Thursday, July 12, 2007

Interview: Shelly Mazzanoble

On Saturday, June 1, my son David and I interviewed Shelly Mazzanoble, author of Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress: A Girl's Guide to the D&D Game, at the Wizards of the Coast booth at BEA. Shelly was a delight to talk to, and she and David formed an instant rapport as they swapped D&D war stories. Shelly is funny and entertaining, and we greatly enjoyed talking to her. Also see my review of Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress

David: I guess here’s a classic question. What inspired you to write the book?

Shelly: I’ll tell you David. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons when I moved over to the publishing side of Wizards of the Coast. I work for Wizards of the Coast, obviously. I worked there for seven years. I knew Dungeons & Dragons existed. I knew what it was. I knew the sound of dice hitting the tables. I’d heard it. But I had never played it before. So I was invited to join a new group. I sit down, I roll up my character. I play my first game. And I was completely hooked. And I think, “This is so weird!”

I actually don’t consider myself to be what you might think of as the typical role player. I’m very girly. I’m not ashamed to admit that. I like to go shopping and I like to watch reality TV, and I do in fact have my nail polish in my refrigerator as we speak right now. And I play Dungeons & Dragons. And I love it! And, I thought, if more women actually knew what this game was really about, I think they would be into playing. Because it’s really what we do naturally.

Sheila: You seem to be actually trying to break down gender stereotypes in the book, but you also play a lot on the feminine stereotype, shopping, and such. Do you do that kind of do that intentionally as a way to...

Shelly: reach out to women. Yeah. Obviously there are women who play Dungeons & Dragons. They don’t need a guidebook. But I’m thinking of people I know who are friends of mine. How am I going to explain this game to them? So, yeah, I did play into a lot of the stereotypes. But then again, I kind of am that stereotype. So, I think it would be different if, say, David, were writing the book for women and he was playing into all these stereotypes.

Also, in the character of Helena, I wanted to make a nod towards the women who have been playing role playing games already. I didn’t want them to feel like “I just discovered this game and I’m going to make it all pink and fluffy and the animals are so cute and all...” No, I know those women are out there and I have nothing but respect for those women who have already paved the way for other women to come in. And that character of Helena is a woman who is a role-player and who was sort of bothered by my sound effects and my, “I don’t want to shoot a dog...”

Sheila: Some parents worry that D&D is bad for kids because it’s too immersive or too violent. Do you have any thoughts on kids and teens playing D&D?

Shelly: When I started talking to teachers and librarians, that Dungeons & Dragons is actually a really really good learning tool for kids. You take a game of Dungeons & Dragons in a library. You have kids that are sitting around a table. They’re talking to each other. They’re interacting, they’re socializing, they’re problem solving. They’re using math skills. They’re using reading skills. They’re using writing skills. But that compared to...I have nothing against video games, but that compared to a video game which is just a very solitary experience, just using your computer screen. Even if you are interacting in World of Warcraft or Second Life,, even if you are interacting with other virtual people, you’re still by yourself.

David: When you’re playing D&D, have you noticed a difference in how it is after you’ve been playing it for a while.

Shelly: Well, I was definitely more timid when I first started playing. Well, I was level 1 for one thing, and couldn’t do all that much. I was absolutely terrified that my character was going to die. Now that I have more confidence in the game, I have more confidence in my group, I’ve seen Astrid go into battle and come out relatively unscathed, so I feel like I can put her out there a little bit more. But I’m still a little nervous, mostly because it’s so hard to roll up another character.

Sheila: I think you’ve already answered this question, but do you prefer playing or do you prefer dungeon mastering?

Shelly: Oh, I prefer playing. I’m definitely more of a player.

Sheila: Has playing D&D with your coworkers changed the way you interact with them at work?

Shelly: Yes, it has actually. We’ve become so much closer. There was one cleric, he put a spell on me that he would take most of my damage. And I thought, “You know, that could be the nicest thing that anyone’s ever done for me.” And now, every time I work with him and if he asks me for something. I would be like, “Deadline deadline deadline! I need to get this in,” and then I think, “Oh, for you, who are going to take half my damage, I’ll get you that image. “ We’re all very close at work.

Sheila: OK, let’s get philosophical. How is life like Dungeons & Dragons? Or is it?

Shelly: I think it is. And I think it goes along with what I sort of touched on about women and Dungeons & Dragons. Like I say in the book, when women are growing up, and probably boys too, to an extent, we played make-believe all the time. We always played house, we played with our Barbies, we played with stuffed animals. And then as you get a little bit older you're playing Truth or Dare, you’re playing Would You Rather. And that’s what Dungeons & Dragons is all about. It’s storytelling, embellishing. It’s getting together with your friends. And I think most importantly it’s really watching out for your friends. It’s protecting your friends. And I that’s the one part that I really like about it.

Sheila: But you’re right. The social aspect is really what makes it.

Shelly: It is!

Sheila: It’s interacting in a way that I guess you don’t feel free sometimes to interact in real life, because you’re not yourself.

Shelly: Exactly! Yes, you do have kind of a creative license. Astrid does all sorts of things that I would never do. I’m horrible in crisis! If I saw somebody fall down right now, I would run away. “No, I don’t want to see anyone hurt!” But you can’t really be that in Dungeons & Dragons. Yeah, I’m not good at that. I should never be someone’s person to call in case of emergency!

Sheila: We really appreciate your talking to us. It was great to meet you.

Shelly: It was great to meet you, too!


Tricia said...

Sheila and David,
Thanks for the great interview. When I was in high school (early 80s) I knew pepole who played, but I was always afraid to ask about it. I'm definitely going to pick up the book now and learn more about it. We have a store here in Richmond where folks gather to play, so perhaps with a little education, I'll be tempted to join.

Unknown said...

Definitely give it a try! I think you'll like it. And even if you decide not to play, the book is quite entertaining to read.