Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pretend, damn you!

In case you're interested, a couple folks have written short essays about RPGs and pretending. They're worth checking out.

This is what Monte Cook says about pretending. He's one of the Big Dudes in RPG design -- co-wrote 3e D&D, lead designer on 5e -- so his thoughts could shape the hobby for years to come. The takeaway quote:

"It's honestly one of the biggest barriers to more people playing the game, but it's something we seem to talk about only occasionally. We talk about making the rules simpler, the game more fun, or the books more accessible, but we probably don't spend a lot of time talking about how most people (again, over the age of about 12) don't know how to pretend."

This is what the AV Club says about pretending. The writer, Todd VanDerWerff, is apparently doing a series on exposing himself to "nerd culture," a label that fails to fill me with joy. Making a set of goofy hobbies into a shared culture/lifestyle has consequences... that's for another day. Here's the takeaway quote about his paladin Lenore considering giving up her alignment to receive her freedom from a lich:

"It’s possible, I realize, to put myself in two different places. Todd thinks it would be cool to see what happened if she turns evil. Lenore knows she’d never take that deal. And in that instant, I can see what this whole role-playing thing is about, why it holds so many in its expensive thrall: For an instant, you aren’t seeing with your eyes. You’re seeing with someone else’s eyes. And it’s intoxicating."

Both essays skew toward pretending-as-playing-a-character, which happens to be exactly what I like. But there are other common kinds of pretend: exploring imaginary environments, making stuff up and watching it instantly become narrative canon, etc. I've argued before that this is what sets RPGs apart from other pastimes. There, I called it "simulation" since I was using GNS theory as a reference point. A better term, perhaps, would be "emulation." Roleplaying excels at letting you Feel Like X for almost any value of X.

I've roleplayed with a handful of people who didn't like to pretend. Not just that they were uncomfortable or inexperienced; they honestly didn't enjoy doing it. They were, without exception, the dullest players I've ever known. Dunno why they even got into the hobby if they were just going to treat it as a boardgame.

Maybe that's the audience for the new Battleship movie.


  1. The article from the AV club was very engrossing and it's always niceto take a look at an outside perspective from the hobby.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. You're welcome! I've been able to teach several new players in the last few years, and it's always interesting to see through their eyes. They're baffled by stuff that old-timers take for granted and they work the system in ways we never considered.