Monday, May 23, 2016

No Small Parts

My internet's back up...enough said about that. I plan on writing at least one or two posts today, but they probably won't have as much "game related" substance as people like. Probably. We'll see.

The second planned post is one I've already started writing, a little rant/rave about the latest Captain America film. Normally, that's what I'd be finishing up this morning. However, I am currently unable to get last night's Game of Thrones episode out of my mind, so I'm going to subject Ye Old Blog readers to my thoughts on it.

First, though, I'll give you a little view into my "real life" world. My kids are young (ages 5 and 2), but they tend to go to bed late. We shoot for 9ish, but it's usually closer to 11pm. My family's a bunch of night owls (we like mid-day siestas). Nearly every night, my wife watches some television after the kids are down, and more often than not I join her, even though I'd prefer to be writing or sleeping (I get up earlier than she does, and I'm the one that gets up with the toddler at 2am or 4am or whatever). But Sunday night is Game of Thrones night, so there's no arm-twisting involved.

[my wife, BTW, is delightfully obtuse about all things fantasy-related. It put a smile on my face when she reminded me, "Don't forget, the new episode of Lord of the Rings is on." I generally don't bother to correct this kind of thing; like I said, delightful. Plus, I more than ably fill my household's "nerd quota" all by my lonesome]

So, after reading the 5 year old to sleep (Treasure Island), I made it down to the sala and tuned into GoT...only to find it was already 40 minutes into the episode. I don't know why I assumed it was on at 10, but whatever. The wife came down a few minutes later, and we clicked over to another channel about 5 minutes before the end...since we'd watch the re-broadcast at 11:30, I figured I wouldn't spoil the end for myself.


It's the end of the episode that I'm thinking of today...that I keep replaying in my mind's eye. The sadness of it, the tragedy. Honestly, it keeps making me tear up, though I'm always a bit more emotional when I've had a short night's sleep (plus, I've been nursing a caffeine headache since yesterday...that's another long story). No, I'm not going to spoil anything by describing what happens. The thing would only hold an emotional impact for those who are diligent watchers of the show, while the casual or non-viewer would be less interested in the trials and tribulations of a minor character.

A minor character.

There's some semi-epic foreshadowing in an earlier scene in the episode that takes place backstage of a theater production. One of the actors is bitching about only having two lines in the production (ironic, considering the end of the show), to which she is told "there are no small parts"...which she, of course, doesn't get.

There ARE no small parts. Well, okay, there are (I'm supposed to be appearing as "American #2" in an upcoming Paraguayan film...again, long story...), but that doesn't mean they're unimportant. It doesn't mean they can't have an impact. The last stage role I had was in Moliere's Tartuffe, and I had zero lines. In fact, I played the butler...a character that is not listed in the cast role at all, but was rather created for the show. I was on stage through the entire play. I did all sorts of humorous business without speaking a single line, directing household servants, aping the residents, announcing people with an absurdly large gong...getting laughs, in other words, and being integral to the production. Despite not being one of the "principals," I was important to the show...I mattered.

And I had a blast doing it...though as a younger man, I probably would have chaffed at the part, just like the young actor in GoT. Here's the thing: in real life, we are all just "small parts," folks. This is a big old world, and human history stretches thousands of years behind us and (hopefully) thousands of years before us. Even if you can put together enough scratch to take care of your family two to three (or more) generations down the line, there's no guarantee your children or your children's children won't just blow it all...there's no guarantee some unforeseen catastrophe is going to mess up your legacy or wipe out your family line. No matter how grandiose we are in our sphere of influence, we are still very small cogs in the wheel of life.

And likewise, we are all important. We all have, emotional impact...on those who know us, those who come in contact with us. Each of us has the chance to make a difference (for good or ill) on other people, no matter how small we seem in the overall scheme of things. We will never know just how much people care about us, truly, because the measure of a person's impact is often felt in how much they are missed after they're's impossible, really, to know how much one is appreciated by those around us, because we can't put ourselves into their thoughts and feelings and see what we mean...and even the most eloquent of communicators can hardly communicate their appreciation in a way for us to grasp, even if they themselves can grasp the full extent to which they appreciate.

I read an interview with comic book mastermind Stan Lee a couple years back...something throwaway, in a Costco newsletter or something. He explained that the reason he'd published comics under the name "Stan Lee" (his actual name being Stanley Lieber) is that he'd always looked down on his work, and felt that he'd save his real name for the Great Thing he would someday do...the Great American Novel or whatever. It wasn't until decades later in life (like LATE in life) that he realized, from talking to other people, how much people respected and appreciated the work he did. That his pulpy, throwaway entertainment that he'd done "to pay the bills" had had a profound impact on people's lives. That it had meant something to them. That it had changed them, influenced them, mattered to them.

But Lee is perhaps a poor example of what I'm writing about. He IS a big deal, and I'm sure he understands and appreciates (now) his value and legacy. Many of us don't. Most of us don't receive the adoring fan mail or bouquets of flowers thrown at our feet and the only time we feel really, truly appreciated is when one of our kids runs up to us and gives a big smiley hug. But we shouldn't feel our children are the limit of our "sphere of mattering." We have the opportunity to touch lives every interact and build relationships and impact others. That matters.

I know that part of the appeal of playing a role-playing game like Dungeons & Dragons is the chance to be the protagonist or "hero" of an epic fantasy adventure. To take the role of a larger than life character having a profound impact on the game "world." Some folks might crave this in part because they feel a lack of power to impact the real world...a lack of "mattering" in the grand scheme of things. Today, at this moment, that seems to me to be a poor way to approach the game. RPGs, even light-weight ones like D&D ("light" with regard to tone and theme), have more to offer than just that. If that's all you're searching for, there is a lot of opportunity to experience disappointment in the game. Your character can die. Your character may fail. Your character may prove less effective than other characters. I suppose that a lot of the latter edition changes to D&D have been created in part (consciously or not) to head off this type of disappointment...carefully balancing encounters and character builds to ensure maximum heroic "mattering" through all levels of play. But even if it succeeds at this design goal...isn't that then just reinforcing the illusion?

The illusion you don't matter unless you're a world-shaking hero?

I was very moved by last night's Game of Thrones episode ("The Door"). It's not just the major protagonists...the Ned Starks and Tyrion Lannisters...that experience tragedy and sadness in Martin's cold, unforgiving world. It's not just the principals who have the chance to impact us emotionally. And, silly as it sounds, I think there's something that can be learned from that.


  1. I had a different take on that final scene... about the effects of magic on innocent bystanders. But yours is much more positive.

  2. It was possibly the saddest ending of any episode in the series. It showed the price of power is borne by the least of us.