Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sorry this is going to take a little change in direction here.  I was going to explain how I got to where I got to in my campaign, but... I have to take a departure from that and talk about something way more important to me.

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into why I play RPG’s lately.  Some what because a back injury has removed some of my more active hobbies, some because I watched a couple movies that completely disillusioned me to our subculture, and some because I’ve recently had to start dating again and “Hey baby, I’m a role-player” isn’t exactly the hottest pick especially when I don’t feel like I fit the stereo type, and truthfully, almost none of the people I play with do either.

First thing, I had to think about is who am I?

I’m the type of person that would rather do something than watch other people do it.  I’d rather play a video game of football than watch it, and I’d rather play it with my friends than play it as a video game.  Admittedly I’m not very good at football, but that’s not really the point here.  What is the point is I’m a man who doesn’t like to sit on the side lines and watch.  I like to get involved, try it out, and see what it’s like.  Talk is fine, planning is good, action is better.

So, as someone who’s a doer, why I did I get into RPG’s?  Which is essentially the lowst rung on my ladder? 

Because there are things, no matter how amazing the world is, you can’t actually do.  Either for time, or money, or the stupid laws of physics.  Role-Playing is the closest you’ll get to having these experiences.  Games are a chance to explore when other real situations limit your ability to explore. 

So, as a kid, RPG’s helped me explore worlds when it was rainy, or cold, or awful outside.  As a kid this desire isn’t that outlandish.  It’s a time when we really are at the mercy of what adventures and interests others pick out for us to do.  These games give us the chance to go on our own adventures, ones we pick out.  And when I heard there was a way to make my own adventures, and not just play someone else’s, I jumped.  Dungeons and Dragons had everything a young boy could want, monsters, heroes, princesses to fall for me, scary places to prove my bravery, monsters to prove my strength against, puzzles to prove my brains, and a built in group of friends.

I’d like to repeat that last point: “A built in group of friends.”  You may not be big enough to play football, or fast enough to do track, or coordinated enough for basketball.  In fact, most school groups required some sort of physical ability, that my lack of early growth spurt, just wasn’t giving me.  It was hard to meet people when you physically couldn’t join them in their hobbies, but gaming accepts everyone.  There is no litmus test for playing.  If you want to, you can.  During a time when everything else was exclusive, here was something ‘inclusive’.

So, I saw it as a great way to meet people.  And, admittedly, most of my friends still have some interest in RPG’s, video games, or war games.  For me, however, instead of going from the real world into the game, I was able to take friends from the game into the real world.  Sharing movies, music, hobbies, and other things away from the table.

The first step into the pool was the Atari 2600.  Which, for being 5-ish at the time is a real trick when you don’t know what hot and bothered is… ANYWAY, this love of video games got me interested in computers.  Without that love, and drive, I wouldn’t be where I am today in the real world.  That excitement about slaying pixilated dragons has become how I pay for my car, my house, my life.  I’m not saying everyone who plays them will head this way, but every kid who try’s out for football in high school isn’t going to go pro either.

On top of what was at the time a budding programming career, the Atari gave me something to do with my mother and eventually my sister.  My mom and I would play Frogger quite a bit.  It was something that ‘we’ did, it helped build a bond there, that quite honestly would have been a lot harder to build other ways.  The same with my sister and Moon Patrol.  Building a connection with a gamer doesn’t mean needing to love gaming in general, but if you can find one little piece of it that’s fun for you, and share it with them, you’ll grow a strong connection that could last them their entire lives.

So, at age 12, when I read an article in Dragon Magazine that people were actually wearing armor, fighting monsters, being heroes, and generally being the bad ass hero, I wanted to get involved.  I mean who wouldn’t?  What was it they were doing?  LARP.  Live Action Role-Playing.  Wait… wait… don’t stop reading yet.  This isn’t going to go where you think it is.

At the time I couldn’t get to Boston where all this was going on, so I waited until my early 20’s when I heard about it happening nearby in MN.  

The politics and the people were not what I was looking for in my group.  I felt they were more interested in running it for profit than playing a game with friends.  Personally, exploiting nerds is A) easy, and B) a bit too close to cannibalism for me.


I started my own.  Yes, I know how uber-dork all that sounds, but I didn’t at the time.  More on that in a bit.

It’s said no good deed goes unpunished.  I was about to get a heaping spoonful.  It was touch and go, it took a lot of work and effort to get the 50 people playing we had playing, and most of them spent most of the time complaining that they didn’t like how it was played, but none of them would do what I talked about in the first paragraph.  Do it, go make their own.  But no, they’d rather crap all over mine.

So, when a career came a callin’ for me, I took it over a game full of people ungrateful for the work I put into providing them a hobby.  When my career settled down, and I had more time, I decided to try and rebuild the LARP.

Eventually I got my career under control, and decided to try starting a LARP again.  That was a mistake.  For a myriad of reasons, from putting more stress on an already fragile relationship, loosing a friend over ownership issues, having to alienate others because I needed to look at the good of the group as opposed to just them.  This hobby was driving my built in group of friends apart.

So, while I was lamenting to one of my few non gamer friends, she recommended a little movie called “Monster Camp” on Netflix.  If you’re a gamer, and you haven’t seen it, take a moment, and go watch it.  I don’t want to hammer on these guys too much, because they took the time and guts to put themselves out there and try to cheer on their hobby.

