Saturday, February 13, 2021

In Memory of my friend, Robert Briggs – January 4, 1961 ~ February 13, 2011

Ten years ago today my good friend Robert Briggs passed away. He was a young 50 years old (5 years younger than I am now.) His passing was a shock and a tragedy, and hit me harder than any single event that I can remember in my adult life. Yet, for myself at least, something good did come from it. For this I am thankful and I am sure Robert would have been happy.

Five years ago, I had become so ensconced in my private little world and my personal problems that I had lost all contact with some of the best friends that I had ever made. Robert Briggs was one of those friends. It is sad that it took something as tragic as Robert's passing to wake me up and shake me out of my funk, but it did.

In the years following to today, I have reconnected with past friends and mended friendships that mean more to me than anything in the world. I have Robert to thank for doing that for me. He introduced me to this family in life and brought me back home to them in death. His impact on my life is beyond measure. His is a truly magical spirit.

I wrote some thoughts about Robert upon his death and posted them originally 5 years ago. I thought it would be fitting to share them with everyone again today.

<< Originally posted on Sunday, February 20, 2011 >>

I want to take a moment to speak out on behalf of one of the lowest ranked tiers on the modern world's tree of social hierarchy: the gamer geek.

I am a gamer geek. On the ladder of social acceptability, I fall pretty close to the bottom. It's not a place I necessarily chose to be. But I reside there happily now, and with some pride.

It happens like this:

From the moment a child enters school they learn to cluster into small social groups. The athletic, strong, and bold children tend to tower over the intelligent introspective children at an early age. On the playground which is a school age child's greatest venue for social interaction, it is he who runs fastest, climbs highest, and kicks the ball the hardest who earns accolades and respect.

The value of things like books and reading has not yet really been recognized. It is not part of the playground social experience and so if a child wants to fit in and grow strong socially, he abandons such things in pursuit of the more physical activities and the social acceptance that goes along with them.
I didn't make that transition. It was never in me to be an athlete. The sad thing is, patterns learned early in life, are hard to unlearn, and once delegated the role of social misfit, that role and the stigmas associated with it tend to stick with a person. And so, I became a social outcast. I had very few friends and grew accustomed to the idea, that for me, this is the way my life would remain.

That is until something special happened to me in high school. I was 15 years old and I was introduced to a game called, Dungeons and Dragons. I joined forces with a few other kids … kids like me, who had been outcasts, who weren't the fastest, strongest, boldest, children on the playground. And if it weren't for this game, we might have remained strangers. Even if we weren't the popular kids on the playground, society had taught us to want to become that, and that meant staying away from the other geeks in hopes of drawing the mercy and attention of the popular kids.

But, this game … it gave us a reason to be together, and the playground … it existed too, in our imaginations. In this game, we could be strong and fast and bold. We created a playground in our minds and we were its heroes. And for the first time in my life, I made friends … real friends. Friendships that survive to this day, 30 years later.

I mention all of this for a reason. I link posts to my gaming blog (this blog) to my Facebook page. So, it's quite possible that someone reading this may be unfamiliar with how a person might come to be a gamer geek. Those of us who lived it, know it's no mystery. It's just a small group of friends united by their uncommon imaginations and the joy found in using their minds to participate in the sports that other “physical” athletes practice with their bodies. Perhaps if more people perceived gamers for what they really are, athletes of mental prowess, the societal preconceptions regarding our ilk might become a bit more friendly.

Anyway … before I forget why I started this post, let me continue. My first and best social interactions began at the gaming table. As an adult when I moved to Tulsa (where I still live twenty five years later) I didn't know anyone and I needed to find some friends. I looked to the one community where I had felt welcome before. The gamer community.

It started in a comic book store, “World of Comics” (Gamer geeks and comic book collector geeks share a lot of crossover. It's all about exercising the imagination to become the best mental athletes that we can. I want to enter “Doctor Who Trivia” in the Olympics.) The owner of the store and I had chatted about gaming a bit (as I was prone to spending my pay checks on gaming books) and one day he approached me about “running” a game at his store. (In role-playing games, one player serves as a sort of auteur /director sort of like the way Charlie Chaplin made films. He presents a scene and allows the other players of the game to react to it, contributing the way the character they have chosen to represent might react or respond within the scene. It's a sort of storytellers brainstorming session lead by a single director.) When Doug (the owner of the comic shop) asked me to run a game, he was asking me to be that “director.”

I agreed, and actually found myself in the back room of Doug's store the rest of that afternoon jotting down notes and forming ideas for some possible scenes and scenarios with which to challenge some players that very evening. And we played that night. The game wasn't Dungeons and Dragons but another of its ilk called Champions. Where Dungeons and Dragons is a game of telling stories about Knights and Wizards in days of yore, Champions was about the heroic battles of superheroes in a modern day metropolis (we were playing in a comic book store after all.)

