Industry Interview: Ed Greenwood On Gaming’s Impact On Society

Back in 2010 we had the pleasure of interviewing one of THE icons in the gaming industry and here’s how it all rolled out! (Reprinted from Big Iron Vault #2)

In this issue we meet with one of Canada’s most famous writers of course. Who else are we talking about other than Mr. Ed Greenwood himself! Yup, that’s right we’re talking about Ed Greenwood creator of the best selling fantasy campaign setting of all time, the Forgotten Realms for Dungeons and Dragons.

Ed was kind enough to spend some time with us prior to the trip to answer some questions that apparently had been burning in Jess’s head for a while. Before we get to the meat of the matter here’s a short introduction!

In 1987, Ed Greenwood along with Jeff Grubb wrote the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set for TSR and the rest as they say is history. After dozens of novels, articles and even as the setting of some of the best computer role-playing games of all time, it is safe to say that the Forgotten Realms was and remains a monumental success. Some might even say “the realms” is a campaign setting against which all other settings are measured against.

But this isn’t about the realms or questions about the realms (or as Ed calls it the “inevitable” questions about gaming), it’s about Ed Greenwood the DM, the player and of course the wonderful family man.

Who could be up to this monumental task of interviewing a living legend? Our own Jessica Beltran of course! After all she is on her ongoing quest to learn more about gaming as whole. Known for her out-of-the-box interview style she’d be perfect for Ed!

Jessica: Okay that’s enough narration mister editor! Let’s get this show on the road. Hello Mr. Greenwood, can I call you Ed? I’m really proud to be talking to you today.

Ed Greenwood: Of COURSE you can call me Ed. Until my Dad died a couple of years back, “Mr. Greenwood” meant him, to me. When I hear “Mr. Greenwood” I still hesitate and think, “Um, does that mean me?” Really. (Ed smiles)

You’ve had quite an impression on my husband Keith. He couldn’t stop talking about this interview-trip thingy for days once he found out that you were interested in meeting us! Ed, when people like my husband come up to you at conventions and say that you’ve influenced their lives not just in gaming but in their real lives too, how does that make you feel?

When someone tells me I’ve influenced their life, it feels both humbling (Me? geez, I hope not in a bad way! What’d I do?) and exhilarating (I made a difference in someone’s life! That’s as high as achievements get!). I’ve been fortunate enough to be told that a lot over the years and it always makes me feel warm and happy inside. Honoured. It really is THE “high” for a creator, or at least this creator.

I read somewhere on the internet that you were buying miniatures for your granddaughter at a convention. Talk about an awesome present if she’s a gamer. But this is quite unlike the stories my husband told me. Back in the 80’s when everyone was freaking out about role-playing games being devil worship, parents would literally toss out their kid’s role-playing books. How do you think that impression has changed since the 80’s in society as a whole?

My granddaughter likes playing Scrabble and Horse Show (the Gamewright card game) with me, and is learning chess, but she’s not really a gamer – yet. She’s too busy being a better athlete than I’ve ever been. She’s a superb hockey player who plays on boy’s teams and trying everything to see what she likes best. Miniatures are something cool I can bring her back from GenCon to see if I can interest in her the hobby I love so much.

Yes, there is a right-wing religious element of North American society that has demonized role-playing games more or less from the beginning, more so in the USA than in Canada, and often led by the sort of religious leaders who raise large sums of money from believers by crusading against things (drugs, rock and roll, our corrupt youth, and so on; it’s my opinion that some of them saw “Satanic” role-playing games as either another easy target or genuine evil corruption menace, depending on how sincere they personally were). Crusades against roleplaying have lessened in recent years for two reasons, in my opinion.

First, the big money – and therefore social impact, and therefore “target menace” for these moral crusaders has moved on to computer games and internet-based games, leaving pencil-and-paper RPGs behind. Second, D&D “geeks” have now been around long enough that some of them have landed creative roles in moviemaking and television, and have begun to portray role-playing games in films and TV shows as everyday but cool pastimes, rather than insidious evils.

With familiarity comes acceptance, or at least a lessening of the fear of the unknown. The more an “average parent” with no axes to grind sees of role-playing, the more they see that their children are hanging out either in their basement or at a friend’s house, munching chips and drinking pop around a table with their friends, not out doing something more dangerous. It may be seen as an “odd phase” or “nerdity,” but it’s not seen as dangerous as, say, those same kids out driving too fast after having too much to drink.

