Sunday, April 11, 2010

All In My Head

This week's blog is kind of a part two to last week's. I am again going to regale you with information and opinions on the world of role playing games (RPGs). Last week I did a very vague comparison of two similar table top gaming systems. It dawned me though, as often as I talk about role playing games and my love for them, I've never really gone into the hows and whys of me playing them.

I think I bought my first role playing game when I was around 12 or 13 years old. It was called “Star Frontiers” and came in a purple box with two rulebooks; one was a 'quick-start' guide, the other was the full game. It also came with a big poster size map and little cardboard pieces with various things on them for use on the map. It also came with two of the oddest dice I had ever seen – the had ten sides instead of the traditional six. Truth be told, I never really got a chance to play “Star Frontiers”. When I mentioned it to my friends, they were like “Oh, it kind of sounds like a science-fiction version of D&D.” “What's D&D?” I asked. And the next thing I knew I was out looking for and buying the 'Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set'. We spent many an after school afternoon, not to mention summer vacations, playing D&D as often as we were able. I pretty much was always playing the fighter, and had a hack-and-slash sort of style of play. As we matured (both in age and as players) we moved to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, with its larger selection of race and class combinations, weapons, armor, spells, etc. Over the past 25 or so years, I've been both a rabid player/Dungeon Master and a vehement opponent of D&D and role playing games. I'm happy to say that now, at 38, I've found a balance in gaming and real life responsibilities. But, that's just a brief history of how I started playing. It doesn't explain much about why I keep playing these games even though I'm almost 40.

So, as I've mentioned before in previous blogs, there are those that do not quite understand RPGs, and there are those that just plain make up a bunch of bullshit about RPGs and call them evil and satanic. I have actually had someone look me in the eye and seriously tell me “You know, the spells in D&D are real, actual spells.” Really? Are people really that frakkin' stupid? Because, yeah, every book on Wicca I ever read contains the spell “Magic Missile” right? Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and the father of all role playing games, said he just made those up off the top of his head. But, I digress. You see, the first reason I play these games is simple; they're fun. If you don't think so, that's fine. I personally don't have the patience to play Xbox and PS3, etc. I'd rather delve into a RPG in which the game master has developed a good story to go with the action and it's not all “kill everything that moves, kill some more, loot that box, then go back to shooting.” Fun for you and fun for me can be two separate things – that's fine. It's call diversity. So, I play RPGs because I personally find them to be fun. Period. End of discussion.

Now, for a second reason I continue to play D&D and the like? Easy – it feeds my creative vent. I've always wanted to write a novel. Alas, I'm not that great at it. I've made a couple of attempts and either only manged to write a few scenes or just plain realized that what I was writing was entirely to much like a combination of several other books I've read (and I really don't want to be sued). By playing a role playing game, I can participate in a sort of consortium of writers all contributing to the same story. We each have a part to play, and therefore a part of the story we are filling in the details about. Other times, when I've been the game master, I've gotten to create a plot and other devices to get the players involved in the story, letting them write the dialogue and actions for their characters. The other half of the creative aspect is making maps. I know, it sounds weird, but I've always had a thing for looking at maps, so in D&D I get to make my own maps. I'm not an artist, so making D&D maps is as close as I've ever gotten to creating a masterpiece work of art.

And finally, I would be remiss if I left out another large portion of what playing role playing games has done for me. This isn't so much a why I play as it is an I'm glad I play because it's helped me in this area. Growing up, I was an A-B student for the most part. The thing is, I hated to read. Getting me to sit and read a book was like trying to get a cat to take a bath. When I started playing D&D, suddenly I began to want to read more – mostly fantasy novels at first, but eventually history, religion and philosophy as well. To be totally honest, my original reasons for reading more was so I could get ideas for the game. The more I read though, the more I gained interest in the subjects I was reading. Role playing games also require a certain amount of math skills (at least basic math) as well cognitive reasoning abilities. Frankly, I feel like if I had not started playing these games, I probably would not have had as much of a love of reading as I do now, nor would I have had any use for wanting to learn about history, philosophy and religion. These games helped me learn how to think. Sorry, but no console based first person shooter that requires nothing more than pushing buttons is going to do that. Sure, today's high tech video games may develop a certain amount of hand-eye coordination, but I've also seen a lot of mindless zombies with no attention span for anything else result in them as well. Sometimes, it's nice to kick it old-school with D&D, or RIFTS or any other table top role playing game. It sort of goes toward showing that I don't need a computer monitor to paint the picture for me; I can use my imagination and let it all be in my head.

~ JC

Potential future topics here at Carlisle's Chaotic Commentary
  • “Lucky 7” (my review/feelings about my switch from Windows XP to Windows 7)
  • “I Need A New Drug” (overcoming my WoW addiction, but still wanting to play an MMORPG)
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