My Highly Amusing Background Check Anecdote

As I mentioned a couple days ago, earlier this year I went through the process of getting my background checked for security clearance, though I ultimately didn’t take the job in question. Along the way, a number of my friends from various stages in my life were interviewed, and of course they all let me know how the interviews went when they were over. Of all the amusing stories that came as a result of that, this one is the funniest. (Apologies to those involved if there are minor inaccuracies; this one’s been retold a lot, and has no doubt drifted in the telling.)

So. Somebody called my friend M for a phone interview. I’ve known M since I moved to D.C.; we’ve been in the same gaming group for most of that time, meeting to play a roleplaying game (usually Amber) on a near-weekly basis. A portion of their conversation went something like this:

G-man: So, how do you know Nathan?
M: We’re in the same gaming group.
G: (quizzically) “Gaming group?”
M: Uh, yeah, we play roleplaying games …
G: (even more quizically) “Role playing games?”
M: (wondering how on earth to explain this) Well, there’s this game called “Amber,” and it’s based on the novels of Roger Zelazny …
G: Could you spell that?

… and so on. A couple weeks later, my friend N, who lives in Grand Rapids, had two people come to interview him about me in his office. It’s likely that these guys were retired government workers, probably FBI—that’s who they usually get to do out-of-state interviews. Apparently, a note about “roleplaying games” had made it into my file. N and I used to play a lot of different RPGs together, most recently the Star Wars RPG during high school.

G1: Are you aware of these “role playing games” that Nathan is involved in?
N: Sure. We used to play RPGs in high school.
G2: (scribbles furiously in his notebook)
G1: (in all seriousness) Do any of these games advocate the violent overthrow of the government?
N: (thinks about it for a second) Well, yeah. I mean, we used to play Star Wars, which I guess counts.
G1: Please explain.
N: Uh, OK. See, there’s the Empire, and it’s ruled by the Emperor, who serves the Dark Side, and then the good guys are the Rebellion …

Yes, it’s true. My dear friend N had to explain Star Wars as part of my background check. Your tax dollars at work!