Why We Roleplay
This article was written for us by Brogan Young, who plays Thomas Plisken in Blue Dwarf.
So you’ve found yourself on the sandy shores of Ongoing Worlds. Perhaps it is just a pit stop to take in the scenery as you journey through the seemingly endless expanse of the Internet Ocean. Or maybe you’ve tied your boat up to our small jetty and began to wonder around the array and myriad of imaginations that populate our fair isle. But chances are everyone reading this came here for a specific reason: to roleplay.
Roleplay might have some negative (and sexy) connotations in this day an age but does that really matter? Roleplaying can be dated right back to each and every one of our childhoods where, chances are, we played Cops and Robbers or Cowboys and Indians or pretended to be an astronaut in our cardboard box spaceship. What were we doing? We were pretending to be someone else. We were living out a life that we wished we had. It was fun, we could break free of our own life bonds and imagine we roamed the Wild West, protecting the streets from petty criminals, or battling invading monsters.
Then we grow up and life sucks. We have school and jobs and these strange things called ‘relationships’ that I’ve somehow managed to avoid. And suddenly we can’t pretend to be someone else and roleplay is relegated to the workplace day dream.
But then something captures your imagination. The very idea of a concept clings to your very being and you long to join that world. it could be Doctor Who, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings or any other of the plethora of worlds that exist. And you start to think: what if I was in there? What would I look like? How would I act? Why would I act like that? The your fingers dance across your keyboard and you cast away from the safe mainland of the World Wide Web, leaving the towns of Facebook and Youtube behind as you use the Google Currents, or for some reason the Bing Winds, to search for a game. You sail past the ruins of Bebo and MySpace, the incomprehensible island of Tumblr and past the dense archipelago of fan wikia’s the surround the giant Wikipedia Island. And then maybe you find a Roleplaying Game based of your favoured universe.
You sign up and begin pouring your ideas into the character creation form. But then you take a look at the finished piece of art. You’ve probably just made yourself – maybe an exaggerated version of yourself, but yourself nonetheless. You’ve probably used your own appearance or personality or who you wish you were like. And that is the key part: ‘Who you wish you were like’. I’ll use myself as an example. Thomas Plisken, the first true character I created for a story I wrote back when I was 13 with my friends, is who I wish to be. Who is Plisken? He’s a lonely old man set adrift in a defunct mining ship and part of possibly the most dysfunctional family in history. But he is also a hero, and sometimes and anti-hero. He’s confident, he’s experienced, he’s been in love and is someone that people have come to rely upon. And he has an awesome beard. Those are things I wish I had, traits and history that I wish I had. But Plisken is also an avatar of me. He has long hair, wears a great coat, carries a pocket watch and prone to bouts of melodrama. He is in a sense me.
I play roleplaying games like Blue Dwarf because it offers a limitless escape from my otherwise desperately bull existence. But I only really wish to inhabit the body of Thomas H. Plisken when it suits me, and that is usually during one of melodramatic days when I think life is stupid and I hate everything. But on the days when I am walking on top of the world and all smiles, I struggle to come up with any story that I consider good. That is because I only want to escape to my alter ego of Thomas Plisken when I don’t want to be me.
But maybe that is not true for everyone. Maybe some of you out there, reading the Daily Ongoing Worlds Globe Gazette Herald Paper as you walk past the Market Place where all the games are displayed, are thinking ‘Pah, what does this Brogan kid know? He’s probably just a nerd sitting at his computer and typing away like he knows things.” And you’d be right. But then why is it you play role-playing games? Maybe it is a creative expression. The human mind is a Pandora’s Box of imaginings. Everyday we daydream and every night we dream. I would like to think I have a vivid imagination and that my writing is a way to dump all my thoughts in nice little stories that follow the trials and tribulations of Plisken.
Or maybe you play role-playing games because they offer limitless freedom and where your choices can have a massive impact on the lives of the inhabitants of the game. This is something that texted based role-playing can offer like no other. Think about video games where you make choices. Maybe you’re thinking of Skyrim or Mass Effect. Well think about what choices you make. Now I love games that make you make choices, in fact the very first game I played was Final Fantasy 9 after my brother asked me what he should call the characters. But did me saying that Stiener should be called Duncan, Vivi called Broggie and Freya called Erin make a difference on the plot or out come of the story? No, it did not. Do any of the choices you make in the vast tundra and plains of Skyrim ever change the fact that you will slay Alduin and save the world from evil? No, you can be Tamriel’s biggest asshole- stealing steel maces, jumping and running into people or beating the children endlessly as the still say you are there to lick his father’s boots- but you still end up saving everyone and being the hero.
Artwork by DarkMatter89
The same is for Mass Effect; your choices have no real impact on the universe as a whole. So you save the Council, or maybe you don’t, does it matter? No, the game still goes on. Did you blow up the reaper base or save it and hand it to Cerberus? It doesn’t matter; all you get is a few points in the next game for saving it. It did not matter. You could be an asshole and you will probably still reach the crazy Star Child thing and listen to its backwards logic and then choose which colour you save the universe in. It really didn’t matter. But I think about the choices I’ve made in Blue Dwarf and how my actions have changed the story. Plisken jettisoned the Drive Room when attacked by Huzzards, crashing on the planet below. That meant the crew had to go mining for materials to build a new one and that sent all of us on a series of crazy of adventures. What Plisken did, and what I did, had a huge impact on the story. And that is something that is missing from video games and, perhaps, our own lives.
So to say that you roleplay because it is fun, while it is true, deserves only a sarcastic laden slow clap and a disapproving look. The reason why we play is a hugely complex concept that I can’t possible claim to know everything about, but these are why I play.
And now you are probably beginning to cast off, your little boat leaving the jetty near the market place. Maybe you left small note at the paper’s offices explaining why you roleplay or maybe you made one last stop at the Wing Forum and said your goodbyes. Maybe I’ll respond to your note when my own little rental boat arrives on my daily round trip through the waters. (Basically I’m saying that if you comment I’ll respond but I’m falling in love with this world I’ve created and it’s hard to get out of).