A conveniently shifting line

April 6, 2008

When people don’t like what I have to say? I’m not a “real gamer”. When people don’t like the game I play? “It’s not roleplaying”. When people don’t like my politics? I’m not a “real American”. I’m sure if I was religious, someone would tell me I’m not a “real” something or other as well.

The rhetorical trick here is simply by claiming your thing as real, everything else is unreal, false, a lie, or at least a poor imitation.

There’s a lot of ways to roleplay. Lots of folks have wrestled about what is the fundamental act that makes roleplaying- roleplaying. Some people say the name tells you everything- you need to play a role, some people say you need to create a story, some that you need only be juggling fictional stuff with your imagination.

It’s always interesting because it leads to a lot of strange places- for example, if 3 players are playing PCs, and I’m a GM but have no characters (not even NPCs), are they roleplaying and I’m not? And if that’s the case, what is our collective activity together?

But really, for the moment it’s a moot point- there’s a lot of activities under the umbrella of roleplaying, and the real question is whether folks are having fun or not. That’s the only metric by which I look at play to say “This is good”, “This is bad”.

(Keep in mind, that fun is different for different folks AND, that how you play at the table directly contributes to the things you find fun or not. In other words, fun is not a wall to hide behind, but a bar that is raised that you have to meet, otherwise, yes, you have bad play.)

This whole thing of defining the One True Way? It’s not new. It’s a cycle in the hobby, as sure as evil breaking loose every 1,000 years or artificial intelligence leading to robotic uprising.

“Real Roleplayers” followed all the historical details of 14th century France. “Real Roleplayers” spoke only in character. “Real Roleplayers” never fudged dice. “Real Roleplayers” never needed dice. “Real Roleplayers” drew personal emotions to express their characters. “Real Roleplayers” could play anything, including an inanimate cardboard box, and be good at it. “Real Roleplayers” take playing, Very Very Seriously, and have emotional breakdowns at every session. “Real Roleplayers” simply had fun and never, ever, worried about more than kicking in the next door and having beer.

So what does “Real Roleplaying” as an activity, as a group of people doing it, or as a culture stand in opposition against? All other types of roleplaying. As far as I can tell, that means this Real thing must have one thing in common– it’s full of divisive putdown for the rest of the hobby.

Funny, especially as someone once told me I am a gamer who hates gamers. I suppose if I did hate like that, I guess I would finally be a “Real Roleplayer”…

This Real is a lie. Real roleplayers play roleplaying games. Sometimes they do any of the above and more. Some of them find things that are fun and work for them, some do not. That’s real enough for me.

My One True Way is about having fun, and the way in which you make that happen, for you and your friends, when you sit down to play.

a) Are they having fun as a group of people?

b) Are the rules & techniques they are using giving them fun?

c) Is the design of the game(s) they’re using working well for that purpose?

d) If no for any of the above, why, and can it be fixed?

All of the above is about responsibility. You have responsibility to the people you’re playing with to not be a dick, and to try to help each other have fun. You have a responsibility for your own fun to examine things when they’re not fun and find out why. You have a responsibility if you’re designing a game to try to make a good design.

But hey? What do I know? Maybe my view of roleplaying is too big to be real.

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