So, after my glowing endorsement of the art of roleplaying last week I did kind of suggest that there were problems. There are several, but first, let us be clear what I do not mean.
I do not mean that people get disturbed playing games and/or confuse reality and fantasy. They are much more likely to do that watching reality TV shows (which are far more disturbing and much less connected with reality than a game set in the far future on another planet). There was a fair amount of anecdotal rubbish pushed around in the eighties on this topic, and half a minute of coherent thought on this one I think justifies the somewhat dogmatic way I am viewing this. The clincher for me is that one of the major points of roleplaying is to consciously create a new reality. It is true that listening to gamers talk to each other about a game can be a bit disturbing, especially if the game is horror based, and the Lovely Wife has noted that, on the occasions where normal people like herself are around my gaming friends we do often branch out into a special brand of undecipherable talk that makes no sense at all to anyone not playing that particular game. So this is real problem number one; it is very easy indeed to fall into the abyss of in jokes and references that the players find hysterical (time and time again) while the long suffering loved ones look on in a mixture of confusion and pity. Or worse, sometimes these same loved ones, out of a misjudged sense of loyalty, pick up on some of the odd references and even start to use them… While mercifully not understanding anything about the reference (‘well done fluffy!’ is a particular favourite and has infected several households despite being a throwaway bit of silliness from a game we stopped playing over twenty years ago). Richard Dawkins – if you think religion is a powerful ‘meme’ mate, it has nothing on the longevity of some of these things.
You see, this is the worst and best kind of in jokes. With something like my Doctor Who obsession I can at least point to literally millions of people worldwide that are even more devoted that I am, and while my mind is full of useless ‘Who’ trivia I know that there are many with even more. But these gaming in-jokes are shared by maybe six or seven people, tops. That takes obscurity to new heights. We don’t have to share with thousands of juvenile latecomers. They’ll never feel exactly the same thrill as we finally won the battle of Illyria (against obligatory overwhelming odds, no fun otherwise). Or when the nuclear device exploded in space throwing us into a dystopian future (that one confused us to, still does). Or from the same game, when confronted by the name ‘Barney’ do not immediately think of the dinosaur (terrifying though he is) but of a marauding purple (no relation) time travelling bio-mechanoid whose appearance general meant character death, or at least the disintegration of large parts of the local area. Mean nothing, gentle reader? Well, sorry about that, these are ours and to be frank this is part of the fun.
But there is the other problem, which unfortunately we cannot do much about. That problem is time. Time for the beleaguered GM to create an entire world – or even if they are using sourcebooks, read the things enough to know what is going on well enough that they will not screw up in game play and have to initiate the embarrassing ‘shift reality’ manoeuvre as a major character suddenly is alive/dead/changes sex or suddenly it is actually Tuesday and not Saturday as previously communicated. A single game session (an actual game can, literally, go on forever in theory) takes the best part of a weekend to get into and with children, volunteering and general Real Life stuff does make it difficult to get even four of five people together; it was so much easier at university, which kind of explains why that is one of the times when most games (of incredible complexity at times) are played. Now it feels an increasingly rare event, although as with anything you enjoy and have to ration, when it does happen it always turns out to be memorable in some way.
Just last session, for example, it turned out that my Inuit shaman, washed up on the shores of Roman Britain in a block of ice (no, I don’t know why either, yet) might actually be about to be immortalised in this game world as that Merlin bloke.
Now that doesn’t happen every day.