In defence of the RPG

My name is Jaine and I am a gamer.

I should probably qualify that statement. Firstly, by ‘gamer’ I mean old fashioned table-top role-playing games, not these new-fangled computer adventures (fun though they can be). Secondly, I don’t game that much these days. It’s not something I feel the need to do any more, largely because I now write my stories complete from beginning to end – world, plot, character –  rather than setting up a situation and then getting my friends help me find out how things turn out. But I’ve had a lot of pleasure from running and playing games.

The appeal of role-playing games for me has less to do with the games aspect than with the role-playing. A good RPG can give you the chance to be what you’re not, to explore situations you’ll never come across in your own life. The kill-the-beastie-and-take-its-treasure school of role-playing never held much appeal. I played and ran games for the same reasons I read (and now write) books. To let my imagination out to play.

There are differences. RPGs are less work than fiction as there is (or should be in my opinion) a strong element of consensus storytelling. On the other hand, if, as a writer, I find my characters behaving unpredictably (as they do), I can steer them back towards the path I intended them to take without the risk of annoying my friends. In some ways you have to consider more plot possibilities in a game, because of such player unpredictability. On the other hand, games are ephemeral. You can wing it when running a game in a way you can’t when writing a book. You players will probably cut you some slack. Your critics won’t.

I know that writers, even of SF, rarely admit to playing games, and I’ve sat through some duds in my time, but a good role-playing game can be as satisfying as a good book. If you can find an engaging and eye-opening game where story matters more than mechanics and it isn’t all about the size of your sword, I’d recommend this pastime to anyone.


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