Story

10 Jul

papers

Source: http://game-icons.net/

Recently, a friend asked to interview Squiddy and me for his thesis on how RPG players’ characters relate to their real life personas. The topic basically had our names written all over it, and we were happy to oblige.

One topic that we kept skirting around during the interview was what we thought of the act of playing RPGs. What an odd thing to do! What did we think of it? We didn’t have anything interesting to say about that part, actually. RPGs have always seemed like a totally natural and intuitive hobby. Partly this is because (and this is the reason we gave him) we both write and have for a long time. We tend to think of RPGs as a structured extension of fiction.

However, this is also partly because, speaking loosely, we have always been an RPG since the week we met at summer camp.

We were 12 and 13 respectively, and we started writing a funny story together. It had two main characters, and she took one and I took the other. When we went home, we would type out lines to each other over AIM (old school!) or spoke them over the phone. Eventually, it morphed into a serious story. Then we finished it. Then we started it over again, but different. Rinse and repeat a few times. Then we started a different story, with different characters.  Then we did another one.

There were always two main characters and we always each had one that was ours, and split the others between us. Of course, this wasn’t an RPG qua RPG; there weren’t rules and dice rolls. But it wasn’t exactly writing fiction together either. Often these stories never got written down, except maybe piecemeal in chat logs. We didn’t care as much about characters that weren’t our own. The world and the NPCs would sometimes get pretty fleshed out, but other times they were just cardboard set-pieces and they always existed primarily to further the arcs for the main two. Both of us do write fiction, but obviously we wouldn’t write a story that way.

People who spend time in fandom communities will be familiar with the idea of RPGs referring to an activity where people do exactly what I just decribed, narrating actions and lines to each other in the persona of characters from their favorite books and movies. We were doing the same thing, but with our own characters (well, mostly).

We have been doing this consistently since we were kids. There has been almost no point in the last ten years at which there wouldn’t have been an answer to the question, “What story are you doing?” We’re about 3/4ths of the way through one right now. They’ve varied in length-to-tell from a few days to several months, and lord knows they’ve varied in quality, plot, setting, and just about everything else. The only consistent factor has been that the story is about two people and how they relate to each other.

So, as you might imagine, RPGs came pretty naturally to us – just like doing story, but with friends and more rules, right? I don’t know that there is a terribly consistent relationship between our characters, in RPGs or story, and our actual personalities. It’s the relationship between our characters, more than the characters themselves, that says something about us, I think.

It occurs to me that this is probably an extremely odd activity, though it never struck me that way. I mean, on some level, sure, I guess I knew it was unusual. We’ve never talked to anyone about it; it seemed personal. It’s the only hobby (and it’s time-consuming enough to be a hobby) that never makes it onto the list when I’m asked. But really, it’s as much a legibility thing as anything else. How do you describe that in two words or less? At least D & D players are a trope.

But I don’t think it occurred to me until recently that I’m genuinely uncertain what other couples do with that time. I mean, we all (hopefully) talk about our lives, feelings, ideas, hobbies and what have you with our partners. But you still (probably) spend a ton of time together. Is it usually just more of the same, or do other people tend to have Things they do together? Major projects and hobbies that are just for the two of them?

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