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June 3, 2011

Book Notes - Jason Thompson ("King of RPGS 2")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Funny and action-packed, Jason Thompson's new graphic novel King of RPGS 2 picks up where his last ended, this time focusing on online RPG gaming. Thompson both embraces and pokes fun at geek culture in this impressive work of manga.

In his own words, here is Jason Thompson's Book Notes music playlist for his graphic novel, King of RPGS 2:

King of RPGs is a satirical mashup of my favorite things in pop culture: manga and anime and tabletop roleplaying games. Volume 1 covered tabletop roleplaying and collectible card games, and volume 2 focuses on tabletop roleplaying and MMORPGs, like World of Warcraft. As before, the main characters are two college students: Shesh, a recovering WoW addict who has traded the morphine of WoW for the methadone of tabletop gaming…and his friend Theodore, whose dream is to become the Greatest Game Master in the World. I wanted to write a story that celebrated gaming in an over-the-top way, in which debates about gaming (Is gaming about individual creativity or corporate profit? Is the appeal of gaming in freedom, achievement, heroism, story, character, or what? Is D&D 4th edition better than Pathfinder?) were settled in real life-and-death battles. It just seemed more interesting than watching some people sitting around a table or playing video games on a couch for 272 pages.

My musical choices for King of RPGs Volume 2 are a mashup of rap, metal, nerdcore and the soundtracks of 1980s fantasy movies. If the soundtrack is louder and crazier than the soundtrack to volume 1, it's because volume 2 itself is louder and crazier.

Time Bandits (opening theme)

The thunderous sound that opens Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits puts us into the mood of cosmic bombast and '80s fantasy nostalgia that characterizes King of RPGs volume 2. Ever since I saw it on HBO in my grandparents' house at the age of eight or so, I've loved this movie's combination of childish wonder, action and nihilistic absurdity.

Scotty, "The Black Pearl (Dave Darell Radio Edit)"

Volume 2 introduces us to "World of Warfare," the world's most popular RPG. One of the new characters is a gold farmer, one of those scurvy lot -- mostly poor teens from underdeveloped regions like Russia, South America, parts of China, and the Philippines -- who make a living playing MMORPGs and selling the treasure, characters and items they achieve to rich First World people for real-world money. Gold farmers have been criticized for commercializing the games they play (although of course, the gaming companies are really just mad at them for stealing their profits) and bothering players with incessant spam advertising, and they've been banned by admins and, in some cases, even hunted down and killed in massive player-vs.-farmer raids. It's a tough life for tough gamers from poor backgrounds, living under the radar of massive corporations…What better theme song than one about pirates? This guy named Ge Jin is apparently making a documentary on gold farmers (, but he hasn't updated his site in years so I'm worried the film is stalled in postproduction.

NERD, "Lapdance"

Shesh, one of the main characters of King of RPGs, is the embodiment of the fears of anti-gaming crusaders from 1980s anti-D&D manifesto Mazes & Monsters to Jack Thompson's proselytizing against Grand Theft Auto. Although he's normally a mellow, guy, he suffers from a tragic form of dissociative identity disorder which causes him to take on the personality of his characters whenever he plays role-playing games and go completely nuts. When he returns to playing the MMO World of Warfare, Shesh forgets his lowly past life as an undergraduate fast-food wage slave, and transforms into Moggrathka, 80th level Chaotic Evil Rogue/Barbarian. It's all about nerd rage, the revenge of the underdog…but will his quest for freedom, power and plunder end with him swallowed forever by his dark side? Another good high-energy Shesh song is "Hine Ani Ba" by HaDag Nachash.

N.W.H., "Wear Your Hat (Buried and Bald)"

One of the main things I tried to do in King of RPGs is change the (self) image of gamers from mellow, harmless, loveable dorks to crazy, aggressive fanatics. "Gamers are just like everybody else!" is so first-wave nerdism; personally, I think nerds should stop trying to integrate into mainstream society and embrace our true nature as scary cultlike people who care more about illusion than reality. (Of course, in reality most nerds just live quiet lives and spend their discretionary income on gaming products, but…) This song from Fear of a Black Hat, the great '90s rap mockumentary a la This is Spinal Tap, expresses the proper mood of self-parodying rebellion and hat-wearing hip-hop belligerence. (Appropriate, since Shesh never takes his hat off,and Theo only takes his off occasionally.)

Dayglo Abortions, "The Spawn of Yog Sothoth"

The Beast: 400 Hit Points!
The Beast: Strength 25!
The Beast: Charisma -7 if you meet his eye you'll die!

This shrieking punk rock paean consists of someone reading aloud the stats for the tentacled Lovecraftian monster-god Yog-Sothoth from the first edition of Deities & Demigods. "The Beast: Chaotic Evil! The Beast: on the Astral Plane!" In my mind, it's the theme song of a particular character from volume 2.

