His gentle caress.
His gentle caress.
In the last post, I said that urban legends have been a hobby of mine since I was 12. This has had its ups and downs.
When I was in my early twenties I worked as a clerk at a 7-11. A woman came in wanting to put up a flier warning about lick-on tattoos laced with LSD. It was a classic example of the Blue Star Tattoo legend. I took a flier and explained the legend.
Let’s just say that both she and my manager were less then pleased.
But the real fun with urban legends started when I was working as a customer service representative at Wizards of the Coast.
I was hired by WotC in July of 1993, the same month they released Magic: the Gathering. So I was there for its early rush of success.
My day-to-day job was answering questions about our games. The majority of these questions were based on the rules to Magic: the Gathering; and later, after we bought TSR, Dungeons and Dragons. However, this was a job based on taking incoming phone calls, so anything could happen. At some point my manager decided that one of us should be focused on any calls based on rumors about our games, like the ones based on the sources I cited in the last post. Specifically he wanted a point person to deal with any question about our games being evil, satanic, or harmful. Basically, to deal with people who believed the urban legends.
In his wisdom, he decided I should be that person. I guess my love of urban legends made me the ideal candidate.
Part of the fun of this new responsibility was that I got to have special training.
WotC flew out a Michael Stackpole to give me this training. You may remember Michael; as I mentioned him in the last post. If the industry had an expert in this field it was Michael.
I would like to believe that by the time I left WotC, thanks to Michael’s training and my own experiences, I was the industry’s second leading expert.
The method used to direct calls to me was pretty simple. The person who got the call would put the customer on hold and then yell out loud, “Jeff! Satan call!”
I ended up developing a lot of responses to that.
“Tell him I’m not here”
“Tell him it can never work out between us.”
“Tell them we’re not in league with Satan. We’re in a bowling league with Satan. And do you know how hard it is for him to rent shoes?”
“Why don’t I ever get Shiva calls?”
You get the idea.
After that I would take the call and get to work.
Most of the calls and letters fit into two basic categories.
The first would go like this: “What is this game based on?” I would be asked. “Math, basic arithmetic and a little algebra.” I would answer.
“What?” as I had clearly not given the expected answer.
“Well the game was developed by a math professor. If you take out all the art and flavor text what you are left with is a game mechanic that is based on mathematic principles.”
The other type would go like this
“Is this game based on the occult?”
“I’ll be honest with you; I doubt any of the game designers know anything about it. All the setting and art are based on western fantasy literature and most of that was derived from the work of a pair of English theologians who were writing Christian allegory,” I would answer. Of course, I was referring to J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
Between these two sets of stock answers, I was able to field a good majority of those calls.
Of course, there were some real winners.
My personal favorite was a woman who called and as soon as I answered she went off, “I am going to burn these cards my son bought.”
“No ma’am, you don’t want to burn them.”
“No, I am going to burn them.”
“No, please, shred them instead.”
“The cards are coated in plastic like poker cards; if you burn them the smoke will be toxic. Shredding them will be much safer.”
“Aren’t you upset that I am going to destroy them?”
“Why would that upset me? We already have your money. The rest is an issue between you and your son.”
My manager wanted to give me a stern talking to for that one, but he was laughing too hard.
Another one that always puzzled me was a bit of mail we received. It wasn’t a letter; it was a copy of the rule book found in Magic decks. Someone had written in Bible quotes on random pages. Well, not the quote – it would be Book, Chapter and Verse; it was up to me to look up the quotes. They were mostly from the Old Testament. I could never really figure out what theme they were going for, since no two passages covered the same subject.
They did write one original thing on the back of the rulebook.
“I Pled the Blood of Christ on your company”
I still look at that and think that the word just seems off.
Then again it’s not like they took the time to write an actually letter.
The last one was a doozy that was still going on when I left WotC in 1997.
I got a call from the superintendent of a school district in upstate New York.
His story went like this. One of the schools in his district had allowed students to start up a Magic: The Gathering club. Everything was going fine until some parents had seen the cards and complained to the district. It was a fairly standard “These cards are Satanic” complaint. What was different was that one of the parents was a lawyer and she was preparing a t First Amendment law suit against the school.
I’m pretty sure you looked at that previous sentence and thought, “A First Amendment law suit? Why?”
