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Ian O'Rourke
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The Dungeon Masters

I've spent the last last month signed up to, by virtue of them giving me a 15 GBP Amazon gift voucher to trial their service. This means I've found myself trawling the site for something to watch occasionally. I randomly stumbled upon The Dungeon Masters in the documentary section and streamed it to the PSS3.

Oh boy, where to start? I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. After all, if you're going to do a documentary about Dungeon Masters, it's obvious you're going to pick three people that have, for various reasons, failed at life. It's not like people may partake in the role-playing hobby as an overall portfolio of activities and career related endeavours in a nice, virtuous, life-enhancing way is it? No. You have to be dysfunctional. The documentary follows the lives of Scott Corum, Richard Meeks and Elizabeth Reesman and two out of three of them are embarrassments that don't change in anyway throughout the documentary, the third isn't as bad and grows as an individual. As you can no doubt guess, the two sad cases are the males.

In all the above, and the below, I can only go on how I interpreted the documentary.

Scott Corum is an interesting case because he seems to live in a delusional fantasy world. He's waiting for the silver bullet. He's waiting for someone to discover his genius. This may be through his novel, the journey of which you see on the documentary, or the production of a public access TV show. While he's doing this his wife seems to do all the usual stuff associated with running a family and what, I suspect, is his part-time job of being the 'manager' of an apartment complex. Still, it gives them an apartment to live in. I wasn't sure what was worse about this, Scott himself or the fact his coterie of gaming buddies seemed happy to join in the delusions, support him in it and not give him a kick in the balls to 'reality up' a bit.

The weird thing, is you could find yourself liking and having a conversation with Scott, he's a Christian puppeteer and a hypnotist, he's also amazingly naïve in terms of his attempts to get his novel published, which is a mixture of endearing and 'smash head against the wall frustrating', but he is interesting. He is a nice guy. It's just a pity his pursuits are spoken about with such purpose, as if they have a grandness to them. This makes sense, as you get the impression he is a man on a quest to do something with the skills he believes he has. He has an amazing ability to 'ennoble himself'. The problem is, it isn't realistic and this itself seems part of the larger fantasy world he's woven around himself. He's the sort of person who'd describe himself in some grand way, novelist, TV producer, or whatever, when in truth he's an apartment complex manager...well, his wife is.

Richard Meeks. What can I say? Other than he seems to be the poster-child for the psychotic DM. The big event in his life is the total party kill that saw his gaming group, and friends, disband in an epic explosion of gaming fail. This is so epic people still speak about it years later. I didn't really know what to make of such an event being such a critical life juncture. Whichever way you look at it it's dysfunctional and slightly mad? Basically, he thought his players were being too greedy so he set-up a dungeon room that was actually a 'sphere of annihilation (I don't know what this is either, but it probably explains itself), which instantly wiped out the characters.

Characters that they'd spent years playing. Oh yeah, Meeks runs traditional D&D campaigns. You know, the type that runs not for years, but decades? Well, he runs one campaign which he's apparently run three times. He also left his first family virtually on a whim. He doesn't do goodbyes.

He's also the quintessential DM who should never have players at the table. It's his game. The players are there for his campaign. They should be basking in his glory and sucking on his tit, which is probably lactating with the sense of power. When things aren't going his way he kills the players. He can. Obviously. He makes this clear at numerous times, after all, the DM has all the power, you just get the impression he thinks the players should thank him because he 'tones down the true power he has'. We even get the reading of a grand 'DM drama' mail when he drops one of his groups. Of course, he's the true power behind the throne even after leaving, because the new DM comes to him for advice. He's so quintessentially bad it's amazing the film maker found someone who ticks all the boxes. He's got problems.

Elizabeth, by her own confession, believes that she is a magnet for drama. She's also into live role-playing. This will be setting alarm bells off in many a gamers head. She dresses up as a Drow Elf. The key feature of the Drow Elves being they have an extreme matriarchal society. She likes that. You can't help feeling she is compensating for some sort of power she finds herself missing in life. In fairness, Elizabeth is likeable, if every so slightly damaged goods. Call me shallow, but I would navigate well clear. I've seen an 'Elizabeth' at virtually any live role-playing event I've been to (a feature of my dim and distant passed though they now are). I've heard of an 'Elizabeth' in virtually every story or re-telling of a live role-playing event I've ever heard. Skilled. Talented. Potentially excellent at weaving character-driven stories. Regrettably, attention seeking.

At least Elizabeth grows as a person through the documentary. I even found her discovery quite profound. Well, it wasn't epic. I'm talking small scale profound, written in a very small font. Possibly even subscript. It did cause me to raise an eyebrow though. She discovered that her relationships in the past had one big problem: the guy had been interested because she was a gamer, not because of who she was. I can believe that. There are gaming males who stick to any gaming female like a limpet on the basis they are gamers. Regrettably, some gamers exhibit a sort of 'gaming incest', as if they can't make there hobby presentable to the 'outside world' so they seek to date insiders. In truth, they probably can't make there hobby presentable.

I would like to sit back and say none of these people reflect my view of the RPG hobby, but I can't. They don't reflect how I experience it, but I do know they exist. I know one person who was really clever who crashed out of college because of his obsession. I've seen, thankfully not experienced, individuals that are toned down version of Meeks. As for Elizabeth, well, whenever you do anything remotely live role-playing like you'll encounter at least one Elizabeth.

This is a pity, as the idea for The Dungeon Masters isn't a bad one. It's just a pity the film wasn't more balanced. Why isn't there at least one subject who is outgoing, presentable, successful and using the skills he has learned running games to better himself. It would have made a better documentary.

Permalink | Comments(5) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 08/08/2011 Bookmark and Share
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