Friday, April 22, 2005

The Days of Yore...

Tonight, I've decided to post something a little more upbeat (or more likely, offbeat), something truly random that just floated through my brain.

You know what is fun? Role playing games. Yeah, I mean computer games too, but mainly, I'm referring to the old pencil-and-paper games epitomized by Dungeons and Dragons in the 1980's. I fondly remember messing around with the game with some neighborhood friends when I was in elementary school. I long for the days when my poor wizard's life hung by a thread, completely at the mercy of some hidden information known only to the godlike Dungeon Master.

In college, I met another group of folks who loved role-playing games. One guy who lived across campus from me was particularly good at running sessions. Mike would always really get into the part: talking in corny accents, giving us pre-prepared maps, and the like. Man, that was fun, and I really got into it.

Sadly, I think that no one new to the genre today really understands what it was about in those days. In our new age of computer game masters and their unrelenting adherence to the mechanics of the game, all the games have become roll playing games. People no longer play for the enjoyment of escaping to a different world in a different time, they play with the unmitigated desire to win. Everything seems to boil down to stat-maxing and power-leveling. It's all about finishing this story arc to get the next cool weapon. It's about being able to kill people in PvP combat and avoid being killed by someone just like you with a slightly more powerful character.

Lately, I've been playing an MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) called City of Heroes. I really do like it a lot because it is such a clever idea and a great implementation of that idea. However, even in what I consider the best of the modern role-playing games, there is a lot lacking. You see, I'm a superhero in the game, defending the citizens of Paragon City against evildoers with all sorts of nefarious plots. A noble goal, but it's hard to feel very heroic when all of your conversations are limited to things like, "Hey, can you help me with a sewer run? I'm trying to get to level 38 and need to farm some krakens. We don't need to kill the hydra, because I'm only two bubbles away."

If this were a traditional role-playing game of old, my character's response would be something along the lines of, "Level 38 of what? If there are kraken in the sewers, we need to quickly send out an alert on the comm channels to fight this menace! And why would we not kill a hydra if there is one there? It could cause untold mayhem in the city! And what are these 'bubbles' of which you speak?"

Unfortunately, I'm usually only four or five bubbles away from leveling myself and getting a cool new superpower, and such responses are usually met with comments like, "nvm weirdo, i'll find someone else." They totally miss the point. Even the self-professed role-players in the game usually degrade into game-speak a large part of the time. I've tried to lead missions before while role-playing exclusively, refusing to engage in game-speak, and I'm not sure the other people in the group knew what to think. They seemed to enjoy it, if for no other reason than it was different, but the game mechanics were still a major factor in their gameplay. No one was willing to sacrifice experience points for, well, the role-playing experience.

I don't know, maybe I missed my calling. In college, I was forced to take a fine arts class as a requirement of graduation. Most people suffered through a quarter of music appreciation, but I wanted to do something a little different. I took a class called "Acting Workshop for Non-Majors." In the class, we mainly created improvised scenes that focused on a specific topic of the day, such as setting, props, character, and dialog. I had a blast because improvising was a lot like playing a role-plaing game minus the maps, miniatures, and dice. All I had to do was imagine I was someone else, at times someone totally unlike myself, and do what they would do. I got an easy A in the class (okay, I guess there was still an element of "winning") and it was by far the most fun I had in any class.

Who knows, after posting this, maybe I'll look around to see if there is a local role-playing group around town. Sure, people might think it's weird and geeky, but that's never stopped me from doing stuff like that before. And damn, it sure is fun!


At 4:46 PM, Anonymous Weaverhouse himself said...

I was under the impression that those gaming tables at some malls (Discover mills mall or the one at Venture blvd near Gwinnette mall) were role playing "type" gaming places. I know, they paint or build there own battle pieces and the like, but some tables seem to have people playing other games.


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