Monday, January 23, 2012

Let's Talk About - RPGs


Good day,

                I’ve been meaning to make a disjointed little article about RPGs for some time, and long-time readers can probably guess that I don’t mean rocket-propelled grenades.

Role-playing games interest me. I’ve always been a sucker for swords-and-sorcery, which I guess was the gateway drug for this sort of thing, and even if turn-based combat can be a bit aggravating I’ve grown used to the many interfaces so many games use. In recent years, nerdier associates have introduced me to table-top gaming, which is fun if a bit time-consuming (especially when loot was concerned). That said, I have a strange relationship with them in that I’m often jumping around with how I play depending on what I’m playing.

With video game RPGs, I tend to make myself the stalwart hero of the land. It’s a common thread binding together all of my games of Planescape Torment, Dragon Age: Origins, Fallout 3, and Morrowind. I’m often the warrior, or a jack-of-all-trades adventurer, and I’m often a romantic with some kind of minor quirk or another, which means I always cop out and take the boring options. Meanwhile, on the table-top gaming front, I tend to be more of a griefer, being integral to the party dynamic but often possessing a toxic demeanour. Those characters are broken; alcoholics and mental defectives and cowards with more anxiety problems than half the residents at a comic-con, and my characters’ effectiveness in negotiations and combat rounds range from unpredictable to useless.

The way I make sense of it is that making people miserable in a game only makes sense when you can see the horror spreading across their faces. Yes, I could set off the bomb in Megaton. Yes, I could sell my companions into slavery. Yes, I could pick the pockets of everyone from Vivec to Khuul. What, though, is the point if I’m causing dismay to a program that expects me to do bad things?

So I like to switch it up and try new things, and this has led me down some strange roads and territories I’d like to forget. Most notably, I had a run with forum RPGs back in the dark ages of my adolescence and young adulthood and, well, they aren’t fun. It’s just a shouting match; all sound, all fury, limited to no direction, and a bunch of pasty geeks who desperately want to be Sephiroth from Final Fantasy 7. At the end of the day, it’s like a game of Cowboys-and-Indians with more half-demon ninjas ranting about their painful pasts.

And before anyone suggests it, let me say that I don’t get LARPing. I haven’t tried but I’m afraid. I saw Darkon two years ago, and between that and the infamous Lightning Bolt clip I’m not entirely sold on the concept. There’s a big reason why I won’t do it, aside from the fact that running through a park covered in padding while pretending to be an Orc and getting stared at by passing families is not my idea of a good time. Let me explain.

                I’m six-foot-two. I’ve got thinning brown hair. I’ve got a big nose and turquoise eyes and child-bearing hips. I’m thick in the thighs and scrawny in the arms, and I’ll stop now because it sounds like I’m putting out a personal in a newspaper. Now that you have an idea as to how I look, though, ask yourself:

What if I wanted to play a woman?

You could argue that I could go buy a dress but what if I wanted to play a small woman, like a lady Halfling? Better yet, what if I wanted to play someone of a different ethnicity, like a Black person? Hell, suppose I wanted to be a Black Halfling woman? I guess I’d have to get down on my knees, buy a wig, and put shoe polish on my face but every black person, dwarf, and transvestite in the province would be well within their rights to kick me to death.

My problem is that I am limited by harsh reality. This does not refer solely to appearance. Ever seen a LARP fight? They’re funny as hell, but unfortunately they’re also possible. Because everyone’s weighed down with armour and out of shape and because of how ungainly their weapons are, LARP fights are probably the closest we’ll see to how actual battles from the medieval times were fought.

Not my thing. I want to climb a tree and elbow-drop a hobgoblin. I want to pick up a guy and use him to beat another character to death. I want to throw a horse, or catch an arrow with my teeth, or flip an ogre into a lake. Where are my spells? Where’s the array of summoned monsters and meteors that I can drop on a bandit camp at any given time? Why the hell am I squiring for Bob from the car wash when I can have quirky companion characters with exciting arcs and start romances with swamp witches and gay elves without feeling awkward?

I don’t share the same sense of immersion that LARPers carry. I want to be able to lose myself in the experience, but I can’t say how I can do that if I’m slapping someone across the midriff with a Nerf bat screaming “THREE DAMAGE! THREE DAMAGE! THREE DAMAGE!”

See, that’s the big appeal behind games: immersion. All games carry it, and everyone gets into every kind of game somehow, from Call of Duty to Risk. Role-playing games are different, though, in that you can also make someone. Other games don’t have this. You have to be the white male space marine or the angst-riddled Japanese school boy or whatever, and sure, there are more on-rails RPGs like the Final Fantasy series, but for the most part RPGs go deeper.

Many RPGS are about character creation and character building. Not merely who you are but who you will become. The destination may be more or less the same, but the important thing is putting the ship together, plotting the course yourself, and deciding who comes along for the ride. With such a model in place, all kinds of possibilities open themselves up to budding designers. Already we’re seeing the model used for westerns, science-fiction, post-apocalypse, and 1930s gangland scenarios. Who knows what’s around the corner next?

I do: cooking. Imagine a turn-based RPG where you play a chef assembling the ultimate meal. Enemies include fire-breathing jalapeno peppers and giant lobsters, where players fight with meat cleavers and buster-spatulas. The main antagonist could be a silver-haired pretty boy who wants to rule the culinary world with an iron fist. We’ll call it Final Frittata: Romance of the Three Kitchens.

Looks like I win again.

See you next time,

-RWI

P.S. Because I hate myself, I started a Wattpad account. Wattpad is a website where aspiring authors can upload their writings and have it read by others. I’ve already put up edited versions of The Upset and L, but I’m having problems finding good authors to read amidst the sea of angry teenagers such a website naturally attracts. Perhaps some of my fellow writing buddies can join me so we can form a tight community of old geeks?

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