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Author Topic: What does role playing gaming accomplish?  (Read 21297 times)
Walt Freitag
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Posts: 1039


« on: November 29, 2002, 08:42:22 AM »

"What does role playing gaming accomplish?"

No, I'm not looking for an answer. I'm pointing out an aspect of role playing gaming that influences the public perception of the activity. In recent threads like this one we've been talking about how gamers (and their conduct, attitude, self-image, etc.) influence this perception. But I believe the deck is stacked against a positive public image of gaming, because of the nature of the activity itself.

In the Gay/Gamer thread, Manu pointed to games as being "decried in our society obsessed by work over leisure." There's a partial truth there, but our society accepts many obviously unproductive leisure activities, most notably TV watching, more readily than role-playing gaming.

The problem with role playing gaming is the combination of lack of an apparent or readily understandable purpose or reward with a lot of apparent effort put into the activity. That is quite simply a recipe for threatening.

Being aware of this might be helpful. Some of the things that tabletop role playing gamers emphasize in describing their play are probably counterproductive when it comes to reassuring outsiders that their hobby is healthy and safe. For instance:

- Emphasizing that there are no winners and losers. That seems to be one of the first things players want to point out. But people understand putting a lot of effort into playing games in general (including gambling), because they understand competition and wanting to win. No winners, no losers, no such comprehension.

- Emphasizing the intellectual demands of playing, whether it's the arcana of the system or the imaginative creativity involved. Attempting to dispel the concern that it's a passive time-wasting activity just makes it appear more threatening, if the rewards of playing are not understood.

- Describing everything in out-of-character terms. To avoid sounding like they were unable to tell fantasy from reality, I've seen players qualify every statement about their play: "The character I was playing found out, in the game, about a million game-dollar reward for capturing another character who was a wanted criminal, in the game of course..." The visceral rewards of play might be conveyed more clearly, if a shade less accurately, by saying "I wanted to capture a wanted criminal and get the million-dollar reward."

How many of us can explain why we play, in one sentence and in a way that a non-player can understand and empathize with? (And without dodging the question; pointing out that it's a social activity doesn't help if it doesn't explain why you choose this particular social activity.) I can't, right now, but I'm going to work on it. When players can't clearly explain why they play, others are all too willing to fill in their own invented reasons: to escape a reality they're not well-adjusted to; to satisfy antisocial urges through fantasy; to consort with demons.

So I guess I am looking for answers to the initial question after all. Not necessarily the most true answers, but ones that are at least partly true and are, above all, easy to understand.

- Walt
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simon_hibbs
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Posts: 678


« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2002, 09:01:41 AM »

Quote from: wfreitag
So I guess I am looking for answers to the initial question after all. Not necessarily the most true answers, but ones that are at least partly true and are, above all, easy to understand.


I've always liked reading stories, just about everyone does. I don't think I'll ever be a serious writer, I just don't have the time or the discipline. Roleplaying games let me create my own stories and characters and explore them with my friend, without having to actualy write a novell, or even a short story. Best of all it's a collaborative process, where I'm constantly surprised by the creativity and imagination of my friends.

It's easier than writing novels or screenplays, and you're never quite sure what's going to happen.


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
Jason Lee
Member

Posts: 729


« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2002, 09:01:52 AM »

As far as I'm concerned the purpose of roleplaying is entertainment.  Sure it can be a creative outlet, a security blanket, a cathartic therapy, a rebellion against your parents, or any number of other things a person might invest in it.  I don't think it's there to accomplish anything extra the individual doesn't tack onto it (I know I started playing to have fun).

This may be kind of a cop out answer, but people roleplay for a lot of reasons.  Going into to much detail past "it's fun" is going to be attaching your individual notions of what fun is onto your would-be recruit.  I think you'll really have to tailor your sales pitch of rolepaying to the individual (so you'd better be good at reading minds), or stop at "Because it's fun, and everybody's doing it!" and let them figure out what's good about it for them.

Just my 20.3 pesos.
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- Cruciel
thoth
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Posts: 49


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« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2002, 09:15:27 AM »

I play because its my hobby and I enjoy it. If i'm not enjoying it, I quit playing.

But here's another question related to this, what makes other hobbies worth doing? Is there anything about watching any sort of sports on TV or IRL that's superior to playing RPGs? What about watching the news? Or religious programs? Or any other hobby? I'm thinking the reason to do other hobbies might also apply to RPGs, since it is a hobby like any other (unless it's a career ;).

