Puff the Magic Dragon is often thought of as a kid's song, since it is about a boy's love for his presumably imaginary magical dragon playmate. But it is not1. It is an adult song about regret and loss of innocence. The funny thing is that while almost everyone understands the loss that Jackie Paper feels when he has to put away his imaginary friend and grow up, and almost everyone feels the same loss, what mystifies me is that these same people don't seem to understand why people like role-playing games, board games, science fiction, fantasy, and other geeky interests. Because our love of these things comes from exactly the same place that Jackie's love of Puff comes from.
When Jackie Paper grows up he has to set aside Puff and act like an adult. And in the song this is a sad event. But it is never explained why he has to stop imagining and playing. It is just taken as accepted that when you grow up, you stop having fun, you stop creating stories in your mind, you stop pretending you are playing with friendly dragons. But one has to ask why this is so. What is so wonderful about giving up one's dreams to become an "adult", and why can't one continue to dream and imagine and yes, play even after one reaches adulthood?
And that's what we do when we play all of those nerdy games. When we role-play, and pretend to be knights and wizards, set out to rescue princesses (and princes), and defeat trolls, ogres, and even dragons, we are living in the world of Jackie Paper. The world that the song is sad to see left behind. When we sit down and play games like Settlers of Catan, Lords of Waterdeep, and Constantinopolis, we are settling strange lands, sending brave adventurers out on quests, and overseeing vast trading ships in the Mediterranean. When we read science fiction and fantasy, we are transported to exotic worlds to meet strange people and deal with unknown technology and situations. We are, right now, living the wonderful and imaginative life that Jackie Paper is depicted as loving as a child, and surrendering as an adult. But we have refused to surrender that world.
Why is it that playing golf on Saturday afternoons and getting drunk in a bar on Saturday nights are acceptable endeavors for an "adult", while gathering together with one's friends or family to play some Ticket to Ride is seen as childish? Why is it that endeavors that require creativity, ingenuity, and imagination are so devalued by the world we live in? Golf is not only deadly dull - being about as exciting as watching paint dry - but it is almost entirely mindless. You walk around. You smack a ball several times until it gets into the hole. Then you do that again. And again. And again. The only choices you make are which club to smack the ball with. You can almost turn your brain off while playing the game, reserving only that part needed to keep you breathing and able to walk. And this is the "adult" option. Apparently, in a proper world, adults don't use their brains for anything as part of their recreation. And for this we are supposed to make Jackie Paper's choice and set aside the thing that gives us joy? No thanks.
Why do I play games? Because I refuse to give up my dragon.
1And no, it is not about drugs. Stop with that. Just stop.
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