Just as comic books and science fiction used to be for “weirdos” but are now part of the mainstream of movies and TV shows that “everyone” at least knows about, fantasy role-playing games are no longer fringe, “unknown,” underground activities that MUST be dangerous. They increasingly evoke reactions more akin to: “Oh, yeah, some of the gang at university used to play D&D. People still play that, huh?”

To tell you the truth Ed, when I have kids I would want to them to learn the moral values, the ideas of virtue and the ideas of friendship and camaraderie that my husband claims to have learnt from role-playing games. What lessons do you hope your granddaughter or any other young child will learn from gaming?

To always use your imagination, always try to picture things. To work as part of a team, to trust others and work with them to do things and defeat challenges you can’t manage alone. To get scared but go ahead anyway. To not always accept people or situations or things at face value. That lifting the lid of that treasure chest can be dangerous, but a life spent never lifting any lids to avoid danger is going to be dull and empty. That nothing in life is worth so much as surviving adventures with others who become your friends and your trusted companions (THAT’S why old vets remember their war experiences so vividly, and forged such deep friendships back then, and are so saddened when the passing years take more and more of those friends from them).

Nothing in life is worth so much as surviving adventures with others who become your friends and your trusted companions…

Ed that’s great advice, not just for gamers but life in general – to get scared but go ahead anyways, loves it! You know, it’s funny but I find that the gaming community is tighter knit than any social community I’ve ever experienced. You don’t really have to go further than to watch the reality TV show Beauty and the Geek (I miss that TV show). Every season the geeks always got along but the beauties could never get it right.

Very true; gamers—for all their feuds and arguments over this game versus that one or this edition versus that one—are very close-knit. It’s because they’re bonded by shared dreams and imaginings, by ideas and fictional people and places that they’ve come to identify with, often fiercely.

For some, it’s escapism, for others dreams to chase as future goals…which means the things that bind gamers together are things they care about very much; the bindings are stronger than forces that may work to tear them apart. People united in, say, a political party will fall into disunity if the party no longer follows the ideals or approaches they thought it did, or hoped it would, or it claimed to—but gamers are still linked together by playing the same games, even if in very different ways.

When I go to conventions or by even just observing my husband’s ever changing gaming group, it seems to me that no one in the gaming circle cares about where you’re from, how rich you are or your ethnic background. Everyone genuinely gets along! Do you think the world would be different if everyone was a role-player? How do you think it would be different and is it necessary a good thing if everyone was a zealous role-player?

To tackle your last, first, I don’t think it would necessarily be a good thing if everyone was a zealous role-player, because there’s a time for acting roles and a time for being honest. Some gamers play roles zealously to win in a situation, not necessarily to bring about the best outcome for anyone else, or for everyone, or even for themselves in the long run. Whereas other gamers will lose a battle to win the eventual war, or be unselfish even if their character might be selfish in the same situation. There’s a good reason “gaming the system” is a two-edged phrase, tied to both admiration and disdain.

The world would definitely be different if everyone played role-playing games, … because of the egalitarian effect you alluded to: people’s brains and character become more important than race, wealth, social class or birth background.

Although manipulating people is what people DO (or to put it another way, “If you don’t do politics, politics will be done to you”), and the sort of role-playing I’ve been talking about in these last few sentences is “triumphing in manipulation,” that can be misused to either always get your own way (no matter how selfish the motives or destructive the consequences), or to avoid making decisions that have to be made, even when there’s a cost to ignoring or delaying them, in order to maintain a friendly accord (avoid “rocking the boat”).

However, if everyone knew how to see the world from another person’s point of view, through role-playing, and worked on overcoming shyness and becoming effective communicators through role-playing, that would be a great benefit of role-playing, yes.

The world would definitely be different if everyone played role-playing games, because of the teamwork, because of the problem-solving, because of the active and often-exercised imaginations everyone would sport, and because of the egalitarian effect you alluded to: people’s brains and character become more important than race, wealth, social class or birth background, and so on.

