05 December 2007

Forms of roleplaying

Roleplaying games come in many forms. First, there is a whole category of sexual activities that are also called "roleplaying." That's not the topic of this post. There are also two categories of video games called roleplaying - cRPGs such as Diablo/Diablo 2, Neverwinter Nights, Elder Scrolls, etc., and MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, Everquest, etc. Then there are the pen-and-paper style roleplaying games. In these, two or more people get together and create a story. One person generally controls the setting and plot, while everyone else controls a character (or several).

There are a multitude of ways that a group of people can get together to create a story. Tabletop is where people gather around a table, usually in someone's living room, and there is usually dice involved. LARP (live-action roleplaying) is like a combination masquerade ball and improv acting event - participants dress up as their characters and interact with each other as them. Sometimes there is a strong storyline, and the improv is mediated by a narrator or group of narrators; other times it's an excuse to pound on each other with foam weapons. People also sometimes play by phone or through the mail. With the advent of the Internet, there came email and Skype, and there are several ways to play online.

Chat-based games happen through Instant Messengers like AIM, MSN, Yahoo, or through IRC. There is also specialized software dedicated to them, such as OpenRPG. It's a good realtime substitute for when the group can't all meet around a table, it's slightly slower than tabletop, and it's limited mainly by participant typing speed.

Then there are the true online writing games. They take place through blogs, wikis, and forums. They run much slower than chat; there is no instant gratification of seeing immediate feedback from other participants. The tradeoff is that the writing can become very well-thought-out and elaborate. They range from games that are just like tabletop in feel, up to full-fledged collaborative writing.

The hobby is about 40 years old at this point. For some reason it's not well regarded, even among other geeks. I personally see nothing embarrassing about it, nor reason to avoid mentioning it in non-gaming social contexts. Roleplaying is group storytelling, and storytelling is as old as humankind.


Janiece Murphy said...

MWT, I think the disdain is leftovers from the days when D&D players were the lowest of the low in terms of the high school social hierarchy. Unfair, but there you have it.

I've never participated in any of the games you describe. I would be concerned about the time commitment in such an endeavor. I know you've mentioned that moderating such a game can take up to 20 hours a week, but what is the time commitment for a participant?

Megadeus said...

Janiece, in my experience, the time required for a player (not a Referee) is usually only the time it takes to meet and play the game. Between four and six hours, depending on how long the gaming session lasts.

The Referee invests that time plus four to ten hours of preparation per week, spaced over a number of days.

I'm thinking the "nerdiness" of D&D is abating as it enters more into popular culture. Celebrity endorsements like Vin Diesel and Stephen Colbert help decrease the "nerd" factor, or at least make it okay to be a nerd. These days, hip nerds like Steve Jobs are "in."

John the Scientist said...

There is a reason to avoid mentioning RPG participation in Israel. I think that the Janeice is right - the IDF has held on to a lot of the biases against D&D that I saw back in the late 70s and early 80s. And to be fair, there were a lot more weirdos relative to normal people in the RPG community at that time.

I wonder if there is a bias in the IDF against historical re-enactors, too, if such a thing exists in that war-torn country. This was the strangest group I've ever come across - they were active as far back as the end of the Cold War. With all the conflicts that have swept through Bohemia, why re-enact ours? Maybe there is still bad blood left over from the 100 Years War that makes it safer to role play a foreign conflict?

Janiece Murphy said...

I was just curious - I'm not really in a position to play at the moment.

However, I think John's right about the stigma being lifted a bit. My Smart Boy's high school has an RPG club, and there are many, many D&D sessions going on within the social circles of his school. I was surprised to learn that not all of them involve the theatre or tech geeks, as was the case when I was in HS.

My Smart Boy plays pretty regularly, and his pals appear to be decent young men, and smart. He could have worse hobbies. Much worse.

Megadeus said...

I will certainly second that thought.

I'm glad I've fallen in with a good crowd here in college. I look at the "partying" cliques and feel good about my decisions to stay "nerdy."

Anne said...

I didn't have (or know about) D&D groups when I was in high school, so I recruited my brother and sister. I always preferred to be the DM (or moderator) because I liked making up the stories. It was less of a social experience and more of a creative one.

MWT said...

Megadeus has it right for how much time an average weekly tabletop game takes up. It also applies to online chat games.

The LARPs I played in were mostly monthlies, but LARPs generally work better with a much larger number of participants (at least 10 players, minimum, in my experience), and often there's a lot of emailing going on between sessions. An average sized LARP works best when there are multiple referees who can divide up the work among them. Players, however, pretty much have the same time commitment as for a tabletop, depending on how elaborate they want to get with dressing up.

Play-by-posts (the wiki/blog/forum type games) or play-by-email are where people go when they don't have the ability to commit to a single big block of time. How much time you put into it is entirely up to you; you can join lots of fast daily games or one slow game. My current one calls for once-a-week posts (when it's actually going; things get really slow in December due to holidays).

Jim Wright said...

What always amazed me, and still does, is the social stigma attached to 'nerd' RPGs and the derision the more 'cool' jocks-types heaped on role players - and yet those same jocks were, and are, spending 20 hours, or more, a week playing fantasy football...

I played 'ORGE' and 'GEV' when I was young, never played D&D but once and was bored to tears, and I utterly hate football - so I guess I'm an outcast no matter what circles you move in. Heh, cool. :)