being the mental and scholastic wanderings of Collie Collier
Copyright © 1999 B. A. "Collie" Collier
Creativity in living is not without its attendant difficulties, for
peculiarity breeds contempt. And the unfortunate thing about being ahead
of your time when people finally realize you were right, they'll say it
was obvious all along.
-- Alan Ashley-Pitt
Well, I'm back from a really lovely, week-long vacation cruise to Alaska with my sweetie. Needless to say, I'm brimming with ideas, speculations, curious thoughts, and other stuff... yes, yes, I know, as usual I'm full of it. ;-)
The first thought that comes to mind concerns a slight variant on the Ignorable Theme of The Road not Taken: Settings I'd Love to Play In. You see, while on the cruise Bob (my sweetie) and I discovered an arcade room on the ship... and within the arcade -- a Gauntlet: Legends machine.
Fortune and love favor the bold.
I suppose I should explain here... what I really enjoy are role-playing games with other players. I don't care for arcade games and bash/shoot-'em-ups. I don't even really like computer 'role-playing' or puzzle games. I find that neither of them can satisfy my desire for tactics, character growth, the ability to affect a consistent and logical background, long-term game-ability, variety in NPCs, and most of all, interpersonal communication. It was initially purely to humor Bob that I picked up the warrior character in Gauntlet, so his mage would have someone to help out. The two of us spent many hours and tokens in the arcade, determined to defeat the monsters, collect the keys and rune stones, and win the quest.
I had no idea why the Gauntlet game seized my imagination quite so firmly, but it wasn't until Bob later asked me why I'd enjoyed the Gauntlet game, but wouldn't play it in a tabletop game that I started wondering... why had it been so fun?
I understand it in retrospect, I think. It was a tremendous amount of fun for many of the reasons I enjoy role-playing games. There were a few puzzles to figure out -- not enough to be annoying but quite satisfying when resolved. Tactics were simple but practical, and we used our abilities thoughtfully. The warrior led, the mage provided backup firepower; we shot over barriers when our opponents could not; we made sure that treasures went to whomever could most productively use them; we aimed for generators before killing all the monsters or collecting treasures. Character growth could be roughly estimated through a few graphics additions; i.e. at 30th level my warrior had a small, pretty dragonfly following him around and Bob's mage got a cute little green dragon familiar. I could talk to Bob any time I wanted, as far as interpersonal communication, discussion of tactics, and so forth.
On the down side, there was no way to permanently affect the background, and it was at heart just a shoot-'em-up game. The NPCs didn't change whatsoever. Also, there's no way I'd go through the entire prolonged game sequence again, since we've already figured out all the puzzles and slain all the monsters. So, aside from the reasons given above, why was it so much fun for me? What made me want to play despite the 'downside' traits in the game?
My speculation is that what attracted me to the game was twofold. One was the beautiful visual cues... and the other was the immediacy of the game.
Just one pixel in the big picture,
but it's the bright ones that get people's attention.
I'm a very visual player -- if I can't see the character or the game scene in my mind's eye then I can't get a grasp on how to play them, or how to react to the situation at hand. In the Gauntlet game, if I did something wrong or right I knew instantly, with a visual cue. Also, the graphics in the game were beautiful and interesting. The 'end monsters' in three of the 5 quest realms were particularly striking (no pun intended). One was a chimera, with lovely articulation and movement across the whole body, that had a black eagle's head, a green snake head, and a rough-maned, golden lion's head. Each head had its own cry and its own different visual attack. Another was the big, black widow Spider Queen, swift and dangerous and creepy. All her legs moved beautifully, as well as her human torso, and she rushed and bucked and struck without any glitches I could see. Finally, the demon Skorne was marvelous -- tall, all in glittering golds and flashing fire colors, with huge swooping wings and glowing slitted eyes. That one was particularly creepy, since if your character got too close Skorne had the ability to snatch the character up, squeeze it while roaring, then slam it skiddingly down again. Also, I thought the various 'quests' themselves were rather pretty too. They had internally logical monsters inhabiting an Egyptian realm, a 'classic' fantasy forest realm, the upper branches of another tree realm, a volcanic region, and the 'Under Realm' at the game's end-quest.
