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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Sharing the Game: The Value of the Club

My Photograph

I did not belong to a D&D club.  When I started playing in/around 1981/82 there were most certainly such things in some places, but none in my places.  Like many other kids my age at that time, I played with the few friends I had that also played. Other times I somehow accidentally discovered new friends who played.  None of us was in a club. The thought of such a thing, I think, never crossed our minds. It seemed like the sort of thing that few people were doing, many people didn’t know about, understand or far worse, were afraid of.  It was fringe, as many of the best things were (and perhaps still are). There were no clubs.

I really, REALLY, wish there had been a club.

Last night I spent my evening at a camera club meeting that was rather unusual.  Our typical meetings revolve around competitive showings of our work, discussions of trips and photo-walks, maybe an exchange of ideas or techniques.  We often have guest judges or on occasion simply a guest speaker, but last night was something far more interesting, involving, enlightening, and special.  

The club, each year (and this is my first year as a member so it was a new experience for me) hosts an evening with the members of another local club of sorts, the Stetson Shutterbugs.  A very nice article appeared in about the club, which is worth a read.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 kids from one of Philadelphia’s well known neighborhoods, though it isn’t well known for its positive qualities.  It’s easy to forget that while it can be a great city in many ways, it also suffers from many of the same problems that plague large cities across the country, and even the globe.  These were kids who come from a very tough neighborhood...a neighborhood not too unlike the one I work in every day at the pawnshop.

Xavier's Photograph

These kids showed their work, each standing up and walking over to our big screen and adding some information and context for their photos.  It was brave. It was interesting. It was wonderful. As each image flashed on the screen, an often tiny, meek, squeaky voice would chime in.  

“This is a photo of my grandfather.  I chopped off the top of his head accidentally, but I really like it,” said one young girl.

We commented on it.  The lines were nice and lead the eye to his eyes..  The image was clear and the composition was minimal, but there was some distracting items on the right of the image.

“This is a place I passed by while heading to the hospital with my mom for an appointment.  It’s a dangerous place where there are bad people and also drug abusers, who can’t always help it.  They go to rehab but them come out and come here to do their drugs again,” said a curly-haired boy.

It had great light and shadow.  The columns on the right were a nice leading line to the brightness at the far side of the image.  The trash on the ground added to the context.

“This picture I took while walking with my mom to the dollar store.  The umbrella is over the lady’s head and face, so I thought it looked cool.  We see her here sometimes. She’s homeless or crazy maybe. Once she shook a rock at me,” another girl informed us.

I had two thoughts banging around in my head.  The first was that these kids were taking great photos.  These were images unclouded and raw, emotionally open, and while not always crafted with the eye and hand of a seasoned master or professional (of which I am neither BTW...far from it) the images did what a good photo (or any art) should do in my opinion, which is share a visual moment that contains a story, emotional, visceral, intellectual...something is transmitted through the image to the viewer.  There were few photos, even before the child spoke about it, that didn’t evoke a particular thought or feeling from me.

The second thought was more of a question.  Just how important is a club like this, for children living in this place at this time?  Even if they do not carry on with photography as a lifelong pursuit on any level, how important is it right now to have a group of like-minded people and thoughtful teachers guiding these kids in this way, using photography as a creative vehicle?

What if there had been a club in my middle school for kids who wanted to play, or learn to play, D&D?

I was lucky, on many levels.  As for D&D, I found friends who played or were willing to learn.  Not having a club available didn’t stop me from playing, but how many kids who had an interest in the game were, i’m sure, not as lucky.  When I started gaming it was the time of the Satanic Panic that many of us know so well, but while I was aware of the issue it didn’t affect me.  How much easier would it have been for ostracized kids who wanted to play if their school offered a club to join, something official to legitimize and de-demonize a fun and creative hobby?

The kids I met last night were great.  They walked around taking photos of us, each other, and the event as it unfolded.  I know that if you put one of my street photos next to one of theirs, you wouldn’t know (or care) who made which.  Keep in mind that these kids were learning photography with pinhole cameras, old SLR’s, and black & white film.  Their guide and mentor wanted them to think about the photograph at the simplest level, and not worry about which setting, or what colors, or how to post-process the images they were making.  He wanted them to just slow down, see a scene, make a photo. It seemed to me the perfect approach to teaching, and the best way to learn. It is, BTW, completely the opposite way that I learned (and am still learning) to make a photo.  

If I was to start a D&D club, I would take the same approach.  Basic D&D. Simplify the learning process and find your place quickly, enjoy the game and don’t worry about rules and tables to complicate the character sheet.  The hardest part should be deciding on a name...then play.
What is more important, the game, or the sense of belonging?  The process, or the community? The group, or the art it creates?

The kids I met last night told us a story, showed us their art, and none of us left the gathering un-moved by our shared experience.

It was great to meet you, kids of Stetson Middle School. Thanks Tony Rocco, for your dedication and devotion to these and other kids who have come before, and will come after. I'm not sure if the enormity of what you do has been, or will ever be properly recognized, but it certainly has not gone unnoticed by this author/gamer/photographer.

Thanks to all of the organizers of clubs everywhere, of every kind.  Your contribution is important, and does not go unnoticed.

1 comment:

  1. I was fortunate enough to have a rpg club at school, but it kind of fell apart after my second year because the leader and GM left. I am now a teacher, and I have started playing D&D with the boys. I tried a couple of years ago unsuccessfully with 4E (too complicated for them, combat was also too slow). This year, we tried again and it seems to be taking off with 5E (much simpler and streamlined). I have two boys wanting to DM next year. Happy days.