Sunday, June 26, 2011

Role-playing (Part 2)

Today's entry gets a wee bit more embarrassing for our hero. But heck, I wouldn't be interested in non-fiction if I wasn't willing to share this stuff.

It takes a special mix of ego and ignorance to hand out a pop-quiz based on yourself to a room full of your friends, and I just so happened to have that mix right around my 19th birthday.

I'll leave the rest of the details to my story. Enjoy!



Matt Shafeek The Narcissistic Quizmaster
Shafeek Home / Valley Stream, NY / January 1998

It's a few days after my 19th birthday, and I'm standing on pins and needles. I've been planning this night for weeks. Most of my friends have stopped making a big deal out of their birthdays by now, but to me that's a tragic waste of an opportunity. Why settle for a boring dinner with a few close friends, where you blow out the candles from a cake (that you knew was coming but had to pretend you didn't), and call it a night? Is that really "celebrating" another year of your life? Nuh-uh. I have bigger plans.

My mother actually tried to put together a surprise party for me, which was a really sweet gesture. Unfortunately, several weeks before she tried to organize it, I had already begun reaching out to people, telling them to save the date near my birthday and not to make any other plans. I had a surprise of my own in mind for everyone else. She wisely decided to let me keep the reigns.

I've asked everyone to come over to my family's house in Valley Stream and meet in the basement for a party. It’s winter break just after all of our first semesters at college. I miss hanging out with all my friends from home, who just six months ago I was seeing regularly. Everyone agrees to come but there’s a bit of skepticism just below the surface. I know exactly why this is. For starters, I'm friends with a lot of different people who don't necessarily all get along with each other. I happen to pride myself on being a friend of the people. All people - jocks, nerds, the friendly, and the willing to tolerate me from time to time. You don't make friends in school by selectively picking and choosing the people who treat you right most of the time. No, you just accept everyone, and the ones that are jerks you hope will stop with the short jokes and eventually give you back your copy of F-Zero and the $10 they owe you.

My hope is that after today everyone will see how much fun it is hanging out together, and they'll all get along as big group forever and ever, making me the key figure in this global friendship unification.

The other cause for concern is that my parties and gatherings usually didn't involve any drugs or alcohol. And not just because I'm throwing parties at my parent's house (which was cause for concern #3). Beer and liquor happen to make me sick and marijuana has literally no effect on me (arguably the lamest super power ever), so I’ve become associated with sobriety by default. 

None of this matters because what I have planned is going to be so amazing that everyone will soon forget their concerns. As people start to arrive, I let them settle in, I show them to the table full of snacks and sodas I set up, and I put on my Nintendo 64 to amuse the room while we're waiting for the others to arrive. I play an efficient, if somewhat controlling host.

Soon I have a crowded basement full of willing participants, which is more valuable than any present I could have ever received. Spread out over a futon, some folding chairs and a recliner are Bob, Geo, Dave, Ryu, and Justin, close friends of mine that I've known for years. There's Alethea, Debby, and Shoshanit, a trio of lady friends whose closeness came about mostly from me being super cool with having attractive female friends I'd never think to make a move on. There’s Danny, David, Jon, Josh and the three Jasons, who I've grown apart from since they’ve fallen in love with pot and Phish music, but they still love The Simpsons enough for all us to get along just fine.

And of course, there was Stacey, my longstanding crush (officially MegaCrush #3 in a series of longtime, unfulfilled MegaCrushes I'd developed since middle school). I’m always able to befriend each MegaCrush and get them to come to my birthday parties and miscellaneous social events (Stacey was even my awkward, pitying prom date – easily the emptiest victory of my life), so long as it is clear how very plantonic our relationship is. 

I get the room's attention with a wave and a shout, and I formally thank everyone for coming. Some of them are still focused on the television screen displaying a multiplayer game of Goldeneye, so I shut it down to a chorus of boos.

"Ok guys, we're gonna do something really fun now. You ready for this?" I ask the room.

"Oh no - are you going to make us play some kind of board game?" Stacey asks. My dear, sweet, beloved Stacey. Your unsupportive tone is still sweet music to my ears.