JT the Bigga Figga & Mac Mall, "Game Recognize Game"

The theme song for the meeting between Moggrathka and Malakbel, the two most powerful characters in World of Warfare. Who is truly the most powerful WoW player? Can they ever get along? I like the idea that gamers can sense eachother's nerd level through some secret sense, like chi power or chakra or something. My friend Carl Horn, a big fan of West Coast rap, suggested this song when I was looking for rap songs that had "players" or "game" in them.

Richard O' Brien, "Shock Treatment"

You're blinded by romance, you're blinded by science
Your condition is critically grave
But don't expect mercy from such an alliance
Suspicion of tradition's so New Wave

Richard O'Brien's musicals are full of roleplaying in the broader, psychological, sexual sense. I like to think of him as a fellow gamer. As the pace of volume 2 gets faster and faster, as Shesh struggles in his own mind to escape his gaming-induced insanity, this song has the right mood of glory and madness.

Tomoyasu Hotei, "Battle Without Honor and Humanity"

The great song from Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, named after the 1973 Japanese yakuza film by Kinji Fukusaku. This song captures the shonen manga battle vibes of this volume, or any King of RPGs story, really.

Mickey Avalon, "Waiting to Die"

As those who noticed the Mickey Avalon shout-out in King of RPGs volume 1 may already have guessed, I love his super-trashy L.A. glam rap music. The fact that he used to be a male prostitute and that he occasionally cross-dresses gives a nice bit of seasoning to the usual sexist rap machismo; no lover of manga-style action stories, which always include a little yaoi-slash element, can be frightened of a little homoeroticism. As Shesh's brain remains trapped in World of Warfare, his friends struggle to figure out a way to get him out of the game without killing his character, fearful that if he dies in the game, he'll die in real life. Yes, of course it's a total cliche, one everyone's heard about a zillion times in science fiction books and movies about role-playing (The Matrix, .Hack, etc.). And frankly, doesn't this cliché demean the gaming experience? Isn't it a completely inaccurate representation of roleplaying games to imply that players can only have one single character, or that 'winning' and 'losing' is even the point? But as with the stereotype that gamers are unable to distinguish fantasy from reality, I say, the quickest way to get through a stereotype is to put your foot on the gas and drive straight through.

Led Zeppelin, "Kashmir"

More ominous rock music as the big final battle approaches. It's in keeping with the Middle Eastern theme of the climactic Mages & Monsters game. I also like Rashid Taha's cover of "Rock the Casbah."

Slough Feg, "I Will Kill You/You Will Die"

You know your place in history
Are you denying I am free?
Any profit of this new dark age can see

This great band's D&D influence shows through in their monster-filled album covers by D&D artist Erol Otus. I discovered them through my friend Allan Horrocks, who works at Aquarius Records ( in San Francisco. This song is awesome, metal-esque battle music, and the lyrics are clever. ("Like those who came before you/Life never ceased to bore you…")

Toto, "Main Title (Dune Score)"

This short soundtrack selection really has nothing to do with RPGs, but I love the bombast of it, and all the desert settings in King of RPGs Volume 2 inevitably made me think of Dune, Frank Herbert's pseudo-Middle-Eastern sci-fi masterpiece. And again, it's another '80s movie!

Klaus Doldinger, "Flug Auf Dem Glücksdrachen (Never Ending Story Score)"

The classic "riding the luck dragon" theme music. When I watched The Neverending Story as a kid I loved it, but I was annoyed that the filmmakers needed to take a cheap dig at video games as being a 'bad' form of entertainment while celebrating books as a 'good' form of entertainment. As someone who grew up on videogames, I didn't then, and don't now, see any conflict between loving games and loving books. One thing I do like about the movie is how, at the end, they go all-out and have the fantasy world invade the real world in the most cheesy way, rather than having a "movie version of The Wizard of Oz" ending where the fantasy world is just an imaginary place where you chill out and learn Valuable Life Lessons before returning to mundane reality.

Kajagoogoo and Limahl, "Never Ending Story"

If I'm going to start listening to "Flug Auf Dem Glücksdrachen," eventually I'm going to have to completely lose all shame and revel in the actual Neverending Story theme song, right? As dated and '80s as it is, Limahl's ridiculous hair in the video wouldn't look out of place on some glammy visual kei singer in the year 2011. King of RPGs is ultimately about embracing all this silliness rather than being ashamed of it, so let's end this on a note of total embrace of retro absurdity, melodramatic violence and the eternal appeal of dungeons and monsters.

Jason Thompson and King of RPGS 2 links:

the author's Wikipedia entry
the author's blog
the book's website

excerpt from the book (at io9)

the author's Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay for King of RPGs

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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