Forget what you’ve seen in the movies – war isn’t all explosions and excitement. There are long quiet bits where the soldiers’ worst enemy is boredom. As far as I’m aware (based solely on those movies I just told you to forget – I’m fickle), in World War II the average GI mostly kept himself entertained with booze, prostitutes, and Glen Miller. In Vietnam it was heroin, prostitutes and Jimi Hendrix. The one thing which has struck me over and over again about television coverage of the Iraq War is the surprisingly high geek factor of the modern GI. Every second US soldier seems to be pimply and bespectacled, and looks as though he would rather be playing a quiet indoor game involving polyhedral dice. Well, it turns out that impression is pretty accurate.
I think it’s a reasonably safe bet that Ziggurat Con, on June 9th at Talil Airbase, near Nasiriyah, will be the first ever organised convention for role-playing enthusiasts held in a war zone. But it probably won’t be the last. Apparently RPGs, table-top war games, collectible card games other forms of assorted geekery are a common pastime with entertainment-starved soldiers.
“There is a deeper sense of camaraderie in a war zone than you see back home,” said SPC David Amberson, Ziggurat Con’s organiser. “You eat with these people, work with them on a daily basis, and can even share a tent with the same people. When work is over for the day, we can sit back, relax, drink our favorite sodas, eat our favorite snacks, and play a bit of D&D. This helps us relax in a very stressful environment. We found a place where we can go somewhere far away from the IED’s, mortar attacks, and gunfire, without ever leaving the safety of our camp. The next step was only logical.”
It’s hard to explain quite why I am so pleased by the knowledge that enough troops on active duty play role-playing and war games for there to be a convention. Maybe it feels like a sort of vindication for me and my fellow Followers of Gygax, or perhaps a sign that geeks have finally inherited the earth. Mostly it’s because of the image of Bible Belt types getting wind of Ziggurat Con and the ‘D&D evil’/’troops good’ paradox causing their heads to assplode.