Earlier this week, Games of Thrones—the thing that people on the internet now love more than anything else in the whole world—returned for another season. For some reason, it’s a show that people have only ever felt comfortable describing to me IRL in alliterative HBO comparisons: “The Wire with wizards,” “The Sopranos with swords,” and so on. I haven’t watched it yet, and to be honest, I probably never will.
And it’s not because I don’t have HBO Go, or because every time I’ve tried to torrent something I’ve just ended up with a frozen download bar and tons of pop-up ads for dick pills. It’s because I have an innate aversion to anything that can be described as “fantasy.”
We all know the clichés of the fantasy fan: the Games Workshop employee who sighs when children don’t know how to play the game properly. The people who found their cultural Garden of Eden in the graphic-novels section of Borders some time in the late 90s. Their cultural trajectory took them from Redwall to Red Dwarf to Reddit, and now they argue loudly in small-town bars about how Bruce Lee died. They hate fashion in all its forms, yet they yearn to look different. To get around this, all of their clothing must refer to something else. Be it an oversize Alan Moore–style amulet or one of those “Afraid of the dark, Lagerboy?” T-shirts.
The mission statement of Game of Thrones, though, is that it isn’t just meant for those people. It’s for people who like True Detective, Donna Tartt, and the National. It’s sexier, it’s full of great actors, it’s about politics, and people die all the time. You can talk about it at parties, and people won’t laugh at you! But as much as its audience protests that GoT isn’t just for people who love arguing about dragons, my aversion to anything that could be described as “fantasy” runs far deeper.
In truth, I really don’t care whether Game of Thrones is more like “Mad Men with magicians” than Dungeons & Dragons or whatever. It’s a lifelong problem; the same one that made me fall asleep in the first Lord of the Rings film, walk out of the second, and completely ignore the third (not to mention The Hobbit, which was even disliked by many people who loved LOTR).
Alright, it’s been awhile so some of the details have gone fuzzy on this but oh lord it was bizarre. And long, sorry.
So when I was in High School we had required community service hours. It was something like 40 hours over the whole four years, which really wasn’t bad at all if you didn’t procrastinate. The hardest part about it was finding a stable place to get your hours in that wasn’t already flooded with other high schoolers trying to do the same thing.
Freshman year I made friends with this guy in my English class, and early Sophomore year he told me he had found a place for us to volunteer. It was an after school program being run out of our former middle school where we could supervise kids on the library computers and make sure they were really doing their homework and not playing games. It was a sweet deal because we just got to sit there, do our own homework, and would occasionally pick up paid tutoring gigs on the side.
The rest of the program was kind of weird. Their biggest attraction for the kids was the LARP classes they offered. They were run by this 30-something year old man child and this guy from our year in high school. My friend and I sat in on an introductory class one time to see what it was all about, and I spent the whole time just snickering at how seriously they took it. They acted like they were literally training these kids to become warriors. The classes progressed to teach fighting styles, how to craft weapons, how to create characters, etc.
But in the end the kids were having fun, the manchild seemed like an alright guy, and I was always in the library so I never really had to deal with it.
My friend got more invested though. He started to get really into it- crafting a character, building a simple weapon (a “boffer”?) and starting to talk about getting some more “fitting” clothes. The manchild started coming around to the library more between LARP classes to chat about adult LARP events happening in the area and how to get in on them. I just stayed in my lane and did the job I was there to do.
The thing was, I really love kids. Despite how bratty they can be I find it really rewarding to work with them, and these kids were no exception. So even after I completed my 40 hours I was happy to stick with the program and keep offering my time. By then I had gotten to know a lot of the kids and even looked forward to hanging out in the library and helping them with their homework.
So when the program started hosting events for the kids where they could invite friends not in the program, I agreed to help out. They had normal things like dances and game tournaments, but then also a bunch of LARP events. I just hung out as an extra set of eyes, but my friend got so into it that he was basically an extra kid we had to supervise.
The cherry on top was when they planned a huge field trip to this nearby island with an old wartime fort that you could tour usually for historical purposes. Somehow they had managed to get permission to use it for their LARP games. I was really not interested in going to that one, but the woman running the program asked really nicely because they really needed another “adult” or they would be out of ratio. I really didn’t want them to have to scale down the event and leave some of the kids out, so I gave in and agreed to go.
The day of the event I showed up in jeans and a t-shirt. I had no plans of actually participating- I was literally just the extra set of eyes they needed to stay in ratio. The manchild threw a FIT. He complained to the woman running the program that I was going to throw them all out of character because there were no jeans and t-shirts in medieval times. He literally wanted to leave me behind (even though they would be out of ratio without me) just to preserve the “mood” he was going for. Of course the woman isn’t fucking stupid, so she told him to get over it and that I was coming. He and my friend refused to speak to me for the rest of the day. As we were taking the ferry back, he came over to me and gave me a long speech about how unfair it was that I had compromised their event by dressing the way I did, and that I should really think about the choices I made because I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by being there (despite the fact that I was literally there as a favor to the woman running the program and the kids).
Needless to say I left the program shortly after that. My friend and I quickly ended our friendship, and I moved on to do my own thing while he fell deeper and deeper into the LARP world. Last I heard (we’re 22 now) he had dropped out of college and moved back in with his parents. He’s working some entry level job to pay for all of his LARP events and has no intention of doing anything else with his life.