Thursday, July 18, 2013

On Role-Playing (Part 11 of 11)

D&D (and other “true” role-playing games) allows you to do this same kind of play: pretending to be someone that you’re not in an imaginary game environment. You can pretend to be your favorite Lord of the Rings character (Viggo Mortensen or Orlando Bloom, I suppose), fighting orcs and “evil minions” and whatnot. But in general, RPGs are BETTER than the type of pretending you did as a kid because you’re usually not pretending to be someone else’s imaginary character, but instead your very own imaginary character. Sure there are RPGs modeled on specific IP (like Serenity or ElfQuest) that might provide you with the means to play one of your fictional favorites, but usually you’re creating your own character…and one often modeled on yourself (or little-used facets and/or aspects of your personality) giving you the opportunity to experience things (in your imagination) that you normally never would…or ever would want to!

For example, many long-time players of D&D have had the pleasure of playing an evil character (or, if they haven’t, have at least been tempted to do so). Now, my gut instinct is that MOST of the people that play D&D are not “evil” people, at least in the way the alignment is defined in the game (of course, most of us probably haven’t killed folks for gold in real life, either)…but it can be fun to explore one’s “dark side” in a safe (i.e. IMAGINARY) environment. We all have a dark side to our personality…it’s our decisions of whether we (in real life) choose to do good or evil that defines what kind of human beings we are. However, exploring one’s dark side in real life leads to real life suffering (for both ourselves and for others), whereas exploring it in a game can “scratch that itch” that might otherwise lead us down a bad path.

[and hell, it’s just fun sometimes to pretend you’re a “bad guy;” look at all the actors that have won Oscars for portraying terrible human beings because they were able to really “dig into the character” and “let themselves go.” Plus, in 21st century fiction being a “bad guy” is often synonymous with being a “badass” and who doesn’t like to pretend to be THAT on occasion?]

Some individuals enjoy playing devout followers of a fantasy religion, even when their real life attitudes towards spiritual institutions range from ambivalence to complete disapproval. Some folks who live their own lives meekly find thrills in leading the charge in the fantasy world, boldly being the first into action. I've known large folks who enjoyed playing small and stealthy types, and pragmatic business types who wanted to play champion-the-weak-give-all-to-charity paladin characters. It's all "make-believe" but it's a game that can be experienced by adults as well as children...provided they are given the space to do that. And maybe a little direction.

Getting together with like-minded individuals who are willing to “let their hair down” and role-play can be a fantastic experience. For many people, it requires a certain degree of trust (because the concept of pretending as an adult can make them feel silly or self-conscious), and those who can allow themselves the vulnerability of that kind of play open themselves up to an intimacy with their friends and gaming companions that we find hard to match in other aspects of our life. Which is a GOOD thing by the way: we should recognize that we are all humans carrying around the same mental hang-ups (and same secret desires to be James Bond or Captain Kirk or Boba Fett or whoever). Putting it on display not only allows us the freedom to explore our own imagination, but tells others, hey, you’re not alone in this. That may be a "duh, no shit" statement for a lot of readers but it's worth stating.

Now, I started this whole series because I posted my experience playing D&D Next and said it wasn’t what I’d call a “role-playing game” (meaning that it didn’t seem designed to facilitate the ACT of role-playing) and people took umbrage with that.  Some folks pointed out that D&D had never encouraged people to “role-play” and I took umbrage with that; after all, most of my best and most intimate role-playing experiences have come while playing Dungeons & Dragons, and I feel I learned how the act of role-playing was accomplished through my playing of D&D over the decades (and learned it well enough to transfer that knowledge to other table-top role-playing games).

But it seems that MY experience is different from that of other folks…so much so that we sometimes seem to be talking a completely different language from each other. This essay, long and meandering though it is, is my attempt to explain my “role-playing language” while simultaneously examining the possible origin of others (and thereby understand their “role-playing language”) an admittedly brief and superficial manner. My hope is that this can be used as a basis for on-going discussion on the subject…for getting folks on the same page. Or (if not that) at least getting people to grok where I’m coming from.

AND…having said all THAT, I know there are still some people who are going to disagree with me and think all this is just a bunch of pretentious gibberish and that I’m a bigger half-wit than any designer I’ve managed to libel in this particular series. And I promise you, I am totally okay with that. As with most of the things on this blog, I’ve written this series at least as much for myself as for those reading it…it’s helped me codify my thoughts in what is (for me anyway) a focused thought pattern. Just writing this all down has been (for myself) helpful.

On that note, I’m bringing this thing to a close (finally…jeez, if I’d been this interested in writing in college I’d probably have a doctorate instead of just a B.A.). Holy crap…it's over 30 pages long! Anyone who’s managed to stomach their way through this whole thing...poor grammar and stream-o-consciousness that it is…I totally give you props for your fortitude!

