Sunday, July 22, 2012

All My Many Faces: On Game (I)

 Below is an introduction to a series of posts about role-playing games that my mentor Professor LaFleur has wanted me to write. I will keep up with this series over time, detailing my thoughts on role-playing games, the material components necessary, and why I think that role-playing games are important. Interspersed in the series will likely be commentary about some of my favorite games out there, as well as mini-ethnographies about the material components of role-playing, such as the infamous dice bag and character sheet.

Have you ever worked on a group project, where everyone had their part? The leader knew exactly where to push and where to help, and everyone else pulled their weight? Everything just fit, correctly into place. Have you ever been in a really well-written play? The characters just slotted into place in the script, nothing was awkward (unless it was supposed to be), and everyone looked stellar in their costumes? The lighting was perfect, too. And, say, that something terrible happened to your character. You cry because of the pathos involved, not because it's expected. And the audience: they cry with you.

That's role-playing. It's ad lib. It's the breadth and depth of emotional experiences, of play acting in a safe space. Exercising empathy for fictitious people who may not deserve it. It can be a little bit like sitting down to your favorite police procedural week after week, only the difference is that you're playing the characters involved, and helping to write the script, collaboratively, with the other players, with the aid of the Story-teller-- the guy in charge. It can also be like playing out a soap opera, a horror movie, or an epic fantasy quest. You get the idea.

But, I would be remiss if I didn't mention why I do it, and why I'm reasonably proud of it. The great thing about gaming is that I get to be what the situation calls for. Not every game has room for the character you want to play, which makes it a beautiful challenge if you're up for it, and a frustrating exercise if you can't think of something appropriate. Some types of game are very free-form, with no defined world-- the players and the ST (or Game Master, whatever) define it on their own terms. Some types of role-playing game have very well-defined system of rules, setting, or both. And games can last more than one session, which is a chunk of time that usually lasts more than an hour.

There can be as little as two people (an ST and a player, or two players co-running a game for one another) or as many as six or seven, for a table-top game. I personally prefer three to five, not including the ST, although being in a two player game with an ST has so far been really quite interesting. The interpersonal dynamics change between players when there are a lot of people, and running games for larger numbers often means that an ST's attention is divided pretty solidly between so many.

The great thing (one of many) about gaming is that at its best, role-playing can be the best television show, movie, or play that you've ever seen. But the best part about it is that you're in it. You're playing a character with as many or as little moral failings as you want, and like the best method actors, you can empathize with where they're coming from, in a safe way. I've played bad people who do good things for the right reasons. I've played good people who do bad things for the wrong reasons, and sometimes for the right ones as well. It's always amazing to see what other people come up with, and how they invent themselves new lenses with which to see the world through. At the end of the day, it can be a bit like playing pretend, but with far more elaborate rules and worlds than you ever had when you were a child. There's nothing wrong with that.

If you have any questions that I can clear up, please feel free to ask below!

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