|By Ilan Mitchell-Smith|
I was an actor in the 1980s (people remember me most for Weird Science), and I ended up doing a number of movies and TV spots before I retired from acting to go to school in the early 1990s. One time I booked a part on a show called The Equalizer, starring Edward Woodward (this was the show that inspired the 2014 film starring Denzel Washington).
The reason that I was so private about my gaming hobby was that gamers were, in some very real ways, ostracized in the 1980s.
As a young actor in the 80s who was trying to be taken seriously, I took the popular perception of gaming very seriously, and I kept it to myself. I wasn’t the only one. Once, while working on Weird Science, for example, a Soap Opera star (now a sitcom star) was visiting the set and somehow found out that I was a gamer. We managed to geek out together and even play a game, but only in the most clandestine way. To this day, his name has never appeared on the lists of celebrity gamers that you find in various places on the interwebs. If you watch celebrities like Vin Diesel and Matthew Lillard speak in interviews about their gaming, you can sense a bit of that old secrecy, that old instinct to keep gaming private.
Because of this feeling — what we should probably call “gamer shame” — I never did anything openly to indicate that I was a gamer, and Edward Woodward never saw me reading any wargaming books.
Ok. I admit that this is all a bit far-fetched, but the story serves to remind me of the way that a lot of gamers in the past weren’t “out” as gamers, and they generally kept their hobby as private and as hidden as possible because of the overwhelmingly negative image of gamers in the wider culture.
If attitudes about gaming had completely changed, then there wouldn’t be such a need for International Tabletop Day. This holiday, started by the creators of the internet show Tabletop a couple of years ago, is a celebration of games that are played by awesome people who enjoy being smart and creative with each other.
As a former celebrity, I still attend Comic-Cons as a guest sometimes, and at these Cons I meet other actors. My interactions with them are generally cordial, friendly, boring, just like they were with Edward Woodward.
Keith and I are now gaming friends, and on April 11th of this year we completely geeked out at a Tabletop event at The Guildhouse in Lakewood, CA (an excellent gaming store with the friendliest of people).
I am also thankful to the people at Geek & Sundry for Tabletop Day. In 37 years of gaming I haven’t seen such active planning, anticipation, and discussions about games as I do when Tabletop day starts to draw near. As a gamer who remembers a time when many people wanted to keep gaming a secret, I especially welcome the chance to be a vocal supporter of the wonderful hobby that tabletop gaming is.
Mitchell-Smith is best known as the actor who played “Wyatt” in the
movie Weird Science. He is also a professor of medieval literature at
Cal State Long Beach, where he teaches and writes about knights,
monsters, and contemporary American versions of the Middle Ages. He is
also a huge nerd, and he spends his free time writing for
Talkwargaming.com and organizing table top games in the Los Angeles area
for gaming conventions and for his local chapter of The Historical
Miniature Gaming Society. Follow him on Twitter @IlanMS