Thursday, October 27, 2011

Role-Playing and Urban Legends Part 2

In the last post, I said that urban legends have been a hobby of mine since I was 12. This has had its ups and downs.
When I was in my early twenties I worked as a clerk at a 7-11. A woman came in wanting to put up a flier warning about lick-on tattoos laced with LSD. It was a classic example of the Blue Star Tattoo legend. I took a flier and explained the legend. 
Let’s just say that both she and my manager were less then pleased.
But the real fun with urban legends started when I was working as a customer service representative at Wizards of the Coast.
I was hired by WotC in July of 1993, the same month they released Magic: the Gathering. So I was there for its early rush of success.
My day-to-day job was answering questions about our games. The majority of these questions were based on the rules to Magic: the Gathering; and later, after we bought TSR, Dungeons and Dragons. However, this was a job based on taking incoming phone calls, so anything could happen.

At some point my manager decided that one of us should be focused on any calls based on rumors about our games, like the ones based on the sources I cited in the last post.  Specifically he wanted a point person to deal with any question about our games being evil, satanic, or harmful. Basically, to deal with people who believed the urban legends.
In his wisdom, he decided I should be that person.  I guess my love of urban legends made me the ideal candidate.
Part of the fun of this new responsibility was that I got to have special training.
WotC flew out a Michael Stackpole to give me this training. You may remember Michael; as I mentioned him in the last post. If the industry had an expert in this field it was Michael.
I would like to believe that by the time I left WotC, thanks to Michael’s training and my own experiences, I was the industry’s second leading expert.
The method used to direct calls to me was pretty simple. The person who got the call would put the customer on hold and then yell out loud, “Jeff! Satan call!”
I ended up developing a lot of responses to that.
“Tell him I’m not here”
“Tell him it can never work out between us.”
 “Tell them we’re not in league with Satan. We’re in a bowling league with Satan. And do you know how hard it is for him to rent shoes?”
“Why don’t I ever get Shiva calls?”
You get the idea.
After that I would take the call and get to work.
Most of the calls and letters fit into two basic categories.
The first would go like this:

"What is this game based on?" I would be asked.

"Math, basic arithmetic and a little algebra." I would answer.

“What?” as I had clearly not given the expected answer.
“Well the game was developed by a math professor. If you take out all the art and flavor text what you are left with is a game mechanic that is based on mathematic principles.”

The other type would go like this
“Is this game based on the occult?”
“I’ll be honest with you; I doubt any of the game designers know anything about it. All the setting and art are based on western fantasy literature and most of that was derived from the work of a pair of English theologians who were writing Christian allegory,” I would answer. Of course, I was referring to J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
Between these two sets of stock answers, I was able to field a good majority of those calls.
Of course, there were some real winners.
My personal favorite was a woman who called and as soon as I answered she went off:

"I am going to burn these cards my son bought."

"No ma’am, you don't want to burn them."

"No, I am going to burn them."

"No, please, shred them instead."


"The cards are coated in plastic like poker card; if you burn them the smoke will be toxic. Shredding them will be much safer."

"Aren't you upset that I am going to destroy them?"

"Why would that upset me? We already have your money. The rest is an issue between you and your son."
My manager wanted to give me a stern talking to for that one, but he was laughing too hard.
Another one that always puzzled me was a bit of mail we received. It wasn’t a letter; it was a copy of the rule book found in Magic decks. Someone had written in Bible quotes on random pages. Well, not the quote - it would be Book, Chapter and Verse; it was up to me to look up the quotes. They were mostly from the Old Testament.  I could never really figure out what theme they were going for, since no two passages covered the same subject.
They did write one original thing on the back of the rulebook.
“I Pled the Blood of Christ on your company”
I still look at that and think that the word just seems off.
Then again it’s not like they took the time to write an actually letter.
The last one was a doozy that was still going on when I left WotC in 1997.
I got a call from the superintendent of a school district in upstate New York.
His story went like this. One of the schools in his district had allowed students to start up a Magic: The Gathering club. Everything was going fine until some parents had seen the cards and complained to the district. It was a fairly standard “These cards are Satanic” complaint. What was different was that one of the parents was a lawyer and she was preparing a t First Amendment law suit against the school.
I’m pretty sure you looked at that previous sentence and thought, “A First Amendment law suit? Why?”
This was her logic (so to speak): Since the game was so clearly Satanic in nature, allowing it to be played at school was promoting a religion, and thus violated the separation of church and state.
Honestly, if this was a work of fiction, I would have violated suspension of disbelief.
I spent time helping the superintendent understand the game, and even gave him examples of cards so that he could have the game looked at by a child psychologist. They found nothing wrong with the game, but the lawsuit went on. And from what I heard, it was going on as late as 2004.

No comments:

Post a Comment