I just read Jef with one F’s post on how his daughter made him a better gamer. It was interesting, but it didn’t go nearly as far as I thought it would. Jef’s conclusion was that he now didn’t need to replay the game over and over trying for the maximum score. I was kind of hoping he would talk about how he learned more about people, how he grew better at playing the character, and I guess he is edging that way, but his outlook reflects my problem with most of the electronic “rpg games,” in that they don’t have much role-playing in them. I love Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas for example, but I don’t delude myself into thinking it’s a rpg. My character gains skills but doesn’t build relationships or organizations. He doesn’t grow to love or have another character grow to love or trust him. Instead, the best that he can do is impress a female who will put on her “Sexy Sleepwear” and hop into bed with him. At this point in Fallout New Vegas, the lights thankfully dim on the action. In Grand Theft Auto 4, the car starts rocking after one pays the hooker. Not really meaningful relationships! The games are fun — don’t get me wrong! Blowing someone’s head apart in Fallout is a blast, and so is jumping a car off a roof in GTA. But while I can enjoy those puerile joys, they aren’t role-playing to me.
Role-playing is about interaction between a group of characters, and that’s why table-top gaming still wins. The problem is that many people are doing table-top gaming any more, because the electronic games are flashy and designed with Skinnerian reward systems that keep us playing. We get very good at maneuvering vehicles or sniping long distance with the Manmelter (in TF2) but there are no rewarding human interactions.
While thinking about all this, I came across an interesting post on what not to do when roleplaying. It puzzled me at first — it wasn’t familiar to me. It turns out that Uragani (the author) was talking about roleplaying in chat rooms and other online settings. That’s not very interesting for me either, as I enjoy the constraints that rules place upon one’s roleplaying. I’ve done free form roleplaying years ago, and it was fun briefly, but the lack of structure made it less interesting for me. I’m the kind of guy who wins at Balderdash all the time; a Ph.D. in the Humanities does that to you! So I prefer rules that limit my ability to control the game. I did like, however, that Uragani started bringing theater into the discussion, which was enriching. Via his discussion of Mary Sues, I found myself going through TVtropes.com’s discussion of characters. Interesting stuff, and one can generate a lot of amusing stories by playing with tropes, but frankly it’s just not enough for me. When one is starting with rpg, players can use tropes to introduce themselves to the world and system and the interaction between players. But with time, tropes feel a lot like clichés and players create novel characters of their own. For me, the most enjoyable characters take one by surprise (In my campaign, things like the hymn-singing snail, the Ice-cream Angler (stolen from Spongebob) or the werewolf family). Those are the ones my players remember as well. Character actions that are context and character-specific maintain a “sense of wonder.” By the way, I stumbled over Naman’s post on online roleplaying, that resonated with Uragani’s.
Xenoknight’s post on How to roleplay well came closer for me, perhaps because he emphasized a link with improvisation. I agree with him that the character needs to take a life all of his own, and that he should not be just a perfect person who does everything right. Those characters (Mary Sues) tend to be boring after a little while. I have to admit though, they are fun every once in a while (see Ace Rimmer below!).
What a guy!
There’s more I could say about all this, but I’m starting to get into uncharted waters. I know what I like, but I don’t have the terminology yet. I’ll post again on this when I’ve read and thought more. Game on!