Love is work. The more you love something, the harder you work at it. This is true in the traditional sense of love...with family, spouses, friends...but it's the case with your hobbies, too. The fisherman who gets up at 4am on a Saturday because that's when the fish are bitin'. The marathon runner who cross-trains and lifts weights and does sprint intervals to build the muscles needed for the long haul. The writer who produces hundreds of pages of bullshit just to get to that one page of actually decent writing. The greater the love, the harder the work.
Most RPG fans know this. The hours spent reading these books and learning these rules counts to many as work. But there's other work to be done, too, work that I often hate to do but is very necessary. See, there's theory, and there's practice. Theory is reading the RPG and getting the rules down. We're all familiar with theory. Theory is the part of RPG work that we accept and understand.
But then there's practice. Practice is getting to the table and playing...or trying to play...the game. Practice is much harder than theory. For one thing, everyone at the table needs to be willing to do it. Theory can be done alone, but you can't practice an RPG by yourself, at least not one that you intend to play with others. For another, practice requires discipline. You have to be willing to show up and do the work, or else the point of practice is lost. You can't just say "screw it" when things are difficult, write off the game, and play something else. You have to accept that in practice, a game can suck.
Getting good at an RPG like D&D...to the point where you're not looking up everything, where everyone knows what they're doing, to that point where the rules just fade away and you're there, interacting with this fantasy world as these fantastic heroes...that's a lofty goal. In all my years of role-playing, I've only reached it a couple of times. And to get there, it takes practice.
For years, the hobby has been trying to meet gamers halfway. Simpler games. Organized "beginner sets" that teach you how to play. Rules-lite RPGs that can be learned and played in an afternoon. GM-less RPGs that take the most demanding role right out of the game. That's all well and good, but like any other hobby, there is a point where you and your group simply have to get to the table and practice. No, it's not easy. Yes, sometimes it's boring and sucky. That's where having a good group becomes extremely important. For those times when the game isn't going well, you need to derive fun and well-being from your bond with the group. Yes, that's always the case to a degree, but typically the game can carry at least some of the load. In practice, though, there will be times where the game will carry none of the load.
This Sunday, I intend to play Shadowrun, Fifth Edition. This is a big game, more complex than most that I've brought to the table this past year. Worse still, I'm using a published adventure. This scenario has not gone well in the past (see my various posts about D&D), and it might not go well this Sunday. But, dammit, I'm going to do it! And I have faith that, even if the game falls apart and we spend half the time looking up rules and confused over what the hell is going on, that we're going to have a good time.