The line in the movie that prompted this little rant of mine (trust me, it’s little for me), was when they’re group was in danger of shutting down, and a couple people said that they’d end up loosing contact with people, and that this was where most of their friends met.

Ok, that’s fine for now, but if it’s closing, and you see that guy over there, and you want to keep doing things, go talk to them and arrange to meet outside of the group.  It really is that simple.  Odds are, they’re worried about it too.  By giving the group that much power over your lives, you’ve essentially given up running yourself in reality.  The only time you take control is in a world of make-believe.  It’s a fun ‘escape’, but you’ve ceded control of your own self to a group.  That is never, ever, a good thing.

So, after feeling literally sad from watching the movie, I watched another movie called “Darkon”.  I took away a different message than I think the movie intended.  In short, if you run to a fantasy world to pretend to be successfully you’ll still get pounded by people who actually try to be successful.  See paragraph 1 again.  Doing is better than pretending to do.

Sadly, this movie put the nail in the coffin for me with LARP.  I simply will never have enough people who aren’t using LARP as a crutch to avoid a real life to out weigh those who come there for that.  It’s sad, but I simply can’t give that much of my time to trying and undo reality.

The biggest reason we can’t get more casual people in LARP?  This is how most of the world sees people who LARP.  Social misfits who neglect their real lives to escape into a fantasy world, hoping to pretend for the success they don’t want to try for in reality.

What’s sad is… in terms of gaming in general it simply isn’t true.  For a great many gamers, Role-Playing Games (or RPG’s) are a stepping off point to go out into the real world and have real adventures.  I’m not going to presume to speak for everyone, but I’d like to give another side of things that most people just don’t consider.

Role-Playing games got me interested in camping. I joined Boy Scouts in middle school and had an absolute blast hiking, camping, fishing, canoeing, etc.  I wasn’t the best at any of these things, but I was getting better.  I got to explore some caves with my camping group, climb up what felt at the time like mountains, and even earned my survival badge where the send you out into the woods for a weekend with nothing but a lighter and a pocket knife.  I would have had no interest in doing any of that if gaming hadn’t made it seem exciting.

And all the while I was playing I didn’t realize I was learning.  Keep with me a second, I’m not about to suggest that “Dragon Slaying” is a good resume buffer, but writing adventures improved my grammar and spelling.  Drawing maps, made me better at art, and painting figures for the game has brought me an interest into other forms of painting, pottery, and crafts.  And the numbers… oh the numbers.  So much math, and probability, etc.  And finally, you can’t just bully your way around a game table.  You have to interact, speak, socialize, and convince people work with you.  I am very sure that Role-Playing games, especially GMing, had more to do with winning awards in FBLA for impromptu speaking than anything I learned in High School Speech class.

Speaking of High School, I finally found my sport.  It was influenced by Role-Playing in two ways:  1) playing out all those battles made me interested in how fighting would work, and 2) I was already picked on for being a nerd.  Martial Arts were calling.  I got my black belt before I got my drivers license, and later even opened my own studio and ran it as a business for several years.  Now, my students (and I believe starting soon my student’s students), are running their own schools.

It was a character in D&D that played a lute that got me interested in learning to play guitar.  Which I got as a kid, and recently my mom bought back the very guitar I played all those years ago (thanks Mom), which I had presumed gone forever.

Listening to podcasts on gaming got me interested in setting my own up.  I learned about recording, editing, and starting, essentially, my own radio show with listeners in 7 countries.

As I said before, I wrote my own game, which at one time had 50 local people showing up monthly to play.   It was… yes… a LARP.  I know most of you are thinking of this when you hear the term LARP.  But I was hoping for something more like this.  As you might have guessed, it was somewhere in between, but due to fear of lawsuits, closer to the first one... sadly.  I will say that running around a field with 50 pounds of armor on is an incredible work out, and a lot of fun.  I met people there who I stayed friends with outside the game, and found out some things about friends I brought in that changed my opinion of them.  

Which another point, Gamers are often seen as having games be something they do, and everything else takes second seat.  A great majority of us are more the opposite.  Gaming is something that we find fun, and if we have time with friends, we’ll play.  And if a good movie is on, or we have a chance at a date, or we need to work late, or family needs us, or we’re sick of pizza, we do something else.

And that’s what I want to drive home here.  Like all things, there are some people in your group that go waaaayyyy over the top.  We just need a few more people who like role-playing games, who view it as a positive thing in their lives, but not as an escape from real people, places and things to speak up.

For those of you who are gamers, and aren’t getting away from the table enough find the thing you’re trying to emulate being, then go put that time into becoming it.  Every one of the things gaming brought to my life was something I thought I couldn’t do when I started.  I was scared of failure, of embarrassment, and of letting people down.  I just didn’t let fear stop me from living.

Currently, I’m introducing the gaming hobby with my nephew.  Another generation building a connection to the last one through gaming.  As for me, in keeping with my enjoyment of real world exploring, I’ve taken up Geocaching and am going to try and get scuba certified this year.  I just found out that there’s a sailing club in my town that will teach you how to run a sail boat on an affordable budget.

Gaming doesn’t have to just be the limit to your adventures, instead it should be the beginning.