Friday, January 29, 2016

Let's Talk: Roleplaying

If you came here looking for tips on how to make life in the bedroom spicier, I'm sorry to disappoint you.

Recently I tried (admittedly poorly) to explain to someone that I spend my Sundays with a group of my friends playing games.  It just happens that these friends of mine are currently scattered across the country so we have to use a website that everybody logs in to in order to play the games together.  Also, the games are roleplaying games, known to many as "those games played by nerds involving funny dice."  Maybe you saw it on old episodes of Freaks and Geeks (yes, that is James Franco) or multiple episodes of The Big Bang Theory (yes, that is the cast of The Big Bang Theory).  Personally, I loved the episodes of Community that dealt with roleplaying, but that's just my preference.

But how do you explain to someone who has no idea what you're talking about what you do without sounding insane?  "We sit around and play make-believe" really doesn't sound that much better than "we roll dice to try to defeat monsters."

It's interesting that in this day and age video games are a multi-billion dollar industry, movies featuring comic book heroes are essentially printing free money for studios, and books like The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and so many other stories rooted in either classic fantasy or a touch of science fiction are still bringing in major money in film, games, and memorabilia.

Which is why it's strange that roleplaying games, which can be based on any setting and let you tell any story you want either based on those worlds or in a world of your own making, are still considered "niche."  Games have had a few resurgences now and again.  Vin Diesel is a die-hard fan of Dungeons and Dragons.  Ben Afflek, Jon Favreau, Dave Chappelle, Stephen Colbert, Billy Crystal, Jennifer Lopez (though I can't really find any online confirmation of that), Robin Williams,  Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Tim Duncan, they're all people who have rolled dice for Dungeons and Dragons at least once.

But still, it's viewed by a lot of people as a game people play indoors, away from any sunshine, with just a few select friends.  There are massive conventions based around it and other similar games, but I think the stereotype for people who play roleplaying games (hereafter referred to as RPGs) are loners, socially awkward, and (often) "losers."  This despite the celebrities who have touted games like D&D for helping them become the successful people they are today.  Heck, there are porn stars who play similar games, though that might not necessarily help pull these games out of their "not for normal people" stereotype that's persisted since the days they first came out.

So how do I tell people what I do?

Well, it's hard to describe it, really.  If you watched the above links you have a bit of a clue about how it works: a group of people get together, one person takes on the role of "gamemaster" or "dungeon master" and builds the world that the other players "play" in, everybody has a character representing them, and you tell massive stories using your imagination and (sometimes) maps, tokens, and figures.  Oh, and dice.  Most of the time, there's dice.

But that's not all there is to it.  Sure, there are some people who play games (hereafter referred to as "gamers") who simply like to escape into these settings and pretend to be someone else for a while, but I'm not willing to say that's the majority.  I think that first and foremost gamers like to play games because it lets them relax and have fun.  Much like some people like to get together to watch a football game, some people like to get together and make each other laugh, tell stories, and use their collective imaginations to come up with exciting stories.

Sure, there's some numbers involved in having a character, and yes, rolling dice can be a bit silly sometimes, but in the end the main thing is about having fun, and any RPG out there will happily tell you to toss out whatever holds people back from having fun.  The server my friends and I log into allow us to have tokens, maps, sound effects, and little bits of code that deal with most of the math and paperwork for us, leaving us to just make each other laugh and craft the story.

Yes, there is a bit of escapism in playing an RPG, as you're literally pretending you're someone else (unless you decide to get really meta and play yourself), but so much of entertainment is an escape.  Movies, video games, books, watching sports, even playing sports can be an escape from things that you find boring or dull about real life.  You might feel like a star athlete when you're tossing a football around or kicking butt at a pool table, but you still have to go back to your job at the bank later.

So, how should I have explained what I do?

I could have just said "I get together with some friends and we play games."

I could have just said "I hang out with some friends."

Or, if I didn't want to act like I was trying to hide what I do, I should have said "Some friends of mine and I get together online and play roleplaying games.  Essentially, we exercise our writing and speaking skills and flex our imaginations as we work together to have fun and tell a story together.  You should try it some time, you might enjoy it."

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