Archive for the 'Summer Camp' Category

1984 Article on the Shippensburg Dungeons & Dragons Camp

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I talked about the old-school-nerd-historic Shippensburg Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Camp a couple of years ago. It ran for two separate one-week sessions every summer from 1981 to 1985. So much to talk about here. First, the writer’s description of the “D&D campers,” as opposed to the kids at the sports camps:

They’re the ones sitting inside on sunny days, clustered in classroom desks among some slightly older youth who is their ‘dungeon master,’ setting up the scenario for their fantasy trip into a make-believe land of knights and giants and elves and necromancers.

Says one of the kids, Mike Tinney: “A lot of the people who come here to play don’t really seem like they’re the athletic types… a lot of them are more like the bookwork types.” (I bet this Mike Tinney is the game designer and former President of CCP Games North America [Eve Online] who, irony alert, launched a start-up in 2012 to apply the principles of interactive games to fitness.)

The camp director, Keith Kraus, who comes off as a stereotypical jock here, was actually a “professor of English with a specialization in adolescent literature at [Shippensburg University].” Right after he calls the D&D kids “wimps” and “outcasts”—the words “geek” and “nerd” do not appear in the article—he goes on to say that they’ll end up going to the Ivy League and “running things.” Ben Robbins, who went to the camp all five years, was interviewed at Gaming Brouhaha and talks about Kraus’s indiscreet comments in the Spokesman-Review article, which was published during the 1984 camp:

But in the last week of camp [in 1984] there was a furor because Dr. Kraus was interviewed by a local reporter, and he let his guard down and was quoted as saying “basically, these kids are the wimps.” Oops. Remember he wasn’t a gamer in the first place, just the university facilitator. He was used to running athletic camps like tennis or swimming. The story was printed while camp was still in session, the campers got a hold of it, torches and pitchforks were issued, and he wound up apologizing to the assembled camp while the incensed gamers booed him down. Not pretty.

To Kraus’s credit, he does dismiss the identification of D&D with “devil worship,” even though the media-induced moral panic is probably why the camp was canceled.

Two other press mentions of the camp are below. The first one is a notice from 1981, the camp’s inaugural year (Frank Mentzer was a “guest lecturer,” according to Robbins). I assume the “original dungeon” is a miniature. The second notice is from 1983 and shows all the available Shippensburg camps.

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Letter from Camp, 1975

Letter from Camp 1975

It says “nice horse” in the third line, if you can’t make it out.

Thank you, Shawn Bouckaert, for sharing this. My day has been made.

It’s Not a Fantasy: Dungeons & Dragons Camp, 1981 – 1985

Shippensburg 1981

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Shippensburg 1982

1982

Shippensburg 1983

1983

Shippensburg 1984, week 1

1984

Shippenburg 1985

1985

Shippenburg 1985

1985

Shippensburg Adventure Game Camp really existed. It was held during the summer at the Shippensburg College campus in southern Pennsylvania. Ben Robbins, who is currently developing an RPG called Kingdom, attended all five years. The photos come from his Flickr set, at this point an indispensable historical document.

In a must-read interview at Gaming Brouhaha, he boils down the experience: “Take the normal magic of summer camp and then ratchet it up a few notches for sharing a rare and misunderstood subculture.” I can only imagine.

He explains the structure of the camp and how the groups were broken up, talks about the campaigns, tells stories  (for instance: going to see Clash of the Titans with all the geeks in the group). Every morning there were lectures on gaming, he says:

One of the best sections (back each year by popular demand) was audience suggestions for improv roleplaying. The councilors would all act as players, and the audience would come up with situations and characters for them and they’d roleplay it out. There wasn’t any fighting or rules — if the situation started to devolve into combat they stopped and moved to a new one. It may seem unimpressive now, but demonstrating roleplaying as a game in itself was a powerful example back in the early 80′s.

This recalls Dirk Malcolm on the “leap of faith it took in the early days “to move from Monopoly to playing mind-games with dice.”

The first 1985 photo is my favorite. The Ratt t-shirt is a classic (what’s he holding?). I also see Rush and Dio shirts. Houston Oilers hat and check Vans in the second row (are those guys twins?). All the studs in their shades and feathered back hair. Sad kid sighting: front row, second from the right. Girl sighting: smack in the middle of the pile.

The camp was cruelly canceled before the 1986 season. I posted the letter last year.

Thanks, Ben.

Summer Camp, 1978

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August 15, 1978. (Photo: Lee Mitchel)

The thing about girls in the ’70s is that they would kick your ass, verbally and/or literally, if you gave them any sort of shit whatsoever. Remember Tatum O’Neal’s character in The Bad News Bears? That’s what the girls were like—in my neighborhood, anyway—when I was a boy.

(Photo via Vintage Photos 2012/eBay)

Summer Camp, 1986

Kids at Camp 1986

The Everglades, April 6, 1986. (Photo: Miami Herald)

Hiking? What’s that?

(Image via Vintage Photos 2012)


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