Monday, July 31, 2006

What is Roleplaying? - By: M. Portela

While it is most certainly true that there are many good sides to roleplaying, like you can discover at The SAGA Project, the best of which is the social nature of the roleplaying game, there are several aspects of the roleplaying setting and nature that are not as...positive as we might wish it to be. It is my intention to cover each of these areas here, and to show the merits and the flaws with the logic inherent in these flaws.

The basic nature and definition of roleplaying are both covered on the page that is specifically devoted to the definition of roleplaying, and so I will not repeat those arguments here. It is enough to say that roleplaying is a hobby like all other hobbies, and there are basic problems that are inherent in all other hobbies. We will discuss issues such as obssessiveness, adult situations, violence, etc.

1. Obssessiveness

While roleplaying games are a hobby with many redeeming values, notably the social nature of the roleplaying game and the teaching of rules and social etiquette, it is equally true that like all hobbies, some gamers tend to be obssessive with playing the game. Obssesion is not, by itself, a bad thing, but there are gamers out there who do nothing other than game, who have no social life outside of their gaming environments, and yet who feel they are very social and socially-conscious people. One can emphasize the good and bad in all manner of gaming, of course, but it is obssessiveness that tends to be regarded in very negative ways, especially when it comes to hobbies. While obssessive roleplayers are found here and there, for the most part these tend to be younger players who haven't developed their social skills and who don't have a life outside of roleplaying. Most gamers grow out of this phase, but there are exceptions to the rule. Suffice it to say that there is no cure for obssessive roleplayers - these gamers have to see the merits of non-gaming activities, and have to grow up somewhat in social sense.

2. Adult Situations

By their very nature, many roleplaying games deal with adult situations and morality, simply because these spects of life manifest themselves within the context of roleplaying games. For the most part, gamers in the roleplaying community treat these adult situations with the respect they deserve, although there are some gamers who are not very socially responsible. Most GamesMasters, the term used for those run roleplaying games, tend to be morally and ethically responsible in these situations; the kind of situation that you would face a 26-year old player with is not the same situation that you would throw in the face of a 14-year old player.

Some argue that it is the responsibility of the GamesMaster to not abuse adult situations and themes in roleplaying, but ultimately it is the parental responsibility to ensure that their children do not play roleplaying games that are overly adult in nature, especially if the child is not mature enough for such subject matter. And that is the key - maturity. There is a difficult line to draw in this area, especially given the nature of some fantasy roleplaying games and those that deal in the horror side of things, such as Vampire: The Masquerade and Call of Cthulhu. Eroticism is very much prevalent in the horror genre of literature and roleplaying (the sexuality of the vampire being a potent source of material, as many authors and GamesMasters have found), but it is a difficult element for some players to deal with. It is enough to add that sexuality is not just a factor in games that deal with erotic horror, but fantasy is also conducive to sexuality. The morality of the mediaeval period is well-known, and the vices that were prevalent in those days are very much a presentable situation in the fantasy roleplaying game environment. Other genres, such as science fiction, historical fantasy and non-fantasy periods, and cyberpunk, are also suitable to sexuality and high levels of immorality, but this is something that GamesMasters and players must agree on.

Suffice it to say, that as far as I am concerned, the cardinal rule for players and gamesmasters alike is very simple: "Do as you will, as long as you hurt no one else." It is a simple philosophy, but also one that requires a bit of moral and ethical control of the players on the part of the gamesmaster. There will be those who will disagree with me in this regard, and that is their right...but I am of the firm belief that gamesmasters have to draw a line beyond which they consider themselves, their players, and their games to be in bad, or questionable, taste.

3. Violence in RPGs

Violence is an issue that comes up repeatedly in roleplaying games, and is one of the first aspects of the rpgs that is attacked by the public and by those who would condemn roleplaying gamers. Life is essentially conflict; there are many different types of conflict, but it is a universal truth that, in roleplaying games, conflict is a way to generate story material and plots.

The nature of medieval times is such that it was a violent one, in addition to being a morally and ethically loose one. Violence betwen lord and serf was often the only way to solve problems, and the protection of one's own land, property, family, and other aspects of one's personal honour was often solved strictly by the sword or other weapons. It has been argued that those who roleplay tend to take the "roleplaying solutions" into real life, and "adopt" them there. While such may be the truth in some circles and certain circumstances, men and women have potentials for violence and the roleplaying experience does not really influence one's violent tendencies in a positive fashion or a negative one. Indeed, many players of rpgs are very much non-violent outside of the roleplaying experience, and claim that roleplaying their characters in violent times of change and upheaval, using violent solutions, makes them abhor violence in their daily lives.

4. Rituals and Sacrifice

Another issue that comes up rather frequently, or so the press would lead us to believe, is that of rituals and sacrifice. There has been a great deal of discussion pertaining to the effects of roleplaying games on people within a religious context. While I can't say that I'm a devout or religious person myself, I think that most gamers realize the game falls outside of the bounds of reality for the most part, and that it's just acting. Ritual sacrifice, witchcraft, the worship and deification of demons, and other such practices are very much a part of the fantasy roleplaying experience, but not so common in science fiction and other roleplaying games.

Each of us, including myself, has a strong position on this particular issue in the roleplaying situation, butit is not something that many of us can view in an ojective manner; it is a very personal subject.

MPortela is webdesigner for the amazing friendship based roleplay community at The SAGA Project and can be contacted at MPortela Design.

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