This was her logic (so to speak): Since the game was so clearly Satanic in nature, allowing it to be played at school was promoting a religion, and thus violated the separation of church and state.
Honestly, if this was a work of fiction, I would have violated suspension of disbelief.
I spent time helping the superintendent understand the game, and even gave him examples of cards so that he could have the game looked at by a child psychologist. They found nothing wrong with the game, but the lawsuit went on. And from what I heard, it was going on as late as 2004.
Let’s do something a little different today. Let’s play the game of Alternate Interpretations.
To play the game you take a book, TV show, or movie that everyone knows. You then need to supply an underlying back story that is different from what is the usually accepted one. And to top it off it needs to work without changing what actually appeared in the original, acting as subtext.
So let’s use something everyone knows, Gilligan’s Island.
We all know the story of the seven castaways shipwrecked on the deserted tropical island. But what if there was more going on.
In 1964 the U.S. Government decided that it needed to make several people disappear for various reasons. However it did not want these people dead in case any of them were ever needed. An ambitious plan was hatched to strand them on an uncharted tropical island. The plan hinged on them not knowing that this was deliberate and if they did figure out that they were there on purpose they would not realize the others were as well.
But why did they need to vanish?
Captain Jonas Grumby aka Skipper: Grumby was a US Naval officer who had come across damaging information about the Kennedy family while serving under John F Kennedy during World War II. If what Grumby learned was ever made public it would end the Kennedy family political dynasty. After he retired from the Navy the government was able to arrange events so that he found himself the owner of a small boat charter company in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Professor Roy Hinkley: Hinkley was a genius botanist and chemist who worked on a project on mind altering chemicals that was funded by the CIA. It was part of larger project involving behavior control. Unfortunately for Hinkley he was smart enough to deduce the real purpose for the project. In disgust he quit, and took a job as a high school science teacher while he decided what he wanted to do about what he had learned. While this was going on he received an offer to join a botanical study in Hawaii. One of his fellow researchers suggested he might find it interesting to take a charter cruise out of Honolulu.
Thurston and Eunice Howell: Thurston Howell the 3rd was an old money robber baron. Major parts of his holding were in arms manufacturing. In the wake of the assassination of President Kennedy and the ongoing war in Vietnam Howell was having a change of heart about this part of his business. This would not do, but he was powerful enough that no one wanted to risk his death. He was brought to Honolulu by his government contacts to discuss what his plans were. After a particularly taxing meeting he was convince to take a break, perhaps a three hour boat tour.
Mrs. Howell was just what she seemed, an aging socialite who was accompanying her husband.
Ginger Grant: Grant was a well-known actress and singer. She was also having an affair with a high ranking Politian whose pillow talk let her know more than was good for her. In the wake of the death or Marilyn Monroe it was determined that adding her to the ill-fated boat tour was the best way to deal with her. A surprisingly well paying musical review in Honolulu was offered to her.
Mary Ann Summers: Mary Ann was a simple farm girl from Winfield, Texas, or so she would have had you believe. In reality Mary Ann was a deep cover KGB sleeper agent. The government learned of the Soviet Operation she was part of and knew they would be making their move soon. Realizing that taking out a key member of the KGB’s team would lead the operation to being aborted. However they wanted her alive in case they ever had need of a spy for a show trial. It was arranged for Mary Ann to win a trip to Honolulu complete with a three hour charter boat cruise. Mary Ann could not skip the trip without raising suspicion so she went. Of all the castaways she is the one that harbored some suspicion of what is really going on, but can’t reveal it for fear of breaking her cover.
William Gilligan: Gilligan was a highly trained intelligence operative for the US Military. When the government learned that Jonas Grumby had information that could topple the powerful Kennedy family Gilligan was assigned to get close to him and learn what he knew. Adopting a persona that was bumbling but sincere, Gilligan was able to make Grumby accept him as a friend and confidant. When Grumby retired Gilligan joined him and was able to manipulate him into buying a boat charter in Honolulu.
He was able to Sabotage the boat in such a way that it appeared out of control during the storm the government had made sure was not reported.
Once on the island it was Gilligan’s mission to make sure no one suspected why they were really on the island, and that no one ever left.
Now go watch some episodes of Gilligan’s Island and see how they play out now.