SrA Ian McGonigal, one of our two contest winners (along with civilian Jospeh Kramer), recently gave us some insight into gaming among those who slip the surly bonds of Earth as airmen in the United States Air Force.
How and when did you first discover gaming?
One day when I was a kid, I hit the jackpot on one of those amusement park machines that gives tickets that you can turn in for prizes. While looking through the prizes I saw a cool box with awesome artwork… I didn’t even know what it was; I just wanted it for some reason. It turned out to be a module for Middle-Earth Role Playing (MERP) by Iron Crown Enterprises. It came with the equivalent of the player’s guide, a couple of adventures, an epic monster book, dice, maps, and cheesy cardboard miniatures. Because of this impulse buy, I began reading The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. This branched off to Magic: The Gathering, Warhammer, D&D, and eventually Open Design type role-playing. I still have my old MERP books and read them every now and then, though the cardboard figures were lost forever to who knows where.
What’s your current favorite game?
I only get to travel back home to the states once a year and prepare a one-shot d20 Modern game for myself and my friends. I tried 4th edition D&D recently, but have found it to be too much like a large board game and less like a freeform roleplaying game. It is starting to mirror popular MMORPGs in structure; I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. I pathetically cling to 3.5E and my old books. In the last year, I have also developed at addiction to D&D Miniatures as well.
What led you to join the Air Force?
I joined the air force for the educational benefits of the G.I. Bill, so I could avoid massive debt from student loans. The US Air Force takes care of its own. I had no idea I would enjoy my enlistment as much as I have, and I plan to make it a career.
We’ve heard from a soldier and a sailor—what’s the gaming scene like in the air force?
At my current location (Tokyo, Japan), it has been a task to find people interested in tabletop gaming. When I first got here, my supervisor had a small library of gaming books in his room. I met a couple people that I could play CCGs with, but no one on base to roleplay with. I eventually met a group of foreign students from England in downtown Tokyo that had gaming sessions. I have gone a couple times, but because of my work schedule, it is difficult to do. I have heard that RPGs are more popular in stateside bases and especially in deployed locations.
For the times when you aren’t able to game, what other outlets do you have for your hobby?
I’m always looking through my old RPG books to get ideas for future campaigns. I browse the pen-and-paper wikis out there for Open Design additions to current campaign settings. I read a lot of fantasy novels to keep my mind fresh. I read Kobold Quarterly and try to find back issues (getting harder and harder to find), and of course, I browse the KQ blog for the Monday Monsters and other useful Open Design elements.
What role does gaming play in your life?
GM-ing has helped me develop some of the leadership skills I use to this day in the military. Keeping players on task can be difficult in some games, which taught me how to keep track of people and mitigate problems. As a player, roleplaying taught me to work as a team and solve problems; and, of course, it’s a lot of fun. I’m not saying this could work for everyone, but I think my history of playing RPGs with a supportive group helped in conforming to a team setting through boot camp. (But because it is a self-fought battle, no amount of teamwork spirit can amount to being fit.) Recently, I’ve found solitude despite a hectic work schedule by losing myself in fantasy gaming material.
In your experience, what difference does a program like Adopt-a-Soldier make in the lives of military personnel?
I signed up for Adopt-a-Soldier and within a month, someone had already sponsored me! I was amazed at how many Open Design gamers are willing to support us military members overseas and deployed. It’s nice knowing that people care enough to provide me with a service that gets me a copy of the latest magazine quicker than having to wait for the BX to get their shipment—and for free, to boot.