Why RPGs are important

There is a tendency amongst my peers to either deride or exalt their pastimes, often to an extreme. The former smacks of the sneering disdain for experiences that marks the hipster, while the latter lends a hand-wringing quality. Both are the acts of uncertainty. This uncertainty isn't implicit in play of any kind, it is imposed upon us by market forces beyond our control. If a thing does not make you money, or train you in the acquisition of wealth, it is worthless. This is the shabby tragedy of our time. Play has its own value, and is not the purview of only the idle and the immature.

I grew up on role playing games. I still remember the first RPG I bought with my allowance monies- Night of the Walking Dead.
My budding interest in all things gross and ghoulish forced my hand-- the first movie I ever watched without my parents was A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and it made an impression. The downside to this purchase was that the game was incomplete. I had no way of knowing that I was expected to own three other hardbound books that explained the inscrutable abbreviations. So I did what came naturally and made my own rules up.

Its this aspect of RPGs that keeps me coming back. The role playing game is infinitely mutable, limited only by how much nonsense your friends were willing to put up with. Once upon a time, computer games held the same promise. I could count myself a competent Quake mod maker for a few short years until the technology outpaced my talent. Now, though, its a rare beast who has the spare time to mod a game into anything, and the variations grow fewer and further between. (I hear rumblings that the indie game developers are making very interesting things, but to me it looks like a bunch of multicolored spaghetti shooting pellets.)

Perhaps more than any other form of entertainment, RPGs encourage a collective ownership. Its impossible to passively watch and be considered a part of the group. To participate is to create.

In a fundamental way, RPGs are the vacuum tube to the future of entertainment. They are the clumsy, slightly embarrassing forerunners to whatever collective entertainment becomes once we've figured out what to do with the excess processing power we have. As computer games and MMORPGs become bigger business, they are moving away from any real interactivity between players and systems, ending up more like a cross between a roller-coaster ride and a game of checkers. A few games are dedicated to the idea of player driven content, such as EVE online and WURM, but for the most part we've replaced passive channel surfing with passive level grinding. I long to see a game that accommodates creativity and collective story telling. But for now, hand me my dice.

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