The shy misfit or the physically handicapped or ugly can be appreciated for WHO they are, not avoided or denigrated because of WHAT they are; people get valued or judged harshly because of their actions and contributions, not where they came from or gender or skin colour or accent, which means nerds like me get to be noticed (Ed smiles).

If all the politicians in the world were role-players or gamers, how do you think we would go about solving world hunger or poverty?

The joke answer would be: find the monsters, kill them and eat them, then divvy up their treasure. Evenly, among everyone.

More seriously, politicians who were EXPERIENCED gamers would be masters of compromise, of working out really iron-clad pacts, and of seeing long-term consequences and accordingly deploying resources wisely (“If all my dwarves get killed just assaulting the mountain gates, I’ll have none left later, when I need them, not to get lost down in the mines inside the mountain”).

Gamers understand that making money in the short term isn’t everything, and that long-term security is better—so for example a gamer running a country would never let domestic agriculture wither away in favour of buying cheaper peaches or carrots from a far country, leaving the home country unable to feed itself if some future crisis wiped out that far country or the transport of food from it. A gamer would understand sharing, and that denying too much to any one group, be it dragons or humans on the other side of yonder border, is a sure recipe for future war.

And yet a gamer would understand the need for adventure, the hunger for opportunities that all humans have to some extent and each new young generation has afire inside them most strongly, and that crushing that fire by excessive government control just doesn’t work; giving it freedom to do new things and try new experiments is vastly preferable.

Wow Ed, that’s some pretty deep stuff. Well that’s enough of seriousness! Okay let’s have a little fun! Let’s run the “gauntlet” together. I’m going to say two words and you have to choose which one you like more and why! Are you ready?

#1 Watching a movie or Reading a book? I like reading a book more, because the pictures in my mind are of my making; I participate more than just watching. That answer changes only when my eyes are too dog-tried to read properly, and watching is all I can manage.

#2 Snail-mail or Email? Email because of its speed and informal immediacy; I’ve always hated writing formal letters. However, having a permanent record of physical letters is a plus, sometimes a necessity. Yet for daily utility, e-mails win, hands down.

#3 Bravery or Brains? Brains. You need both, and I admire both, but in fifty years I’ve seen too much damage done by brave but ignorant individuals rushing in and doing the wrong thing, or making things so much worse. Brave RESISTANCE, now, that I admire hugely. (Example: clinging to principles, like Uriens [Patrick Stewart] in the movie EXCALIBUR: “I saw what I saw. The boy drew the sword.”)

#4 Aragon or Legolas? (I personally like Orlando Bloom but please don’t let me influence you there!) Sorry, Jess: Aragorn for me. Not so much the movie depictions, but the book characters I lived with for all those decades before the superb movies were made. Wherein Legolas was an admirable (gentle, “noble”) fish-out-of-water character notable especially for his ever-growing friendship with Gimli throughout the exploits of the Fellowship, but Aragorn was the tireless fighting wanderer and loner who held to his cause for year after weary year, long before the Fellowship was founded. Who did his part to defend Bree and the Shire unnoticed and unthanked long before Legolas got sent to Rivendell. Aragorn carries Anduril, and works to restore his fallen family’s true place. He’s one of the four real heroes of LOTR (the others being Frodo, Sam [[Everyman]], and Gandalf [[who does his duty and sticks to the long-drawn-out and seemingly hopeless causes, and who goes Aragorn one better by sacrificing himself to the cause, only to rise again]].

#5 Flying in a plane or Driving a car? I do the latter far more than the former, but my answer here depends on if you really mean “flying in a plane” (that is, being piloted by someone else and just enjoying—or not—the ride) or if you mean actually flying the plane myself. The excitement of flying would beat the driving, though I’ve been far more scared on my brief moments of commanding the controls of a plane, even with the real pilot right beside me, than even my moments of being hit by another vehicle while in a car. That excitement would die away quickly, though, if I couldn’t see the vista below me properly, and so be robbed of the fascination of “looking down on things from above.” I spent more than a dozen years commuting over a hundred miles, each way, to work, so have a lot of car driving under my belt, and enjoy driving (even in lousy conditions), but my very mastery of it makes it more mundane than flying a plane.