Then there was the immediacy of the game. I think there's a much stronger and more prolonged adrenaline rush involved in a machine game than in a tabletop game. That adrenaline rush is part of why I role-play. There's also the 'in your face' feeling that a huge screen of rapidly moving, colorful images gives. So, to sum up, there was no real story line, but there was a powerful immediacy and high adrenaline feel to the game.
I remember LARPing and feeling somewhat like this -- that adrenaline 'high,' despite the lack of consistent game-world background or much in the way of story line. I also remember reading the logs of a MU* combat and being startled at how little story there was... and yet both the participants later exuberantly thanked me for my help in getting them together for such fun and enjoyable gaming. Also, I vaguely recall reading about a convention one-shot LARP that someone was in, that they wrote about in an APA. The 'story line' apparently consisted only of getting out of a compromised space ship, down a tunnel the LARP organizers had built. That was it. But it was completely satisfying to the players, including the zine writer, who mentioned in particular both the adrenaline rush, and how much fun it was.
Do the gods put this ardor in our hearts,
Or does each man's desire become his god?
-- Virgil, Aeneid, Book VI
This led me to speculate about gaming in general, and come up with a tentative hypothesis: the faster and more 'alive' or 'real' the game feels, the more adrenaline rush is created. The more adrenaline rush there is, the less story line and/or consistent world background is necessary. However, such gaming may not be sustainable over a long-term campaign. I'd be curious to hear about anybody else's experiences regarding this possible effect.
Well, here I go again, not quite addressing the actual theme in question... sorry, folks. I guess I'm just inherently contrary or something. ;-) However, while reading Kiralee's description of Ignorable Theme #2: Should Roleplayers Recruit? I found myself curiously... I don't know what word to use... startled? at the apparent binary nature of the explanation. I'm not trying to chastise Kiralee's writing here, of course, since I suspect this is an accurate reflection of a widespread and generally accepted societal attitude. But I can't help wondering, and so I'll ask you all -- does everyone here really feel that their choices are either be seen as a nerd/geek/socially inept individual -- or to not game whatsoever?
Other people's opinion of you does not have to become your reality.
I discussed this somewhat in my IR #9 zine, in the paper "Vicarious Living: Gaming as Counter-Hegemonic Subculture" written for my pop culture class. However, I find this line of thought leads to a plethora of other, new questions as well... do people, and role-playing gamers in particular, generally determine what they want their personalities to be like (in effect 'creating' themselves) -- or do they just let others tell them who they are and where they 'fit' in society? Does this occur in-game also, to their characters? Is the assertion of a gaming acquaintance true -- that most gamers are medically and/or hormonally unbalanced, and consequently actually need to take pills to restore their body's chemical balance, and to enable them to function within 'normal' society? Are we, as individuals and as a subculture, really that unable to take pride in who and what we are? Does our gaming 'art' create our lives, or do our lives create our art?
Reality is merely an illusion,
albeit a very persistent one.
-- Albert Einstein
Please note, at no point do I wish to sound as if I'm putting gamers down. Of all people, a self-avowed rabidly avid role-playing gamer should best know how pointlessly self-destructive that would be. Instead, if anything, I'd hope these questions would prompt folks to stop and consider themselves and their hobby... to NOT allow someone else to tell them how geeky or foolish or childish they are. People are only as geeky or foolish or childish as they desire or allow themselves to be... and 'the norm' is not always a good place to be!
And of course, again I'd be interested in other folks' perceptions on this subject -- I would dearly love to be proven wrong over these vague concerns.
Comments on Interregnum #33
Last Updated: Thur Feb 10 2000