's my office at home.

But yeah, almost all of my playtime as a kid (and now, I suppose) was about imagining a world other than the one I was living in, because the one I was living in didn't really satisfy. It was meager and kind of dreary, both because of poverty and because I didn't have a lot of friends. We moved around a lot, for one thing, which made it difficult to keep friends. My brother and I also were going to school out-of-district, using a friend of my mom's address. So, I never had much of a chance to bring friends from school home to my place. If I did, we might get kicked out of the Good School, and have to go back to the shitty, dangerous one. We left that one when I was nine years old, because my parents busted me stealing their weed. I was hanging out with a rough crowd, and I think it really freaked my mom out. So, I went from having friends to having pretty much me and my brother, and those guys we fought with, and this kid Eric who was 15 and nerdy as fuck. He's the guy I talked about, earlier.

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? 

Edgar: I never really fit in very well, as I'm pretty sure you've figured out from some of what I've written already. I was a lonely, nerdy kid by the time I was about 10 or so. Later, I discovered metal and then punk rock. That's when I was able to say "fuck you" to most of the assholes who thought I was a dick. Even now I'm kind of a recluse, and tend to spend a lot of time at my house. People come here, and I feed them. Seeing me out and about is a rare thing for the most part.

My family was really tight—Us against the world, for serious—but my mom and step-dad weren't really into the whole parental thing. So almost all of the stuff I did was really independent of them, except for weekend outings to go swimming at Lake Lanier, and camping and stuff like that. So, my play time was, like I said, kind of solitary.

I used to read a lot, and got into music between the ages of 8 and 12. I liked the Monkees from their TV show, and from my parents I learned to like the Beatles and the Kinks, and then later, on my own, I got into Ozzy and AC DC, and then Judas Priest. When I was 14 it was punk rock and Frank Zappa. Now I listen to all kinds of shit, but mostly metal, because it's most amenable to gaming, I think. But that's the kind of stuff I did—things I could do on my own. My brother and I did play together some, but mostly because there was nobody else to play with.

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?

Edgar: I think some of the stuff I mentioned earlier applies to this question. Mostly it was just reading and playing pretend games.

Desert Island Media

What are the top 10 things you would want to have on a deserted island - music recordings - films - books - TV shows - comics - games - or toys? 

Edgar: Man, I really hate questions like this. It's like asking somebody which of their children they'd leave behind. But, right now, it'd be the following:

A good hat for my little, bald head. I hate the sun, and burn easily.
A good chef's knife. I do a lot of cooking.
My DCC RPG rulebook.
My extensive collection of dice.
Some good mechanical pencils and refills, and Pilot G2 pens and spare ink cartridges.
Glen Cook's Black Company novels.
Music: Black Sabbath, Motorhead, High on Fire, Blood Ceremony, Christian Mistress, Zappa—as much as I could bring.
I don't think that any movies or TV or comics would come into the picture. It would be all music and gaming stuff, and maybe a few books.

Edgar's Game Blog:
Edgar's Work with Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad:
Edgar's Work For Goodman Games Can Be Found Here (Purple Planet):
And Here, Against the Atomic Overlord:


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