Armagideon Time

It’s time for the entry I’ve been dreading since I first embarked on this feature. It has little to do with the game in question and everything to do with the historical context.

In the latter half of 1987, my dad got busted for drunken driving. He wasn’t technically operating the vehicle when it happened. His car blew a tire, so he pulled off the road to remove the flat and install the spare.

A passing cop asked if he needed help. My dad said he had it under control, and the cop departed.

He returned an hour later, after my dad had knocked back a number of beers while struggling to get the spare mounted. Again he asked if my dad needed assistance, but this time my dad responded with “Leave me the fuck alone.”

Instead of going to jail, my dad was sentenced to a mandatory month’s stay in a local substance abuse program (which just so happened to be run by the wife of the judge, who also owned the town ‘s biggest package store). This left me and Lil Bro in the care of my increasingly unstable mom from mid-November to mid-December.

My dad may have been irresponsible and prone to wild outburst, but he knew how to maintain a facade of normality when it mattered. (Most of the time, at least.) My mom wasn’t nearly as centered or aware of the bigger picture. Her decline was a compulsive slalom into the abyss. She self-medicated with increasing amounts of industrial grade port wine, to a point where she developed “agoraphobia” — in reality, a terror of being more than a few footsteps from her gallon jug of garbage hooch.

At the time, we were living on the other side of my maternal grandparents’ duplex. My grandmother, who despised my father, used his confinement as an excuse to mail us an eviction notice. While my mom despaired (and drank), I entered Stupid Angry Teen mode and went over to confront my grandma.

I told her my grandfather would roll over in his grave if he knew she did this…which was a mistake, as my grandpa was actually in a vegetative state at hospice in Brighton. My grandma flipped out and physically threw me out her back door.

My aunt and her shitheel husband were living in my grandma’s attic at the time, and decided to further escalate the situation when they got home by smashing the glass in our front door and screaming for my panic-paralyzed mom to show herself.

There was a tussle on the front steps after I hurled myself at my uncle. Then the police got involved, after my mom somehow got the presence of mind to call them.

It was was the worst day of my life — at least, until my mom’s death a year later. My dad was incarcerated. My mom was slipping further into insanity. We were going into the holiday season with no idea if we’d even have a roof over our head

So I scraped together some paper route money and loose change and bought myself the Twilight 2000 box set from Eric Fuchs Hobbies in the Burlington Mall.

I remember it because I remember holding the game on my lap on the ride back from the Burlington Mall. Damian’s mother drove us there, and I spilled everything to him in the backseat of the car. He listened without saying much, then asked if I wanted to hang out at his place and play videogames.

My friendship with Damian was one of convenience and marked by mutual irritation. Our aspirations diverged too much for the relationship to last past our teen years. When we finally did go our separate ways, it was with sighs of relief. Yet despite all that, Damian was a very solid pal when it mattered. He never remarked about my fucked-up family life, but always seemed ready to step up with some stupid distraction when things got heavy.

Then he got into LARPing, which was a bridge too far for me.

I bought Twilight 2000 because its “contemporary military” and “post-WW3” themes fell comfortably into my adolescent wheelhouse. It was also the mechanical and canonical precursor to Traveller 2300, and yet I still bought it.

The game system was pretty robust and allowed for all sorts of offbeat character concepts drawn from NATO and Warsaw Pact backgrounds. Many sections of the rulebooks were prefaced by first-person fluff from the perspective of the world’s inhabitants. They read like a freshman creative writing student’s attempt to ape Apocalypse Now‘s narration, but were nevertheless fascinating to my teen self.

For all my reality-avoiding immersion in the game’s printed materials, we only managed to play a single actual session of the game. It ended with Lil Bro’s character, a former USAF pilot, dying from cholera in a muddy culvert after getting bitten by a rat. Twilight 2000 didn’t really work with just a couple of players. Its military theme was better suited for larger groups, where the wide array of specialties can better complement each other.

At the same time, the complexity of the mechanics meant that larger scale combats would resolve into hour after hour of dice-rolling tedium. That isn’t unique to Twilight 2000, but it is especially prominent in it.

My interest in the game faded fast once it had served its initial and unspoken purpose. I needed something to distract me and it fit the bill. Once my immediate traumatic shock subsided and I was able to get a clearer perspective of the situation, it became a reminder of a moment I’d rather forget.

Any residual interest I had in Twilight 2000 was killed by a White Dwarf discussion about the game I read a couple of years later. The (British) reviewer was utterly disgusted by the game’s blithe approach to the subject matter, using the real threat of nuclear annihilation as a springboard for Reagan Era re-treads of Kelly’s Heroes. It was a bit hyperbolic, but it wasn’t wrong. The game’s right-wing and militaristic leanings were impossible to ignore after they’d been pointed out to me, especially since I’d forsaken “YO JOE!” nonsense for punk rock iconoclasm by then.

So, yeah, not a whole lot of good memories there.

2 Responses to “Role-Playing with the Changes: Most apocalypse”

  1. Jon H

    “The (British) reviewer was utterly disgusted by the game’s blithe approach to the subject matter, using the real threat of nuclear annihilation as a springboard for Reagan Era re-treads of Kelly’s Heroes”

    Yeah, I could see a Brit taking that stance. Threads, their TV counterpart of our “The Day After” was considerably bleaker.

  2. JR

    Good post. Tough times, man.

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