Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Nature of Role Play

Good role playing is any game; be it on paper, with cards, on console, pc, mac, or online where people have the opportunity to be who they want to be rather than who they are. Why are role players so often the source of society’s venom and hatred? In the beginning people said Dungeon’s & Dragons was Satanic. Later on Magic: The Gathering was set squarely in Moral America’s sights. For the last several decades role playing has risen from the underground. It’s grown so fast that our media and moral leaders have scarcely had the time to aim.

Role Playing is exactly that, playing the role of someone else. It attracts those who are cast aside by mainstream society. The people who don’t have the same likes and dislikes as the masses, who think different thoughts and talk about issues most would rather not hear about. By being other and different, role players become scapegoats. Everyone knows the stereotype of the overweight, acne ridden nerd who spends all his time in his basement with his other loser friends playing Dungeons & Dragons or Vampire: The Masquerade. This is simply another form of prejudice and discrimination we face.

If someone decides to shoot up a school somewhere, what does society do? Do they take a long hard look at themselves, the parents of the children, and the situation they might’ve felt they’ve been put in? Do the parents or teachers look in the mirror and realize that major aspects of society need to be rethought if they’re to stop these violent and fatal protests? No. It’s so much easier to point the finger. Blame the people who don’t fit in, blame the pass-times that only weird or immoral people could possibly enjoy. By pointing the finger a person is able to continue their guilt-free existence in blissful and deliberate ignorance. It’s the American way.

This is not what it means to be a role player, but its important to put things into perspective by showing what environment many role players find themselves in. By being the one’s that society as a whole points at, role players of all stripes are given a certain sense of unity. That unity in turns grants a certain comfortable atmosphere by which ideas may be voiced. From varying degrees of ostracism and latent hostility come creation, imagination, and ingenuity. It would explain why RPGs of all kinds have become more popular.

Unlike those violent individuals role players are mistaken for, role players do not lash out or externalize their feelings. By playing the role of another individual in another reality role players seek an escape from the world around them. Many would say that attempting to escape is unhealthy, and deviant.

But isn’t that the point of all entertainment, to escape? To just forget who you are for a few minutes and be drawn in by a story excited by the limitless possibilities before you? Role play is merely a purified form of that, where the story is yours to decide. These people who can do nothing but accept the world they must live in finally have the power to control all aspects of their lives in the confines of a role playing game. It is a comfort, a soothing panacea for those who live out lives of quiet desperation. Role playing is simply a way of coping with stresses in one’s life. Role Playing is acceptance. For good or worse, whenever people with imagination who feel repressed by society gather, role playing will continue to grow and evolve.

As a matter of fact there is yet hope for role-players. With the advent of MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) such as World of Warcraft and Lord of The Rings Online role-playing is now something viewed as “cool” by the mainstream. This is something neither we as individuals nor society as a whole has seen before. With an excess of one hundred million people (including moms, dads, children, and the elderly) logging on to play daily, who will we have to blame when the next ticking time bomb sitting at the far desk goes off?


Joilene said...

This is a perspective that I have never run into before...but my gut says you are right on target.
My observation with people who love role playing (traditional games such as D&D) is that they often deal with extremes of mental or emotional pain, from whatever source. (Ditto what you said.) They are often times angry and disillusioned.
All this to say, you've made me realize that the reasons I started writing in a pro-active way (at about nine years old) had everything to do with role playing. I made up whole worlds just so I had somebody to deal with things for Me...sometimes good things, sometimes bad. I still like the escapism, and have been told (repeatedly) that I don't live in reality.
Your perspective on the matter of role playing would explain why bringing up the genre I write in (I primarily settled in Dark Fantasy) has always been an unwelcome idea in my normal "set" - Fundamentalist Christians who put God in more boxes than a department store deals with on a yearly basis.
You're very easy to relate to in comparison, though we obviously don't stand eye-to-eye regarding God. (Being the less cursed of the two, I, for one, won't budge my position. ;-) He became a curse for me so I could escape to His reality.)

John Albers said...

Looking back at this piece I'm surprised at how concise and well written this is. I must've been on form that day. The odd thing is that this was a piece I had to write for a job application. Never did hear back from the employer though. Happens quite a lot in my experience.

I've looked through your blog Joilene, and hve to say that your writing style is very enjoyable and obviously well polished. I never really received any instruction myself, growing up in a town where it was considered a plus if you could speak English, let alone write it.

I didn't really get into writing until 15 or so. My overly anxious and meticulous tendancies mean I won't put a letter down until the whole story has been thoroughly thought out. This makes it very difficult to write anything lengthy. So I'm having to learn how to story board as I go.

Anyway, enough about me. You mentioned Dark Fantasy and piqued my curiosity, is there anything by chance you've written that you'd be willing to share?