My love/hate relationship with roleplaying


Roleplaying has been one of my favourite pastimes ever since I went to university and discovered the internet (after growing up in a small town, ignorant of Dungeons and Dragons or World of Darkness).  I was thrilled to discover busy sites dedicated to people getting together and playing pretend, much like the games I’d played at recess in elementary school, only with adult levels of complexity and characterization.  The old World of Darkness sourcebooks describe their game as cooperative storytelling, and looking back, it’s not surprising to me that I resumed story writing-something else I’d done in elementary school and faded away from in high school-around the same time I began roleplaying.

Some people say that roleplaying is a good rehearsal for writing, and to a degree that’s true; a player is creating characters, worldbuilding, practicing description and dialogue, and crafting sentences to convey ideas and emotion.

But roleplaying’s easier than writing.

It’s easier because I have other people contributing to my story, inspiring me, steering the narrative in directions I’d have never imagined on my own.  Dice rolls throw elements of randomness into the tale.  I, through my character, am an active participant in the story, and I don’t know where the game will end up taking me.  This means I don’t have to script too far in advance-if I do, the game’s almost guaranteed to veer in an entirely different direction.

It’s easier because the only people who are likely to read my roleplaying posts are the folks I’m playing with.  They don’t care if I’m tired and making typos, or using the same phrase too often, or being less than precise about semicolons versus dashes versus ellipses.

It’s easier because I don’t care how long, or how short, a story thread will be by the time we reach the end; it doesn’t need to fit into short story/novella/novel format.  It doesn’t matter if the pacing’s off.  It doesn’t matter if the plot meanders about.  It doesn’t matter if the story doesn’t meet a satisfying resolution; there’s always another game in the future.

I have a friend who used to make a fanzine; she included roleplaying logs as well as fan fiction, art, and poetry.  I never found the logs as satisfying to read as the fiction-because pacing and structure and style and resolution matter to a reader.  It’s the difference between the reader as observer of the story, and the gamer as participant.

The biggest challenge, of course, is that the time I spend roleplaying is time not spent writing something I could sell.  I’ve deliberately chosen not to seek out roleplaying groups in my new city, but I do still play on a message-board style game; in the ten or fifteen minutes before work or between wash loads, it’s easy to pop on, contribute a post to a game in progress, and pop out again.  A fair concession, if you don’t count those Saturday mornings when several of my friends are all on at the same time and the next thing I know, it’s Saturday afternoon.

I love roleplaying, and I don’t want to quit completely.  I’ve made a lot of long-term friends via online games, and when writing’s coming hard, it’s good to go somewhere that makes wordcrafting fun again.  But I also need to remind myself that roleplaying is personal entertainment, not professional writing, and budget my time accordingly.

2 responses on “My love/hate relationship with roleplaying

  1. Colette Vernon

    My experiences with roleplaying were short and not pleasant. My older brother decided he would teach me D&D by having me go on an adventure with him in charge. (You all know what that role is called; so do I, but it’s escaping me at the moment.) Anyway, so he had a piece of moldy cheese eat me about five minutes in. As a teenager I went with a friend to a huge D&D club at her local library. They had a map the size of the conference table laid out and as far as I could tell, started speaking orc or some other foreign language I’d never heard before. They were halfway through a campaign and I had no clue who those people were let alone their characters.

    I still play on occasion with my son. None of his friend’s moms will let their kids play because it’s too “addicting.” Whatever. I can see the concern, but we have to learn self-control at some point in life. I think, Mary, you’ve nailed the whole point. These games are good fun,and have to be approached in moderation, without too much self-recrimination if we go a few hours over what we’d planned. Start missing meals and necessary sleep, and I think a person might need professional help.

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