So for me, playing RPGs accomplishes in creating enjoyment, and I would dare guess that this is true of most if not all gamers.
And I think exactly why it creates enjoyment varies too much from person to person to nail down to anything specific. For some the reason may be deeply personal, others it could just be what they were supposed to enjoy given certain social elements.
One specific thing about RPGs that I find enjoyable is the imagining. I'm a daydreamer all the way, and RPGs for me provide a focus and damn good excuse to daydream ;)
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Amos Barrows
ManiSystem
jrients
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Posts: 65


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« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2002, 09:18:21 AM »

Quote from: wfreitag
"What does role playing gaming accomplish?"


Here's one attempt at an answer.

Roleplaying reconnects us with our ancient need to sit in a circle and tell stories.  More and more, our culture surrenders our storytelling to an elite who deliver stories to us via TV/movies.  For most of humanity's history storytelling was an active endeavor, today it has become passive.

Please understand that I am not saying anything here vis-a-vis Storytelling as envisioned by White Wolf et al., or Narrativism/Nemism/whatever.  For my purposes here, the game table story that ends "and then he fumbled AGAIN, killing the other henchman!" is just as valid as the epic retelling of a narrativistic chronicle.
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Jeff Rients
Walt Freitag
Member

Posts: 1039


« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2002, 10:00:11 AM »

Good tries so far. But none of these will help convince a parent of a teenager that the real reason for his going off with his friends to play D&D for ten hours a week isn't summoning demons.

Simon and jrients, your answers are the closest. Creative expression is a respected and understandable motivator of effort. Unfortunately, unlike, say, gardening, cooking, painting, or writing poetry, the creative product of role playing gaming is intangible from the outside.

Cruciel, I'm not talking about explaining for the purposes of recruiting. I'm talking about explaining for the purpose of justifying the effort expended, to a parent or a school principal or a skeptical public. In an ideal world such justification shouldn't be required; the fact that I find something enjoyable (and that it does no harm) should be sufficient reason for others to accept my doing it. But we live in a judgmental society. We can either accept others' judgment by default, or try to influence that judgment (which is what I mean by justifying).

Thoth, there's nothing about watching sports on TV or watching the news that's superior to RPGs. But there are big differences: doing those things requires almost no effort, and there are rewards for doing so that are obvious to most people. (And some that aren't. Testosterone levels increase in sports fans when their home team wins.) Non-effort put into non-productive but obviously rewarding activites isn't threatening. Effort put into apparently non-productive activities whose rewards aren't obvious is threatening.

Other hobbies require more effort, but most of them also have obvious goals and rewards. They might not be the real core reason why the person does it, but they're enough to satisfy the onlookers. People who have no desire to collect stamps "understand" the appeal of collecting stamps because they can increase in value (even though that's probably not the main motivator for most collectors). People who have no desire to do counted cross-stitch "understand" counted cross stitch because they assume that the craftsperson finds the cushions or other knickknacks produced to be of value (even though that's probably not the main motivator for most counted-cross-stitchers).

The real reason bird watchers watch birds might be individual and/or impossible to articulate, but the bird watching organizations trumpet the benefits to ecological studies, the healthy fresh-air outdoorsiness, and the competitive aspect of trying to lengthen one's lifetime birds-spotted list. And if I were engaging in a hobby that required me to travel around the world and lurk in coastal areas with high-powered binoculars, I'd emphasize the reasons that were easiest to explain too. Otherwise, all that travel and observation and effort might appear suspicious or even threatening.

- Walt
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2002, 11:11:59 AM »

Are you suggesting, Walt, that there is no good answer? Or do you have one, and are just not sharing yet? People are giveing their honest answers. Ar you suggesting we be dishonest?

Tell people you make a lot of money playing RPGs. That always makes an activity come off as a winner. :-)

Mike
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Ziriel
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Posts: 28


« Reply #7 on: November 29, 2002, 11:36:34 AM »

I feel I need to respond on this...and although my response might sound like a flame I am not intending it that way.  

I think there may be more than one question being asked here.  The original question, as I understood it, was: "What does role playing gaming accomplish?"   I read that as, what does it do for you? what do you get out of it?, etc.

Somewhere in here the question seems to have changed to something else entirely:  
Quote
Good tries so far. But none of these will help convince a parent of a teenager that the real reason for his going off with his friends to play D&D for ten hours a week isn't summoning demons.

This question seems to be more of, how do you justify or sell roleplaying?

Just my take.  I'd love to see what people's responses are to either question.

-Ziriel
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- Ziriel

Personal Rule #32:   13 people can keep a secret  if 12 of them are dead.
jrients
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« Reply #8 on: November 29, 2002, 12:06:05 PM »

Quote from: wfreitag
Good tries so far. But none of these will help convince a parent of a teenager that the real reason for his going off with his friends to play D&D for ten hours a week isn't summoning demons.


