Dungeons & Dragons: Moral Panic, 1980s style


The more things change, the more they stay the same – or so it often seems. Back in the 1980s the Internet was a distant dream. So we didn’t have online porn, videos of jihadists beheading infidels, paedophile-haunted chat-rooms or unlimited 24-hour gambling. And although we had video games, blobby little men being chased around by unconvincingly blocky aliens was about as scary as they got.

But there was another threat to our youth, one that involved dice, optional miniature figurines and characters with names like Thong. (Well maybe not Thong – at least not in the version I played …) I was fascinated by this article which describes some of the controversy caused by the craze for fantasy role playing games in the pre-WWW era.

Reading the article now, it seems quaint, almost laughable that such a primitive (in more ways than one) pastime was a source of so much moral panic. By the time I got involved, in about 1983, the principal fear (as reflected in BASIC Boy) was of the mantle of geekhood increasingly being bestowed upon the brave goblin-fighting warriors by the rest of society. I wasn’t afraid of being branded a Devil worshipper so much as a spotty oik who couldn’t get a girlfriend (which I kind of was – a spotty oik that is, not a Devil worshipper – but never mind).

(Actually I wasn’t so much into D&D – I’ve always had an aversion to overly complicated games that last four days – but I did absolutely love the Fighting Fantasy solo role playing books.)

Anyway, this is one reason why I like history. It gives you a perspective on events that you can only get from a distance. I wonder what future generations will make of some of the issues and neuroses that obsess us today?

Changing the subject – I’m taking a break from blogging until after Easter. I’m going on holiday with my family and I’ve made the momentous decision not to take my laptop with me. Call it tech detox if you will. It also means I won’t do any writing as such for nine or ten days.

However I am taking the printed-out synopsis of my third novel, which I’ve done next to no work on for several months, and I’m going to ponder and scribble on it in an unashamedly pre-digital kind of way. The era of the word processor has been a massive boon to writers, and I just can’t imagine writing a novel on a typewriter or – even worse – by hand, though of course that’s what authors used to do and it didn’t stop some pretty good stuff being written! But sometimes I think there are drawbacks too. It encourages us to dive in and just write – which might be a good thing in many ways, but not perhaps always. And of course there are all those distractions – the Internet, e-mail, games, blah blah blah …

I’m hoping the space and focus of the next week will allow me to really think about my novel, to plan and ponder, read other stuff, and hopefully come back energised and ready to pound the keys and get the damn thing written.

Hope you have a wonderful Easter.

BASIC Boy: A digital ghost story – free sample

BB cover April 14 Here are the first three chapters, free to view or download: BASIC Boy sample. You’ve heard of haunted houses … but what about haunted computers? What do you do when there’s literally a ghost in the machine? When the past collides with the present and something sinister has come along with it …? Cal Stubbs has big problems. It’s not just that he’s struggling to get used to his stepdad Rob, who’s weirdly obsessed with stone-age computers (what the heck’s a ZX Spectrum anyway?), while his real dad’s gone to ground.  It’s not even that his geeky best friend has more luck with girls than he does. No. It’s definitely more the creepy nightmares and the freaky messages coming through on the laptop from some sick psycho troll. Meanwhile, back in 1984, the teenage Rob has a dark secret. He’s done something terrible … and a kid who died but won’t stay quiet is hell-bent on making him pay. And, mad though it sounds, the price might be his future stepson. As Cal gets more disturbing messages and Rob struggles to remember exactly what happened in 1984, they soon realise that a malevolent shadow is breaking through into the present, intent on wreaking havoc. How do you fight a ghost that can program a computer? They’d better figure out how and quickly, before time runs out … Available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions US: http://www.amazon.com/BASIC-Boy-Digital-Ghost-Story-ebook/dp/B00FLNLUYG/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1387582153 UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/BASIC-Boy-Digital-Ghost-Story-ebook/dp/B00FLNLUYG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1384117495&sr=8-1&keywords=basic+boy

A very quick guide to the 1980s – yes, even Kajagoogoo


My novel BASIC Boy: A digital ghost story is set partly in the 1980s and includes many references to that august decade. Upon its completion I realised that the young of today, poor deprived souls, will be largely unfamiliar with Margaret Thatcher, Yuppies, Dungeons & Dragons and even Kajagoogo. (Just to set the record straight, I am not, and never have been, a Kajagoogoo fan. Got that? I included them mainly as the epitome of a certain type of eighties boy band with cataclysmically bad hair – see the picture for the damning evidence. Not that I’ve got anything against them. Too Shy was a good song in a school disco kind of way.)

Anyway, from BASIC Boy, here is my contribution to the education and enlightenment of today’s youth: A Very Quick Guide to the 1980s. Warning to US readers: it’s quite UK focussed – no Ronald Reagan or Michael J. Fox – but I’m sure, if you’re old enough, you’ll recognise a couple of things. And possibly wince.

Happy New (80s Games) Year!

Manic Miner

OK, that’s not quite what people usually say. But I’ve just come across a really cool website full of retro 1980s computer games: http://www.80stopgames.com/site/

I haven’t spent much time on it yet – just enough to establish just how cool it really is – but I predict many a wasted hour in 2014 will be spent revisiting those blocky, bleepy and ridiculously addictive video games of my youth.

And I think that even the younger generation will appreciate some of these. Eighties games may have been primitive by the standards of today’s smooth, sprawling, uber-reality experiences; but the growth of mobile and the demand for compact, bite-size fun has led to huge success for Angry Birds and the like. Games that don’t take hours to learn and days to play. Games that are just fun. I don’t have loads of free time and my brain gets taxed quite enough elsewhere; so when I play a computer game, I don’t want to deal with yet another big complicated thing to add to all the other big complicated things in my life.

That fascination with retro technology and the simple delights of old-style gaming was my key inspiration for writing BASIC Boy. That book is about the clash of cultures between today’s sophisticated, ultra-connected teens and their 1980s forerunners. (With a vengeful, time-travelling ghost thrown in, naturally.)

I hope you have a fantastic 2014. With or without Manic Miner.