Heart of dorkness

Ann Taylor doesn’t look like a geek.

There’s her fashionably slender build, her tailored-dress-suit-evoking name. Her autumn-red hair is set against startlingly pale skin, her voice is confident and her manner completely at ease as she glides through the meticulous notes she keeps together in a well-worn three-ring binder.

Nothing geeky about her at all.

Until she starts talking about games, that is. Then, her voice scales new heights and her eyes spark up — the marks of a true devotee. Because in her spare time, Taylor likes to dress up in fancy clothes and pretend to be fanciful things.





Free to be

“For a lot of people, role-playing [games] are a chance to do things they can’t do in real life,” Taylor nonchalantly states, obviously not for the first time.

“Unlike a lot of activities in our culture,” Taylor continues, “role-playing is not governed by appearance. We have social butterflies and purple-haired freaks, musicians, writers and rednecks. [Role-playing games] now attract anyone with a sense of creativity, imagination and fun.

“The fact that you can be an overweight, Cheetos-eating geek has a certain appeal to people who don’t feel that they fit in otherwise.”

But Taylor is more than just the voice of the dweeb underclass — she’s also the chief organizer of a supercharged geek-magnet called Metamorphicon.

At its core, nerd power is what this unconventional happening is all about: Metamorphicon provides a comfortable place for people to geek out, repercussion-free, about whatever dorky thing it is that they’re into.

“Metamorphicon is a fantasy and science-fiction role-playing-game convention,” explains Taylor.

In other words, Metamorphicon is for people who love slipping out of their own skin for a while to become something else. And with a little luck, it will attract hordes of other wannabe elves, knights, vampires and werewolves — maybe even a Klingon or two thrown in for flavor.

The convention will host everything from what Taylor dubs “miniatures war games” — which employ tiny, specially molded figures to fight new battles or re-fight old ones — to table-top competitions. There will also be live-action role-playing, a late-night video room (sponsored by Segrof Video) and a panel discussion led by published local game authors.

As Taylor discusses the Metamorphicon schedule, she slides a delicate finger down the list of events in her binder. Slowly, she works her way to the end, her finger hovering over a single item that’s obviously a point of pride.

“There’s also going to be a costume contest,” she reveals.

My name is Steve, and I’ve played D&D

When I was 13, I lived for comic books, bizarre Japanese animation, horrible sci-fi flicks and fantasy novels.

Yet by far the worst in my non-geek peers’ eyes were the role-playing games — a virtual guarantee I’d never land a girlfriend.

You may think you were never one of us. But if you’ve ever closed out a game of Clue sporting a bad British accent, accusing Miss Scarlet of icing poor John Boddy with the candlestick in the library, then you, too, have accidentally dabbled in role-playing.

Sure, there’s a bit more involved in serious fantasy games, but the main difference between Clue and, say, Dungeons & Dragons, is that you can do a lot more in the latter game than solve murder mysteries. For instance, you can search dungeons and fight dragons.

More than that, though, you and your friends can actually embody — for hours at a time — doddering Professor Plum and pals wandering around Edwardian London looking for crimes to solve. And, unlike with Clue, you aren’t trying to beat the other players. You’re all working together — ideally, anyway.

But back in my own D&D days, being a role-playing geek was like having a perpetual bad rash. We were nerds beyond nerds. Even the chess players turned up their noses.

Geeks R Us

And then, a little more than a decade ago, something changed.

I’m not sure how it happened, exactly, but somehow people all over the country suddenly realized what fun we geeks had been having in our basements all along. Computer-role-playing games like “Ultima Online” and the “Final Fantasy” series became bestsellers, their adherents suddenly swelling into a true target market for advertisers. Soon, our holy literature was on the big screen, with X-Men and Spider-Man going from nerd-core reading to mainstream hot topic in a matter of days. Even light-fantasy phenomenon Harry Potter became a pop icon.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy, though, marked the definitive outing of geek culture. People who once couldn’t be bothered with the unpleasant business of imagining were now clogging theaters, yearning to leave reality behind. Which makes it a little easier to understand why conventions like Metamorphicon have become a mainstay of geek culture. After all, where else, before hotties Orlando Bloom and Liv Tyler made it cool, could you go if you wanted to dress like an elf?


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