"Nope, not now. We can do that later, maybe. Right now I have something even more exciting in store!"

I reach into a carefully hidden folder and pull out a single sheet of paper for every lucky partygoer in the room. I hand out a sheet to everyone, along with a pencil or a pen. Typed on each sheet is a quiz I’d spent hours writing just a few days before. The quiz is, of course, entirely about me. My life, my history, my unabashed love for the video game Zillion. It's meant to test how well everyone in the room knows their good friend Matt Shafeek. Questions include:

  • What are Matt's three favorite television shows?
  • How many issues of the Matt Shafeek Fan Club Newsletter[1] have their been?
  • What were Matt's first pets named?

I thought it was a brilliant idea. Soon everyone would be racking their brain trying to be the first to answer all of the questions, and to prove themselves to me. Everyone in the room was now on a game show where the grand prize was the satisfaction of knowing they knew me better than anyone else. 

The quiz is met with a number of surprising reactions. Some people are snickering as they read, some are skimming and shrugging, and others are dismissing it entirely. I pace around the room with a nervous pit in my stomach.

"Shafeek, how the fuck are we supposed to know some of this shit?" Danny asks.

"Yeah, seriously. Hey, what's my great aunt's maiden name Shafeek?" Josh adds.

"Guys – come on, do the best you can. You can work together if you want, if that's easier," I concede, before retracting, "no actually, that won't work, forget it. Just answer what you can, and I'll tell you guys the answers when you're done."

I am now sweating profusely. Something has gone horribly wrong. How could I not have imagined that a room full of my friends wouldn't jump at the opportunity to fill out a super fun quiz about me? I must have made the questions too hard! How many of them knew about Link and Zelda, my pet hamsters that I had back when I was 9 years old? I probably told Stacey about them, but was she even listening?

Eventually my friends figure out the quickest way to end the awkwardness and they start answering whatever they can. After what feels like an hour but is probably closer to ten minutes, I call time and pick up a copy of my own quiz to read to everyone.

"Ok guys, does someone know the answer to the first country I ever travelled to?" Silence. I thought that was an easy one. "Ok, it was Barbados, guys, no problem."

"I didn't get that one Shafeek, but I think I know the answer for when you got your first pube, and it was yesterday, right?" Danny says. The room is filled with laughter for the first time all night.

"Haha, ok, that's funny man. But not on the quiz, so moving on..." 

"Oh wait, I got another one. How many girls has Matt Shafeek kissed in his life? Is the answer zero, or less than zero?" Danny says, fully on a roll now. Jesus Christ, why did I invite him? And how could you kiss someone less than zero times?

"Alright, alright. I get it. We can stop doing this..." I say, blatantly pouting. This is my comeuppance for my ego-driven party planning. 

"No, no Shafeek, come on, we love you. Finish your quiz." Danny says.

I reluctantly continue along. I get ribbed a few more times, but it looks like everyone else is enjoying themselves, so I try to take each one like a champ. We finish up, and for the sake of moving things along, the winner of my quiz is never named. Soon enough, everyone is back to just hanging out, the way they all seem to prefer doing things. The different groups all segregate themselves. I bounce around, eager to ensure the rest of the night goes without incident. At some point I find out Stacey is dating someone new, and I decide at this point that my life literally could not get any worse.

The night comes to a close and I say goodbye to everyone, knowing I probably won't see most of them again until the spring break, or the summer. I pick up all the leftover copies of my quiz, and toss them in the garbage. Just before throwing the last copy away, I scribble in one final question before saving it for posterity:

  • What event lead to Matt's disaster of a 19th birthday party?

None of them would ever forget the answer to that one.

[1]    The Matt Shafeek Fanclub Newsletter was a gag I started in middle school and kept going through college. It was a self-depricating monthly piece of mostly made up news on my life that I'd distribute to my friends in the hopes of getting a few laughs. As popular at it was, suprisingly, throughout its entire 7 year run it scored me a total of zero dates.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Role-playing (Part 1)

Quick intro and then I'll get right to the piece. The following was my final submission for my non-fiction writing class. It's nine very short stories that I basically formed together into one long piece. There's even a cool little narrative arc if you piece it altogether (something that came about that to a heavy nudging from my professor). I think that's all the set up there is. I'll post a new section every few days or so until it's done. Technically you should read it it order (for the aforementioned arc), but each story should theoretically stand on its own.




