Monday, August 10, 2015

Something Real

Role-playing games are this meeting point, this nexus of creativity and camaraderie and drama and art. It's not just a story: if you want a good story, there are thousands of them at your local library. It's not just a game, either: if you want one of those, there are thousands of them on your preferred video game console. And it's not just hanging out with your friends, either; if you want that, there are bars! And it's not just creating art, either; you don't need rules or even friends to tell a good story or draw a beautiful picture.

To really understand the magic and grace of a tabletop roleplaying game, you have to understand how all of those elements interact with each other in concert. They are exponentially greater than the sum of their parts. Good RPGing is always, always a three-way dance between the players, the story, and the game. A deficiency in one area...say, a game doesn't have good enough rules...can be compensated in another area...the group house-rules it, or the story dictates how it should be handled. The unfortunate side of this, though, is that the various elements are always trying to undercut the roles of each other. Game designers are trying to make games where story doesn't matter; groups are trying to downplay the significance of story to make the system cooler; and the dramatic needs of a story often run against what the players want, or what the game allows.

But the correct answer always has been and always will be a balance. A deliberate, delicate, symbiotic relationship between all three.

Understanding this is important. Why? Because a tabletop RPG, done correctly with all those elements in the right balance, is it. THE EXPERIENCE. There is nothing else like it in the world. Take the human, electric energy of a live concert. Then imagine yourself as part of the band. Then imagine that you're playing alongside your friends. And the crowd is packed, elbow-to-elbow, with the shit of life; the crabby coworkers, the boring professors, the abtuse family members. You are impressing the hell out of them with your performance, but like any good art, it's not about them. Fuck them. It's about you, you and your friends, doing something that cannot be recorded, cannot be DVR'd, cannot be bottled up and done again and again and again. It's special, it's magic, it's unique, and it's you. Every session ever only happens once and never happens again. 

That's what at stake here when we think about what an RPG is.

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