Sometimes I think we worry about the parents and the 700 Club a little too much.  On the macro scale, maybe I want some folks nervous.  I occasionally regret that we have lost the rebellious, dangerous edge we had in the BADD old days.  Its like rock-n-roll, dig?  The harder the squares decried it, the cooler it became.
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Jeff Rients
Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #9 on: November 29, 2002, 12:48:55 PM »

Why play roleplaying games? You might as well ask why read a book or why watch a movie? We do these things to experience things, places and people we might never get a chance to. However, the difference is that it is your story you are experiencing in a roleplaying game. You are not passively sitting back watching it happen. You are an active participant in the events. So better questions might be why climb a mountain of why visit a foreign country or why sail across an ocean?



Quote from: Mike Holmes
Tell people you make a lot of money playing RPGs. That always makes an activity come off as a winner. :-)

That would be funny if it weren't true. Look at comic books. They would still be kiddie fodder if some guy hadn't saved Action Comics #1 and it sold for several hundred dollars or however much it went for. I think I addressed this in another thread about how showing to the world at large that there is money-making potnetial in RPGs, they will pay attention. Perhaps not too much attention, but some, which is more than none. And it will be positive attention. Instead of "oh that will rot your brain" or "oh isn't that that satanic game?" it will be "oh that will be worth something someday."
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #10 on: November 29, 2002, 12:49:48 PM »

Quote from: wfreitag
How many of us can explain why we play, in one sentence and in a way that a non-player can understand and empathize with?

"Remember the last 'really cool' movie you saw?  Wouldn't it be neat to be that main character?  Gaming's like Final Fantasy IX, only better; you can do anything you want."

Nope, three sentences, can't do it.  I'd argue that nobody can describe anything to the 'unexposed' in only one sentence.

Fang Langford
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Walt Freitag
Member

Posts: 1039


« Reply #11 on: November 29, 2002, 12:55:01 PM »

I'm not convinced there's no good answer, but I don't have one. And even if I did, I don't see any way to get players or game publishers to use it.

The honest answers aren't very helpful. Especially "I do it because it's fun" or "because it's my hobby." The question "Why...?" is a hostile one and a defensive non-answer is understandable, but counterproductive.

I'm thinking more along the lines of easily understood partial truths. "It's exciting, it's like being in a movie, I can't wait to find out what happens next." Sounds superficial, even juvenile, but at least most people can understand the appeal of being caught up in an exciting story. It's invoking an easy-to-understand attraction to front for a harder-to-understand one, like a guy pretending he's fascianted by the Victoria's Secret catalog because he likes ogling the near-naked models, when he's really fantasizing about wearing the lingerie himself.

I'd have no moral qualms about being dishonest, if I thought it would work:

MOM: What did you do at Mark's house all afternoon?

LITTLE TIMMY: I played a game called Dungeons and Dragons.

MOM: Oh really? Who won?

LITTLE TIMMY (option 1): Well, no one really wins in D&D. It's more like we're all cooperating to act out a story by playing the roles of characters in a fantasy world. But I do get experience points for killing monsters and stuff. When we play again next week I'll probably get enough to go up another level. That's cool because my character gets stronger and tougher. During the week I'll be using this book to plan out what new skills I should choose.

LITTLE TIMMY (option 2): Ralph did. But I'm going to practice all week with this book and next week I'll kick his butt.

It's pretty clear to me which of Timmy's options would be more likely to lead to next week's game actually happening. But that boat sailed for RPGs decades ago. The hypothetical Moms who don't already know (or think they know) all about role playing games are few and far between.

One more thing. There may be some possibility, and some possible benefit, for an RPG industry image-building effort along the lines of those "Oil Executives United Against Fatal Bus Plunges" type PR organizations. Back in the 80s a group of physicians took a bold public stance against nuclear war by pointing out the terrible medical consequences it would have. Despite the fact that they had no particular geopolitical insight, and the fact that one hardly needs an MD to figure out that being near exploding nuclear devices can be harmful to one's health, they garnered a lot of press and the organizers won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Now, I'm always willing to take a bold stand on a controversial issue, so I'll state right now in public that I think Illiteracy Is Bad. So perhaps role-playing gamers and publishers should organize to do something to reduce it. I doubt it's a viable idea. (I said I didn't have any good answers.) But might such things be worth thinking about? If pride is an issue, helping others is a great way to build it.

