Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Reluctant Geek - Here Be Dragons

So if you are one of the three faithful readers who has waded through my modest blog offerings thus far, then you might be forgiven for assuming that there is nothing particularly ‘reluctant’ about my geekdom at all. Passionate defences of comic books and computer games probably don’t scream “I am cool and urban and mainstream innit.” But bear with me, because this week things are going to get geekier still. I’m going to talk about (hushed tones) RPGs.

It still feels slightly like something that should remain a dirty little secret, but a few years ago I began playing Dungeons and Dragons regularly with a group of friends. It was an introduction to a strange world of 20-sided dice, wizards and stats for everything from ambidexterity to fortitude to who-can-make-the-most-cups-of-tea-ability. (OK, I made the last one up.)

The reams of complicated data involved in creating, developing and modifying a character would make a devilishly sneaky way of tricking children into doing Maths. But as a grown-up, I was both skeptical and slightly bewildered. Luckily, my friends showed real life fortitude in nudging me in the right direction, and shaking their heads indulgently when I insisted on referring to some of our early monsters as “baby lizard dragon things”. (Apparently, the technical term is “Kobolds”!)

I know this is the point where I am supposed to reveal my gradual conversion to the wonders of the game, but honestly, D&D never gripped me. The tedium of the constant dice throwing and adding up of points can be rather trying when you’re a control freak, and I was tempted more than once to throw a diva-style strop when the rolls didn’t go my way. It was equally tempting to try to wipe the smiles off the faces of those little plastic figures with their mindless adherence to the goddess of chance.

Anger management issues aside, what D&D did do for me was open my eyes to how much fun the more freeform elements of role playing can be. I was never that interested in choosing which specialist skill to use to squish the latest troll with, but I did like talking through how to convince the pretty bar wench to tell us the village gossip, or tricking an elderly wizard into helping us kill some goblins.

So from the supremely geeky, stat-driven world of D&D, I began to roleplay in some other games. Games that were driven by story and player decisions. Games where your actions had greater consequences than your dice rolls. And games where an ability to talk your way out of a situation mattered more than arbitrary points on a sheet.

And honestly, I kinda liked it. Creating a character and then being given by your GM a context for that character to exist is the best kind of collaborative storytelling, and as far as ways to spend an evening go, it’s got to be more creatively rich than watching Hollyoaks. Another of Proud Lion’s wise bloggers pointed out recently that immersion is, quite literally, the aim of the game. And the wonderful thing about immersion is that by its very definition, it takes you out of the humdrum of real life for a while and presents you with a whole new world. A world that might be dangerous, or beautiful, or morally equivocal. But always a world that makes you think.

On a less lofty note though I would, if confronted, also argue that RPGs actually make for a pretty sociable hobby. Not perhaps the best environment for dieting since it seems to be some unwritten rule that playing an elf, or exploring space, or ghost hunting in London are all activities best undertaken whilst jacked up on sugar. But a rather lovely way to find out more about your friends, or to get to know acquaintances better.

And on that warm and fuzzy note, I’m off to dig out my D20…

Kate Townshend is patient zero all over again.

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