That first game consisted of myself and Douglas Goodsell who owns World of Comics along with a few of Doug's customers, none of whom I had met before. They were Robert Briggs, Robert Ohlde, and Roland Vogt. So, it was me, the director/referee (called a GM or Game Master) and the four players, Robert, Robert, Roland, and Doug. It was a nice little group and we had a great time. We had such a great time in fact, that each player invited a friend to play the next time, and our little group doubled in size. That's when I met Robert Brigg's best friend, David Crockett. (Yes his name's Davy Crockett … don't make fun, he doesn't like it, and I will hurt you.)

We played in the back of the comic store with 8 or so players for awhile, and it was a great beginning to a new chapter of gamer geekdom social climbing in my life. Doug as a responsible store owner really couldn't in good conscience deny any of his customers who inquired, the opportunity to play. In short order, the group had grown to 25 players and I had to slam on the breaks. There were just too many people to play the game, but despite this, everyone seemed to have a good time hanging around and chatting. Still the game degraded and collapsed under its own weight.

Some of the first and best friends I made in Tulsa, came from that group. In fact, desperate to keep playing, Doug and Robert and David and myself concocted a scheme to play and keep our group smaller and more manageable. Doug really couldn't tell the folks at his store that they couldn't play in his game … but we knew from our past experience that once you said yes, it opened the flood gates to gaming oblivion. So we conspired to meet secretly to game, in a top secret, undisclosed location, the game that no one could know about.

We drove to Broken Arrow, a suburb of Tulsa, and gamed in the back room of my sister's house. No one knew where we were, or what we were doing. We had dropped off the geek radar. We were Ninja Gamer Geeks. And the small group of Doug, Robert, Dave, and Jeff had great fun. Unfortunately, Robert, bless his generous outgoing boisterous little heart just could not keep a secret. And word of the Ninja gamers got out pretty quickly. 

Doug at that point dropped out, because he just didn't feel right about running a store and denying access to the gaming group to the various customers that all counted him as a friend. David, Robert and I kept playing. And despite the tiny size of our group we remained exclusive. Not because we were “snooty” or anything, just because the experience at the comic store made us gun shy. At least at first, then after that, it was just habit.

Our little group met once a week for fifteen years, we added a member or two here or there, then I allowed my life to pull me away from the game and for the last five years I haven't played. Although Dave and Robert (with my brother Chris) continued to play.

On February 13 of this year, Robert Briggs passed away in his sleep. I am so incredibly shaken by the sadness of this event, that I can't begin to express it. All I can do, is tell you here about how we met, about the kindred spirit I found in a fellow gamer geek, and about the love and camaraderie two long time friends were able to form from across the gaming table.

I saw so much of myself in Robert. A gamer like me, not an athlete, not one of the popular kids, but a kid like me who dreamed and imagined and lived a world of grand adventure within the limitless confines of his imagination … a mental athlete of the highest degree. At the memorial service, they didn't ask people to come forward, and give testimony. I wish that they had. I feel that I need that. I am going to do that here.

I remember that Robert never walked into a room … he bounded, like Tigger on Winney the Pooh. He shared a lot in common with that lovable character, the exuberance and enthusiasm. I can almost hear him declairing, “That's what Robert's do best!”

He was a gamer geek and he loved to game. But, unlike the rest of us gamer geeks who were well aware of our lowly status as social outcasts, Robert had no such preconceptions. And in his case, this ignorance was truly bliss. We worked together in the same company. (He recommended me for my job there, and I work there to this day.) He would come to work on Monday morning after a weekend gaming session and bounce around the office telling everyone about the dragon we had slain (or as was more likely in a game in which Robert was playing, the dragon we befriended.)

And … I was … ashamed. I didn't feel comfortable telling everyone about gaming. Men were meant to talk about football, and pro-wrestling, and the stock-market, or some shit … I don't know … but, not gaming … not in public … at work! Didn't he know people would laugh at him?

But, I was wrong. I was very wrong … People didn't laugh at Robert, they embraced him. They embraced him because he was open and honest and genuine, more than any person they were ever likely to meet in their lifetimes. And they all loved him. Everyone who knew Robert loved him almost as much as I did. Because genuine people are rare and they must be cherished.

Robert lived his life as nobly as he played the characters in our games. He was as brave as any knight, and as magical as any wizard. If I believed in an afterlife and a place called heaven, then I think that each heaven would have to be custom made for the spirit who dwells within it, and if that's true, then I know that brave sir Robert is up there somewhere casting magical spells, and befriending dragons even as I write this.

Robert you are loved, and there will always be a place for you at my game table.


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