Gaming and Punk: Crossing the Streams

It isn’t often that my punk rock life and my gaming life come together but it happened this week.

The story begins in the early 90s, when I was living in NYC and helping to run ABC No Rio, a non-profit punk club and arts center. ABC was full of characters and one of the most colorful was Donny the Punk. Although he was a long time member of the NY punk scene, that’s not how Donny got his nickname. No, he got it the old fashioned way, by being gang raped repeatedly in prison in the 1970s. This obviously had a huge impact on his life, and he later was the president of Stop Prisoner Rape. We did an art show once at ABC based on his jailhouse experiences. It was powerful stuff. You can read more about Donny’s harrowing story on Wikipedia:

So one day Donny and I were talking at ABC and he asked me what I was up to. This was in my early days of RPG freelancing and explaining roleplaying games to my punk friends was often a challenge. But Donny lit up and said, “Oh, gaming! I used to design wargames for SPI.”  SPI, of course, was one of the major wargame companies of the 1970s and the big rival of Avalon Hill.

Donny then proceeded to tell me how he had designed a game in which all the commanders were named after people from punk bands, which I found quite amusing. No one at SPI, of course, had a clue. I just can’t see SPI founder Jim Dunnigan rocking out to The Clash, Dead Boys, or Richard Hell and the Voidoids.

I always remembered that story but not the name of the game. Donny passed away (a victim of AIDS) in 1996 so I never had a chance to ask him again. Looking over his bio, I’m curious to know when and how he ended up doing design and development work for SPI. He did spend some time in the military but was kicked out for “homosexual involvement.” Then he was a Quaker for much of the 70s. All in all, a pretty unlikely candidate for a wargame designer.

For 20 odd years our conversation about gaming remained a personal story I shared with few people. How many punks play wargames after all? Then yesterday I got an e-mail from my friend Crazy Todd. He provided this link and said, “This will amuse you.”

Turned out someone on Boardgame Geek was looking at a SPI game called Cityfight: Modern Combat in an Urban Environment from 1979. He had noticed that many of the commanders were named after old punks (Strummer, Pursey, Foxton, Bators, etc.). This was Donny’s game I had heard about all those years before! Of course, I had to say something and I was delighted to discover that there were a number of old punk wargamers on BGG. The majority seemed to be Canadian, which may or may not be indicative of something (it did make me think of my Canuck pals at Fiery Dragon, who published a number of wargames over the last 10 years).

Now I’m watching a copy of Cityfight on eBay. Clearly I must own this unique piece of punk and gaming history. Pogo on, Donny.

Originally posted on LiveJournal on October 29, 2011. 

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