Steve Jackson Games (YGtCTO #252)

Game publisher

We started with plastic models. Mostly, the first ones that you built were made by a company called Aurora and they were cars. The glue smelled powerfully and may have been half the appeal for some. The decals sloughed off their backing in warm water and then stuck to your table and clothes. With experience, we graduated to semi-trucks and boats and spaceships and dioramas and monsters and all sorts of groovy things.

The coolest upgrade had to be RC airplanes, which were sort of like drones without the hovering. I never had the mechanical inclination, so I was just the companion who went along to watch others fly their craft. The range was not great and I remember a lot of broken wings when gas ran out or the plane was not turned back before it flew out of range.

All of this led to the local hobby shop, which was the place if you were serious about building models of any sort. I went along and ogled, but rarely bought. I didn’t have the patience most of the time. Then, the hobby shop added a new counter for games. Of all things, a little old lady (like the owner’s mother) had heard that role-playing games might become a thing. I chatted with her and returned to her multiple times before finally committing to the coolest game ever: Melee, published by Metagaming, a company out of Texas. I believe it cost $2.95. It was written by Steve Jackson. This was a lot less expensive than the boxed first edition version of Dungeons and Dragons, which was located on a nearby shelf and went for more than ten dollars.

Steve Jackson Games

Something about the game fired my imagination. I think it was the idea of creating a simple character with numeric attributes- a character that could continue from game to game and change for the better. It is also important to remember that it brought intense structure to what was an ultimately open-ended experience. Basically, numbers and a dictionary provided structure to something that defied easier rule-making.

In high school and college, I ran into serious players in the role-playing arena. I was never up to their level of commitment. Since then, I’ve stepped back into the fold at times, but mostly I’ve re-discovered board games, like the rest of the world.

Metagaming produced a host of games in a short time. Some more of those were created by this guy, Steve Jackson, and then they disappeared. Somewhere along the way, I heard that Steve Jackson was starting his own eponymous company. Their version of role-playing was the Generic Universal Role-Playing System (GURPS) which was really open-ended. Play whatever you want was their basic motto and they have been issuing a constant stream of guides and rules for decades. They also branched out into all sorts of areas, creating the Munchkin card game and tons of other products. (They also had a weird moment of fame when they were raided by the government because the powers that be thought their game about cyberpunk was a guide for hackers.)

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You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 48 more to go.

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