#6 Fine dining or Truck stop? I’ve enjoyed both, but if you mean each of them to have really good food, I’d probably prefer the truck stop for its lack of waiting, fussy formalities, and overpricing. When I was young, fine restaurants were far quieter than they are now (diners spoke in hushed tones, there were no cell phones, loud music was only present when it was live entertainment that the diners were specifically there to see, and tables were spaced far apart for some privacy, the result being meals where conversations could be enjoyed), but as time has passed and society has become noisier and ruder in general, fine restaurants have increasingly come to resemble the noise and crowding of truck stops. So if the truck stop offers really good, rib-sticking food, I’m usually cold or hot and hungry when I land there, and don’t mind a little dirt and ugliness in the surroundings.

As I grow older, my health demands I avoid more fried and overly sugared foods—but fine restos are as guilty of unhealthy offerings as truck stops. And I’ve had more than enough of snobbery from waiters and chefs over the years.

On the other hand, I LOVE and cherish my too-small collection of “good restaurants I can trust” to entertain at, have really productive business discussions at, or take my wife to…and I’d certainly not want to entertain at a truck stop. I really enjoy pleasant surroundings if the food is equally good than at a rough-and-ready place.

So my answer to this one has to be: it depends on whether I just need to refuel, or whether I need or strongly crave the ambiance and pampering (if any) of a fine restaurant. I’ve had memorable (in a good way) meals at both sorts of places, and eaten at a lot of both over the years.

Phew that was quite a list of questions. I have some more questions that I’m sure our readers want to know the answers to like, what’s next for Ed Greenwood? Seems to me you’ve accomplished everything that any writer could ever want. Is there something that remains yet undone?

There are LOTS of things I still want to do, creatively. That’s what keeps me going: the chance to tell new stories about characters I haven’t finished with yet or haven’t had a chance to really spotlight, and trying new things (game sourcebooks angled in a different way, childrens’ books, television and movie scripts, perhaps an old-style English country house “cozy” locked-room mystery, or a romance novel, or any number of ideas I’ve had and jotted down that I haven’t yet had time to get into print). I’ve written or co-written almost 180 published books, but I feel as if I’m just getting started. I have SO much more to get done, if I can. Right now, I’m working on another Elminster book and a lot of gaming projects I’m not allowed to talk about, but there are two completely different novels I’m itching to get to work on.

Let’s talk special items of interest! Keith has many prized possessions, his complete set of “Blood Sword” and “Dragon Warriors” books by Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson for example. Do you have a prized possession in gaming?

I certainly do. Last year, to mark my fiftieth birthday, my friend and longtime Realms fan Brian Cortijo (who has done game design and writing for Paizo, among others) assembled a book of remembrances and teases and celebrations from a lot of my friends in gaming and a few of my friends from outside gaming, too, and presented it to me at GenCon, at a little surprise party. It was great, and I cherish that book. I own some 80,000 books and games, but it is my most prized possession. A gamer might value its Larry Elmore illo or Stan! art, or the pages written to me by Margaret Weis, Bob Salvatore, Jeff Grubb, Julia Martin, Steve Schend, Jim Butler, Erik Scott de Bie, and many others—but I value the friendships those pages mark. THEY are my greatest prizes from gaming, not the money or the awards or seeing my name in print. It’s the friends I’ve made, and getting chance after chance to hang out with them.

I have to ask these last two questions, for what reward would you shave your beard off for? And can I be a cool warrior-princess-hero-person in your next book? (Jess smiles).

I keep my beard because my wife wants me to, so no reward could win its removal, but her change of preference would result in its removal.As for being a “cool warrior-princess-hero-person,” my next two novels to appear (FALCONFAR from Solaris/Rebellion/Simon & Schuster and ELMINSTER MUST DIE! from Wizards) are already written, submitted, and “done,” so it would have to be a later book.

I never put real people into my books as characters, but I’ll happily build a character from facets of several real people, so you could recognize and identify with yourself in a character. And being a lusty guy, I’m ALWAYS interested in cool and heroic warrior-princesses!

That’s right folks you heard it here first – I might just have a chance to be a part of a warrior-princess someday! How cool! Thanks Ed, for taking the time out to talk to me, for those that don’t know, BIV is going to make a super fun road trip to visit Ed in his hometown of Colborne, Ontario! Stay tuned for our upcoming video segment that’s sure to be a lot of fun and laughs! Till then my gators – good night!

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