- Walt
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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #12 on: November 29, 2002, 01:17:24 PM »

Hey Walt,

Good tries so far. But none of these will help convince a parent of a teenager that the real reason for his going off with his friends to play D&D for ten hours a week isn't summoning demons....Creative expression is a respected and understandable motivator of effort. Unfortunately, unlike, say, gardening, cooking, painting, or writing poetry, the creative product of role playing gaming is intangible from the outside.

I guess I can't keep myself from arguing against the premises that inform your inquiry:

1) That people don't recognize that socializing for the purpose of being entertained is an acceptable way of spending time. Anyone who's ever played euchre, Rummikub, Boggle, Yahtzee, or a zillion other games certainly doesn't have a problem with formalized entertainment activities that facilitate interesting socialization.

2) That the only perceived value of a given creative activity is linked to the output product. A few years ago I realized just how much, in terms of tangible skills, I've learned from my role-playing experiences...skills that have translated to my job: expertise at strategizing as a group and working as a team, compromising, controlling the direction of a conversation, creating enthusiasm in others, etc. None of those things are the purpose of play, or the creative product of play. They are the rewards of the process.

Paul
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thoth
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« Reply #13 on: November 29, 2002, 01:19:49 PM »

Quote from: wfreitag
I'm not convinced there's no good answer, but I don't have one. And even if I did, I don't see any way to get players or game publishers to use it.

The honest answers aren't very helpful. Especially "I do it because it's fun" or "because it's my hobby." The question "Why...?" is a hostile one and a defensive non-answer is understandable, but counterproductive.


Except they're neither non-answers, nor counter-productive. They're honest, pure, true answers. And just about the only real answer to "Why...?" IMO.

What they are not, is excuses. They are not attempts to validate and justify. Nor are they attempts to sell gaming to someone else, which I also view is your goal. Now if that is the case the question should instead be "How do you effectively sell  a game..." for purpose of bringing in new people or explaining (or excusing) to non-gamers.

Quote from: wfreitag
I'd have no moral qualms about being dishonest, if I thought it would work:


One more thing. There may be some possibility, and some possible benefit, for an RPG industry image-building effort along the lines of those "Oil Executives United Against Fatal Bus Plunges" type PR organizations. Back in the 80s a group of physicians took a bold public stance against nuclear war by pointing out the terrible medical consequences it would have. Despite the fact that they had no particular geopolitical insight, and the fact that one hardly needs an MD to figure out that being near exploding nuclear devices can be harmful to one's health, they garnered a lot of press and the organizers won the Nobel Peace Prize.


Here's a PR idea:
Role-Players for Cute and Fuzzy Kittens.

Have posters of various RPG book covers, and gamers, along side cute and fuzzy kittens. Eventually people will associate RPGs with cute and fuzzy kittens, and cute and fuzzy kittens with RPGs. Cute and fuzzy kittens can't be wrong or satanic. It's a winner! ;)
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Amos Barrows
ManiSystem
Walt Freitag
Member

Posts: 1039


« Reply #14 on: November 29, 2002, 01:47:17 PM »

I cross-posted with a buncha people so a few more comments.

Ziriel, you're correct. The issue is public perception and justifying role playing. The question "what does role-playing gaming accomplish?" is imagined as being asked by a non role player. My apologies if I didn't make that clear from the start.

People's real personal goals and rewards from role playing are not my concern.

Jrients, it's not the the 700 club I'm worrying about, though I can see that it might appear that way from the examples I used. It's public perception in general. For every one who thinks role players are learning witchcraft, there are probably a thousand who have a vaguely negative opinion of RPGs because they don't really see how they can be, in and of themselves, appealing to participants to an extent that justifies the effort.

Jack, good point about the money issue. And thanks for mentioning climbing mountains. I was looking for other examples of hobbies that had a similar combination of high required effort and deep but difficult-to-perceive (from outside) appeal for the participants. It would be interesting to examine how mountain climbing is regarded by the public -- I think there's a lot of negative perception there too (look at how the media reacted to the Everest disaster of 96 with venomous scorn for the 'wasteful' loss of life) except when it's a first ascent that can be easily justified on the basis of a presumed competition to be first.

Fang, point taken about the one-sentence requirement. But a quibble: perhaps nothing can be truly and accurately described, but many things can be justified. Consider how many different unappealing-sounding activities one could garner the approval (or at least the understanding) of others for putting enormous effort into, using just these few all-purpose justificiations:

- I'm doing it to win a bet.
- It's a great way to meet guys/girls.
- It might sound kinky, but it's what gets me off.
- It's a living.
- I just go along because my wife/kids love it.
- I woke up one morning and realized it was what God meant for me to do.

Too bad most don't work so well for RPGs.

- Walt
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