Geek Chic

During last week's Club Rush day, whether you were recruiting or being recruited to the wide variety of campus clubs and organizations, you may have noticed a small table in the middle of the quad littered with tiny figurines and models. Or maybe, judging by the lack of attendees, you may have not. The Dungeons and Dragons/Role Playing Games Club (D&D/RPG Club) is no stranger to stigma, which it carries with surprising grace, identifying itself as part of a niche market. It's almost, some might say, exclusive.

Dungeons and Dragons, by far the most popular Role Playing Game, has a history that started when chess players decided that battling medieval ranks was old-fashioned and imagined new kinds of armies. Aliens, demons and elves took the place of kings, bishops and knights, all in a fight for checker-board supremacy. Growing bored of the board, entire landscapes were dreamt up, enhancing the imaginary aspect of the old strategy game. Finally, pawns were given personalities – a role which the player himself could adopt – and new rules were decided to elicit more fantasy. With this established structure, role playing spread around the world. In fact, if you've ever played a first-person-shooter video game, registered a Second Life account, or joined a Facebook game (yes you, Farmville farmers and Mafia Wars mobsters), you can thank the Role Playing Games community. But don't worry, you're not a nerd.

"Ninety-five percent of gamers aren't [nerdy] like that," says Adam Levine, a Santa Monica College student and active gamer.

Aero Hobbies and Games hosts a weekly D&D/RPG meeting on Saturdays, where local gamers gather to hone their strategic skills and share information about the RPG community. They agreed that the negative stereotype, like most, was due to a few bad apples.

Co-gamer Josh Gianunzio adds, "The people who are most outlandish get the most attention, and become cheerleaders for the rest of us."

So why do the rest of them keep playing, despite the discrimination?

"It's a social thing, hanging out with friends and having fun. It's entertaining, but it can also be educational," says Gianunzio.

He then described RPG battles that were played in an effort to be historically accurate. Instead of improvising fantasy, characters, settings and actions were dictated by the actual events being recreated.

"It gives people a chance to hang out with people they wouldn't normally interact with,"says Gianunzio. "Normal social boundaries don't exist here."

If you're thinking "neither do girls," you'd be wrong.

Liliana Vasquez has been attending regular gatherings for the last three months.

"It started with D&D podcasts," says Vasquez. "My friend would play and I got interested, but I was shy around people, so I didn't play in person. "

That is, until her considerate friend made a D&D character for her, and brought her to the game table. After just two games, she was hooked.

"I got the books and made my own character," Vasquez says. "And now I love it!"

Like other gamers, her enthusiasm expands further than just the entertainment value of role playing games.

"It's really helped me come out of my shell more – I mean, it's role playing." She added that her shyness had been abated by acting out her character's role in a large, intimidating crowd of guys. Guys that, as it turned out, weren't so intimidating.

Vasquez continued, "It's true, there are a lot of men. But they're smart, they're funny, they're considerate. And they don't smell."

Good news for those of you who feel like checking out role playing games, which you can do by contacting Jose Garcia, President of the campus DD/RPG Club, or Waeland Borne, a gamer and ICC Representative for Gaming, Animation and FX , or GAX. They meet every Thursday at the Academy of Entertainment and Technology on the second floor lobby at 12:30 p.m.

What should you bring? A pen and paper come highly recommended; the games are extremely complicated. Also bring an open mind. RPGs offer so many opportunities for strategic imagination that you could find yourself interested in any number of games. Themes range from the more tactical Warhammer, to the fantasy-oriented, active variety, like Live-Action Role Playing.

LARPing, as it is called, takes RPG off the tables and out of the hobby shops by requiring players to actually become their characters in every way. Costume, accents and personality traits must all be accurately depicted, inviting a fair amount of ridicule.

"LARPing was a low point in my life," says Ari Agbabian, another SMC alum who was present at Saturday's meeting. He was only half-joking.

"Those guys are nerds!" exclaims Levine, laughing.

The RPG community has more to offer than role playing. In fact, game play is just a small part of RPG and can only happen after you create a physical character or build an army, literally. Many gamers dabble in small-scale modeling, and some RPG enthusiasts are only in it for this facet of the hobby. The majority of "modelers" are intensely patient perfectionists, producing immaculately detailed replicas (all to historically-accurate specifications) which provides excellent experience for aspiring set designers, architects, and entertainment industry careers.

"The hobby has served me well," says Agbabian, who landed his job as a sci-fi television show producer using the skills he learned through RPG.

"Story lines, plot hooks, character development, these are all critical skills for RPG" he says.

With all the great things the RPG community has to offer, it's a wonder their table got such little attention. But, according to some gamers, resistance is futile.

"Online gaming and popular movies are crossing over, thematically. Geek culture is becoming ironically cool," says Agbabian, who was playing the role of forlorn vampire long before Mr. Pattinson (although, admittedly, not to such universal acclaim).

"It's Geek Chic. And it's spreading," he adds.

And if you know that hobbits have furry feet, that "X" stands for "Xavier," or that vampires glitter like diamonds, then he's right.