Wednesday, August 27, 2008

When I stopped playing role-playing games

In the 1990s, I went to art school and moved away from my old hometown gaming buddies. I still occasionally purchased new GURPS source books and never lost my fascination with game rules and creating campaign settings. But, unfortunately, I had no one to play with. Not for lack of gamers in the area. There were plenty at college. I just didn’t want to game with them. Most of all I was more focused on school and other life issues. Once in a while, I got together with old friends and played GURPS. I had no interest in playing D&D again. The only exception was a brief second edition D&D campaign that I DM’d for some friends “for old time’s sake.” It was sort of fun while it lasted. But it suffered from lack of a sufficient number of players.

By the end of the 1990s, my interest in role-playing games almost completely faded away. I had almost no one to game with anymore. Being a 30-year-old living in a Bible Belt red state meant that other gamers are very few and far between. No one at work played chess, let alone D&D.

One of the biggest obstacles was my attitude towards other gamers, in general. So many of the ones that I met were on the fringes of society. Many of the random people I would encounter at game shops or comic shops seemed to usually exemplify the worst kind of “otaku” or “fan boy.” I just did not want to associate with many of these creepy dudes who seemed to be failures in life. Right off the bat, I could usually discern some sort of psychological shortcoming.

What happened, I thought to myself, to all of the level-headed people who used to play role-playing games? All my brainy friends from my youth had done the right thing and moved to less conservative parts of the world. I was working at a corporate job that actively suppressed creativity. (See the movie Office Space.)

My gamer friends were reduced to a few that I had known since adolescence. We would try to play GURPS but the campaigns never lasted more than a few sessions. The GM would have some sort of plot in mind and the players couldn’t get into it very much. Worst of all, sometimes up to three game sessions were devoted to just generating and fleshing out our characters. We never played any modules or any other type of published adventures. We were all convinced that the best way was our own invented storyline.

In hindsight, I think it was the preoccupation with writing story plots that killed it for me. I just don’t think I’m a fantastic writer. I’m not very good at defining charcters with depth and motivation that would flawlessly fit in with what I thought the player-characters would do. How was I able to see into the future and know what the players would behave? How can I possibly plan all the contingencies of actions in order to further the story? At the time, I was convinced that what role-playing games were really all about was creative improvisational storytelling. And I’m not that great of a storyteller.

Also, the rules for playing GURPS had seemed to become so complicated. As any GURPS fan will tell you, the rules are actually very simple and can be summarized on one page. But GURPS players never rely on just the one page. Not only is the core rule book several hundred pages long, there are dozens of supplementary rule books that can be used. Generating a character can take a long, long time. And the nature of our established style of “storytelling” campaigns required an unreasonable amount of preparation.

The players in our group would ask our GM, "When are we going to start that GURPS campaign?" All too often the answer was, "I'm still working on it." And then once we started playing, we would never finish.

I just didn’t have time for gaming anymore. And most people my age didn’t have the time for it either.

But all was not lost.


PatrickWR said...

I'm in the midst of the same "gaming arc" you're describing. Five years ago, I abhorred modules and published adventures. They were the epitome of unoriginality, in my opinion.

Now I'm a professional trying to game with other like-minded folks in the big city, all of whom have much-diminished free time, and I'm starting to realize that there's some real value in using published material.

I like your blog! Keep up the good work. Don't get too wrapped up in the retro old school meme that's sweeping the blogosphere...there's more to gaming than just 1st ed. D&D clones.

M.gunnerQuist said...

last year, I thought that I was an old geezer who longed for the old ways. But since then I've come across plenty of like-minded folks. I think there is some validity to the spontaneous "retro old school meme that's sweeping the blogosphere." In future articles, I want to address this issue in more detail.