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I Wanted to Be Someone Else

I have a confession to make. I sometimes play role playing games.
Now in my forties, I still sometimes get out my pencil, odd shaped dice and paper, and with some old like minded friends I pretend I am someone or something I am not.
A good friend of mine introduced me to role playing when I was at school in my early teens. As a self conscious teenager it was a big help to me in passing away the boring hours and when I went to University it provided the ‘in’ that allowed me to meet people and make friendships that I still treasure today. This is because, when you are attracted to the same activities you find some people who are on your wavelength.
I got so into it I ended up president of the society and had a first look at leadership, and this – and I am not joking – almost certainly got me the good job I still have now twenty odd years later. It was not the degree I had. That was, as we say in the business sometimes, the required ‘price of entry’ to the game. It was being involved with people in a constructive way that got me through the interviews (oh, and having a good knowledge of Star Trek. Come to think of it I am glad she never asked whether I thought Doctor Who or Star Trek was better, as in that case I would probably have not gotten the job).
So what is role playing? This is my personal view.
1. It is collective storytelling. When it works it is a handful of people making a story that never existed happen; a story that will never exist in quite the same way again. This is because although someone does run the game, and knows what is going on, and what is going to happen – if the players don’t interfere, see below – the fact that most of the major characters in the story are under the control of different individuals means that those people stamp their interpretation upon those characters. So they do things that the games master (the poor sucker who has to do all the preparation and work) didn’t expect, so even if someone tries the same game twice it is never the same.
2. Because each game is so different, it is special. It is a shared experience between that specific group of players, and like any real shared experience provides constant amusement after the fact. In really good games, years after the fact. We still joke about games played twenty years ago – how many games of Monopoly can you say that about? (By the way I am not knocking board games, a beautiful but different genre).
3. It makes you think. How does a forty year old man pretend – in virtual terms – to be a twenty year old woman who can talk to animals? There are so many numbers and ideas to crunch in the more complicated games that my maths – never my strong point – is often stretched. It makes me be creative and exercise my brain, and as a leisure activity that is a bonus to me.
Back in the 80s there was a lot of rubbish about role playing games being dangerous. Now let’s be clear – if you cannot differentiate fantasy and reality – whether that is related to a game, a book or the TV – you have a problem that is nothing to do with that media and all to do with something in you that needs help. In fact I think that the people who run the games I have played in would probably feel that I should take the game more seriously, because they have done so much work preparing. But then there would have been less silliness and laughter.
At the moment I am planning a game where my players will be young heroes in a fantastical version of Ancient Greece (think the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans, the interesting one, rather than the recent rubbish CGI ridden remake). If they fail, I will destroy their world and all they hold dear. If they succeed they may go down in history. There will be monsters, fighting and intrigue and not of all of them will survive (probably). But it will be heroic and if I do my job properly there will be fun and laughter and maybe the true sign you had a good game when in years time that group reminisces just how they were able to take out Medusa with a flask of olive oil and a small glowing rock.
But it’s only a game.

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