Now…since I'm in the process of doing edits anyway, should I go back and rewrite 5AK to specifically address role-playing (what it is and how to do it?)? Ugh. That’s a question I'm going to have to think about for a bit…
; )


  1. Reading over the comments, I'm once again astonished at how worked up people get about this hobby. I mean, there’s taking it seriously, and then there’s taking it way too seriously, right? More fool me, perhaps, for continually being surprised by the vitriol folks can muster regarding the topic of RPGs. I guess they’re the roleplaying equivalent of fanboys/girls, who freak out over minutia. It seemed like there were at least SOME commenters over the course of this series that maintained calm enough for rational discourse…while others devolved into the predictable nerd rage so easily fostered by the anonymity of the internet.

    Have I agreed with everything you’ve written in this series? Of course not. But it comes down to the notion of “agree to disagree.” At least, that should be obvious to fully-formed adult minds. Look, in your style as a blogger, you stand your ground and make no bones about the possibility that you upset people. But at least you’re not putting on a shtick like, ahem, some others we know in the blogosphere who go out of their way to belittle the reader.

    Bottom line, you’ve given your opinion (having never stated yours was “the one roleplaying method to rule them all”) and at the same time given us some food for thought and more discussion. Thanks for your work on this topic.

    1. He doesn't state that his is “the one roleplaying method to rule them all.” He simply states that other methods/games, which he doesn't like, are not roleplaying. When he uses terms like "halfwit", "retard" et al., does it seem his stance is of a gentleman's "agreement to disagree" ?

    2. I concede that it was probably not the best choice of words to use terms "halfwit" and "retard." I definitely could have done without that, if it were me writing these posts. I also agree that JB did, in places, stray into a very tenous area when it comes to specific RPGs not being able to "facilitate roleplaying." I disagree with him here. I think, given the skill of an individual player, any RPG can be used to achieve his definition of roleplaying. I think, ultimately, he was trying to say that certain RPGs don't TEACH what it means to roleplay very clearly. He wasn't trying to say that "you can't roleplay at all if you are using the 4E rules," for least, I don't think so ;-) Also, it's part of the GM's job to FOSTER roleplaying during play, by giving scenarios for PC's to react to.

      Look, I suppose some context for my thoughts is needed here: JB, like me, is a family man. I know the desire to write blog posts as a family man who is also a gamer, and how one's life situation can cause a bit of wandering attention and therefore some hiccups in presentation. My point is, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt for the idiosyncracies in this series. I know that all this really isn't a good excuse when it comes to writing something for consumption by strangers, but there you go.

    3. As soon as you've got Anthony Simeone defending you, you know you've accomplished something very, very special.

    4. Alexis doesn't like me because he thinks I stole his initials.

    5. Alexis has also made a blogging career pretending to believe civility equals disingenuousness.

  2. Ok. Now that this is all done I am going to read it from the start. Yeah, not exactly the smartest idea I have had, but hey.

  3. ... Are you done yet?

    I have just finished reading this in order from start to finish. Not a fun read by the way. You lost me at around articles 2 and 3, where you got into how the thief and the paladin encouraged role-play. They did not. By your own speculation they did not. Role playing was already there if your speculation is correct. Also, interesting choice postulating how pick-pocketing was there to encourage role play for allowing the option to steal from allies. First, that is not role playing by your own definition. Why in the hell would a thief steal from friends who he knows for a fact can kill him easily? That is not role playing, but player dickery. Second, D&D1 characters could steal from allies, too. It was done thus:
    Player 1: My fighter stabs you and takes your stuff.
    Player 2: You dick!

    Is that role playing? I don't think so.

    But as bad as the first parts of this series were, you lost sight of your objectives at the last quarter when you started declaring later editions non-roleplaying games. Pretty sure you just have a hate-on for the writers.
    And I'm pretty sure that once again your own evidence is against you one this. You even sited a role playing anecdote from playing a video game after stating, quite clearly at the first article, that you can not role play in a video game. So... if I understand this correctly, D&D3 is not an RPG because the rules are too wonky and you hate the writers, and neither are video games unless you have a specific story saying otherwise. Hmm...

    To summarize: I disagree with you on all counts of opinion and back my opinion of your opinions by citing your own evidence to invalidate your opinions.

    I recommend playing a game outside the rules like the role playing pioneers you hold so dear, and not just declare games "bad" or "good" for "role playing." Role playing is the duty of the player, not the game.

  4. I will be printing these all out and reading them together. I don't think I could write this much about gaming even if I pasted and copied random stuff from the DMG.

  5. Okay, for what it's worth, I'll say that I've enjoyed reading all 11 parts of this long series by JB. Why? Because I agreed with everything he wrote? No, not at all. Rather, it's because I enjoy people, getting to know them, and hearing what they think.

    JB has put it all out there, so to speak, and has honestly given us his opinion and thoughts on the matter. I like his style, even if not all his conclusions. Like he said, he wrote this as much for himself as for the blogosphere, so I'm glad we get to listen in. It gives us something to consider, debate, and reject or accept.

    So, thanks JB. I'll keep reading if you keep posting your honest thoughts.