As a hobby, role-playing is weird. You sit around for a few hours (or more), rolling moulded plastic (in most cases) and share in a group hallucination whilst playing make-believe. The best part, of course, is that at least one member of the group has spent a large amount of money on the rules to constrain this hallucination and has also invested a lot of time into making sure that everyone enjoys it.
Seen in that light, it is almost possible to understand the moral panic surrounding the hobby when it first developed. Almost.
So, with that in mind, why would anyone want to do it?
I can’t speak for everyone. I can’t even speak for my gaming group. All I can do is explain why I do it and hope that helps you gain insight into the hobby, or helps you consider it in a different manner.
Way back, when I was just a little nerdlet, I enjoyed (and still do enjoy) wargaming. Now, I’m not claiming to be good at it. My grasp of strategy and tactics is… loose at best. My interest was in telling the stories of battle-hardened soldiers as they fought to eke out an existence in the far future, or in an alternate past.
A few months into the hobby, I threw strategy out the window and began to play in a more cinematic style. Flanking manoeuvres were dispensed with. Large sweeping moves with most of my forces to distract from a smaller element went the same way. In their place, the rule of cool reigned supreme. If I thought it would look amazing on the tabletop or in my head, I did it. It met with limited success but I’m happy to say my opponents always enjoyed the game. At least, I was never told otherwise.
Now, as is my wont, I began to write fiction about the games I played. Naming my units, expanding my collection thematically, rather than tactically and I fell down the rabbit hole of published, licensed fiction. This led to, somehow, the topic coming up with my then school librarian who had a few books from the publisher about the game and wasn’t sure if they were suitable to be put on the library shelves.
As any responsible pupil would do, I volunteered to sacrifice my free time and devou- err, read the books and say whether or not they were suitable. Among said books were several source books for a role-playing game based on the wargame’s universe. When I told the librarian they were useless without the rulebook, I was told I could keep them so I took them home and kept my eyes open for the rulebook in the local shops.
A few weeks later, whilst out with family, I found it and it was bought as a gift for me. I read that book in a matter of days and approached the friend I regularly wargamed with. He was amenable to the idea of at least trying the game and we played a few sessions before the pressures of A-Levels and university preparation began to erode our gaming time. Stupid Life.
As we left for separate universities, I thought that was that. I’m painfully shy and had just been diagnosed with a neurological disability that made me even shyer (that article is still coming, I swear) so I thought I would find it difficult to find someone else to wargame with, let alone try role-playing again. Shows you what I know.
Fresher’s Fayre rolled around a few days after I moved into my Halls of Residence for first year and there was a society that was involved with both role-playing and wargaming. I figured I’d join and go along to few meetings and events to see how things went.
The first actual meeting of the year, after a meet and greet event, I remember walking up to this large group of people clustered around some tables in a pub and woman moved slightly to let me sit down.
It’s kind of a blur after that. That woman, and several other members of the society, are my closest friends (emotionally, not physically, alas), I was on the executive committee for two years and, more importantly, I fell in love with my hobby. At first, it was just as a player but when the university won a gaming championship and it fell to our shoulders to host the next one, I GMed properly for the first time and was hooked.
Wargaming was something I did for fun but it wasn’t until I went to university and found out about the breadth of the role-playing hobby that I realised it was a hobby I wanted to continue for the rest of my life. I’m a lapsed wargamer and have only recently returned to the hobby but role-playing is something I’ve kept up for the past (nearly) 6 years. Through deadlines, moving away from my gaming group, the illness of family members and the other hundreds of little problems that life and mental health issues have thrown in my way, role-playing has always helped and been an outlet.
You may have guessed something along those lines from the existence of this website.
But, to bring this autobiography back to the point of the article, I role-play for a very simple reason; I’m a story-teller. I’ve always written creatively to relax and, as stated previously, my attitude to wargames is one of favouring the cool over the good. It didn’t come as much of a surprise to me that when I began to try role-playing with people who knew what they were doing, I fell in love with this method of telling stories.
It’s why my characters are always flawed, why I post so much role-playing related fiction (whether as vignettes or in the form of my Atlas Inspirare/The World and its People series) and ultimately why I log into a VOiP program nearly every week and pretend to be someone I’m not. I’ve told some truly wondrous stories, had some amazing experiences and met some of the best people you could ever hope to meet through my hobby.
I know that there are loads of different reasons people have to play role-playing games, each as equally valid as my own. But for me, the reason I keep coming back to the digital table over and over again, are the stories we tell.
At the end of the day, it is the stories I have told that have lead me to where I am now. It is the stories that I have told that have given me so many good people that I know I can call upon in times of need.
It is stories that bring us all together.
Bubbles / Ryan