When I worked for Wizards of the Coast, part of my job was to travel to gaming conventions to promote the WotC game line. The company had sent me and a co-worker, one J.D., to a gaming convention in the mid-west (I have no idea what it was called anymore). Our job was to man the WotC both, demo games, and sell some product. Basically nothing out of the ordinary. What made this convention special was that the big guest of honor was my good friend Shawn . He was a game designer by this point, and therefore a big shot as far as the convention was concerned. Now let me take a moment to describe Shawn. He is a tall man, maybe 6’2”, broad in build and maybe a bit overweight at the time. He was dark haired and wore a goatee, and was without a doubt the hairiest man I had ever met.
Shawn was also the loudest man on earth as far as I was concerned. We had nicknamed him Captain Volume. Now I have a reputation for being loud, but I suspect that Shawn’s voice could kill small farm animals.
Let’s be clear, I like to think of my self as basically a nice guy. No, Really. But one thing that even nice guys do is prank their friends.
And Shawn had a weakness.
Not that long before the convention Shawn was on a date where he was made to watch a movie called Hopfrog. I have never seen this cinematic gem, but apparently it involves puppets and dwarves. Seeing it traumatized Shawn so much so that saying “Hopfrog” would always make him flinch.
At this point I think it is important to point out that the convention had a PA system, and a convention committee who liked a prank as much as anyone.
After a brief negotiation I arranged for someone to go over the PA and say “Hopfrog” every 10 to 15 minutes. It was a thing of beauty, because no matter where I was in relation to Shawn I could hear his mammoth voice cry out “Damn you Jeff Harris!”
This went on for 2 hours.
Did I mention that the convention had a Klingon jail?
What is a Klingon jail, I hear you ask? Well imagine if you will a charity drive where a bunch of Star Trek fans dressed as Klingons set up a “jail cell” at the convention. For a charitable donation they will go arrest someone and make them stay in the cell for one minute for every dollar you spend. Shawn, it seems, felt he had twenty dollars to spare for the worthy cause of revenge.
A very satisfied-looking Shawn and a very ragged-looking group of Klingons came to the table. I was arrested on the charge of impersonating a professional wrestler (Shawn was part of the infamous wrestling RPG group – Go back and check that story out if you need details)
“Hey guys, I’d love to play, but I have to work the booth.”
“No, I have it covered,” said J.D., damn him.
I had a great debate with myself. I knew that the cosplayers could not make me go off against my will, so I could always just say bugger off, and that would be the end of it. But on the other hand, there was the peer pressure to go along with the gag. And on top of that was the fact that I had been tormenting Shawn for 2 hours and he was due some payback. So off I went to the Klingon jail. They tried to cuff me, but I threatened to break the plastic cuffs if they did.
The “Jail” was about the size of a walk in closet. There were already 4 guys in there and only three chairs. There was no ventilation and so it was hot and smelled of sweat.
Now let me explain a few important facts. I don’t do well with heat. Or cramped spaces. Or sweaty guys I’ve never met. Add to this the fact that at the time I had just recently been diagnosed was diabetes and was probably having a blood sugar issue. The point here is that after just 5 minutes I was pretty pissed off.
I came to the realization (or perhaps rationalization) that I had only agreed to this with much coaxing, and that I saw no reason why I had to play in anyone else’s fantasy if I didn’t want to.
I got up to leave.
And the Klingon at the door went to stop me.
And here is where everything went horribly wrong.
The Klingon guard was a girl who I estimate may have been about 20, but possibly younger. She was maybe 5 feet tall. Rubber Klingon armor, rubber Klingon forehead, tin foil Klingon spear, and coke bottle thick glasses.
“Halt, you shall not pass.”
“Get out of my way little girl.” I said; well past the point of good manners.
She looked at me for a moment, and then burst into tears.
You see, here is what I think I missed at the time. In my very limited assessment, we have a very short young girl, thick glasses, probably not very popular at school, and doubtful that she felt empowered in her day to day life. Now I can see where dressing up as a Klingon warrior would give her a sense of power and importance that is missing from her day-to-day life. And here I am at 6’1”, not lacking in confidence, and frankly being very rude and condescending. I broke her illusion and made her cry.
And now everyone was staring at me. The Guards, the guys in the cell, passersby. And every stare said the same thing….
At the core I like to believe I am an empathic man. I do not like to hurt people. Yet here I have made this girl cry just because I had gotten cranky. So of course I turned around, went back into the cell, and sat in the corner until my sentence was up.
I’m not sure where the girl went. Some burly guy (well burly in the way Chris Farley was burly) took over the guard post. Eventually my sentence was up and I was released. As I left I could actually feel the stares following me.
I got something to drink and went back to the both.
JD was waiting for me.
“Dude, what’s this about you making a Klingon cry?”
“Everyone’s talking about it. What did you do?”
“What do you mean everyone? It was just 15 minutes ago.”
“So you did make a Klingon cry.”
“I wasn’t trying to. I just wanted out of the cell.”
“Yeah, well I think you had better let me handle customer relations for the rest of the weekend.”
Shawn, of course, was not going to let this slip on by.
“So Mr. Harris, you made a Klingon cry. What’s next? Stealing candy from a Ferrengi?”
And years later after repeating this a few times a friend of mine who does a web comic adapted the story. And I am now played by a chain smoking Russian musician.
So what did I learn?
One, that there is no excuse for being an ass to anyone.
Two, that just because I don’t think something is a big deal doesn’t mean it isn’t to someone else.
And as for the practical joke war with Shawn, let’s just say I think I came out ahead there. Maybe someday I will share the tale of the Barney incident.