What’s real about roleplaying games—and what’s not

01Oct12

I’m sure many long-time RPGers have come across curious references to the evilness of roleplaying games, how they lead to witchcraft and cults. These right-right-right wing attacks are easily to dismiss; they come from the groups that accuse Harry Potter of the same. Magic is not real to any of the RPG players I’ve ever met. The RPGers I’ve played with aren’t escaping terrible lives to live in a fantasy life, as the media generally portrays them (for example, The Dungeon Masters documentary). I’m sure a few of these latter exist; but for the majority roleplaying is engaging because it’s real in ways popular media doesn’t pick up.

  • Roleplaying games are real because you are face-to-face, interacting with real people. In the US, we spend a lot of time watching fictional characters on the TV screen or the Silver Screen, or vicariously enjoying the victories of athletes we’ll never meet; arguably many people are already living in fantasy worlds. Many sources estimate that the average American watches 4 hours of TV a day (aside: I ran into a man last week that said RPGers waste too much time on their hobby… I don’t know many who spend 28 hours a week at it). That’s essentially 4 hours a day spent either with fictional people or the next closest thing. At least, outside of virtual tabletops, roleplaying games are spent interacting with people from your actual life.

    That’s more than can be said for a lot of pastimes these days, and it’s one reason why Live Gaming does not aim to be primarily a virtual tabletop. At Appify we understand that many people want the ability to play online, and we’ll deliver. But our focus is on making the game easier so that players can enjoy interacting rather than consulting charts.

  • Roleplaying games are real because there’s a start and a finish to the fantasy. RPGers are frequently accused of not being able to distinguish between fantasy and reality, but I wonder if this is the pot calling the kettle black. Judging by the amount of TV watching mentioned above, many people escape their lives and live through others on the TV screen (or in books) without giving it a second thought. RPGers, at least, are very cognizant of the transition into the fantasy world. There’s a start and a finish to the game session. Perhaps there are an extreme few in a perpetual state of LARPing, but for the most part, I’d say that RPGers are more aware of when they’re entering a fantasy world than the average individual.

  • Roleplaying games are real because you are creating and not just consuming. In TV and even in books, people passively consume the plots and characters of someone else’s imagination. I prefer books to TV, because the reader’s imagination has to engage a little more, but neither really engages me as much as creating my own plot or character. The characters in the RPG aren’t real because they’re my alter-ego. I’m Alec, and I’m pretty happy about that. The character I play in an RPG session, or the plots I create as a storyteller, are real to me because I made them. They don’t represent or replace my identity; but they do represent my creativity rather than some passive affection for the figment of someone else’s imagination.

I enjoy movies, TV, and books as much as the next person (although, admittedly I’d rather play sports than watch someone else get paid to play them). However, I think the realness—the socialness, the creativity—of roleplaying games has a lot to offer. It brings people together, engages the mind, and it’s just not nearly as creepy as living vicariously through the Twilight saga…

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One Response to “What’s real about roleplaying games—and what’s not”

  1. 1 Nick

    This is what your parents get for sending you to D&D camp in Berkeley for two summers at a formative age. Nevertheless, I have to admit that you’ve always had a very active (peripatetic, even) real life, too. So, “Right on!” Or is that too 1970s?


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