Matt Shafeek The Hardcore Gamer
PAX East / Boston, MA / March 2011

I sit down alongside a table with five other gamers. There's two short, bespecktacled twenty-something year olds, a quiet, heavyset couple, and a tall, lanky gentleman who I soon discover has a slight lisp. I say hello, introduce myself and get everyone's name. It's a polite gesture, even though I'll likely forget each one in minutes. It's just as well, as I'm not here to make friends. I'm here for the glory, the challenge, and of course, the treasure. I'm at the Penny Arcade Expo in Boston, a bi-annual, bi-coastal weekend-long gaming convention. The event is made specifically for gamers like me who dream of dorking out with our brethren in peace. Ten feet away is a man dressed up like Chun-Li, the (female) fighter from the Street Fighter series.

This is my third PAX in what I assume to be a lifetime of yearly attendance. Right now I'm playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition) in a pre-packaged beginner’s adventure that’s been set up to give people a taste of tabletop role-playing. I used to play the older, presumably less advanced version of AD&D a ton when I was a kid with a lot more free time. For years I was pretty obsessed with it: a world filled with endless adventure, monsters, magic and glory was infinitely more appealing to me than schoolwork, sports, or learning to play the guitar. I could handle an uncomfortable situation with the business end of a bastard sword or a wand of fireballs, instead of sitting through boring history lessons at school, holding my breath as long as possible to keep from falling asleep.

I take a moment to examine my character sheet. I'm playing as Eldeth, a Female Dwarf Fighter (Slayer) / Level 1 / Good. Looking at her stats, I notice her Strength is at an impressive 18, while her Charisma is a lowly 8. I'm quite grateful for both of them, as they tell me exactly who my character is: a socially inept brute. The picture on Eldeth's character sheet shows a short, tatooed, angry looking woman adorned in thick battle armor (that still manages to show off a fair amount of dwarvish cleavage. Va-va-voom!) with a round nose and long, lavishly braided red hair. She is wielding a giant stone axe I couldn't see myself even getting off the ground. A quote under her name reads: "Return Them To The Earth!" which I now plan on saying regularly over the course of our adventure.

I'm joined by a Human Mage (powerful wizards that can cast all manner of spells), two Human Clerics (holy warriors that can heal in battle), a Human Warrior (similar to Eldeth, but lacking her dignified Dwarvish heritage) and an Elvish Rogue (wiley thieves that love to sneak up behind their enemies with a dagger in hand). We each take some time to learn the intracacies of our characters as well as the basic rules of the game for those who haven't played before. The game is played mostly in our collective imaginations, with each player armed with nothing more than a stack of oddly shaped dice (20 sided, 10 sided, 8 sided, 6 sided, and 4 sided, to account for any sort of odds the game might need us to make "checks" against – i.e.: "did your giant stone axe make contact with that fire demon's face?").

Our Dungeon Master - the person who controls the adventure, playing the role of narrator/God - sets the stage, and explains that we're all drinking together in our town’s local tavern getting to know one another. The mayor sees our worthy group and approaches us to explain his desperate situation: apparently a group of vicious kobolds were attacking all the merchants coming through the area, so the town was starving for supplies. Our well-intentioned but naïve cleric (naïveté, mind you, that comes from the player, not a stat) starts to offer our collective help to the mayor, but Eldeth - who I knew was wise beyond her dwarven years - quickly intervenes:

"You ignorant fool! What sort of world do you live in where you offer your services apropos of nothing!?  Mr. Mayor, first we demand to know what sort of reward is being offered for our assistance in this matter. Then we shall discuss our willingness to put our lives on the line and return these kobolds to the Earth!"

There's laughter at the table. The Dungeon Master smirks, rolls a die behind her thick paper barrier and tells the group the mayor promises 25 gold per pair of kobold ears - a good price, perhaps better than we could have gotten without Eldeth's remarks.

We're off to a good start.

[PART 2 - Coming Soon!]