A question occurred to me last night as I tossed the dice once more, praying for luck to outweigh my lack in skill. Why do we role-play? What is it about the world of make believe that refuses to leave us alone even in adulthood? Okay, so maybe my twenty-something years and perpetual college-esque lifestyle can’t really be called “adulthood,” but you get my drift.
Let’s take a moment to lie back on the figurative Freudian couch and explore the gamer subconscious. Why are you drawn to RPGs? And how does that make you feel?
It’s too easy to say that we use these games as a crutch for social awkwardness. That is yet another hackneyed stereotype surrounding geeks, but not entirely untrue. Perhaps some of us use RPGs to compensate for perceived inadequacies. We were all a little awkward at least once in our lives, but that doesn’t mean there has to be something wrong with you to play an RPG. For many, the games allow us to think in artistic narrative, to strategize, and to explore sides of ourselves we never thought to bring out in the real world.
There was a time, long ago, when the boys far outnumbered the girls in the geek world. Perhaps they still do, but thankfully not by much anymore. Growing up, there was a place for the rowdy boys, the girly girls, even the tomboys and nerds. There was not, however, a place for the feminine preteen who also happened to like Ninja Turtles and Batman. Well actually, before Batman, my crush was Peter Pan. But I didn’t particularly relate to Wendy, so I invented a pirate princess who won the affections of Peter by saving him with her swashbuckling skills (Sorry J. M. Barrie, I was into fan-fiction at a very early age).
Adolescence always complicates things, and girly nerd discomfiture was no exception. It appeared as though I would have to choose between being feminine and being nerdy. I tried the tomboy track for a while, but it didn’t last. The only sports I could pull off were stage combat and chess. With a swollen forehead from a wayward baseball and a bruise from an ill placed tennis racket, I decided to give up and join the chess club. The room was, of course, full of boys when I arrived. It felt like I was crashing the party and forcing my way into a conversation uninvited. They all had their nicknames, signature moves, and inside jokes. It was clear that no matter how well I played, I didn’t belong, so long as I wore lipstick. They stared relentlessly, and I tried to hide behind my hair while I murmured, “checkmate.”
Fast-forward a decade. I was finishing college, taking electives, and discovering too late that I should have majored in English in lieu of psychology. Then I met someone in Harry Potter class who changed my life (You read that right. We had an entire class dedicated to the works of J.K. Rowling). My professor sorted us into houses, and a tiny blonde girl ended up sitting next to me. She wore a Gryffindor t-shirt, clutched a keychain collection full of Yoshi figurines, and had absolutely no idea how cute she was. We immediately struck up a conversation covering everything from Phantom of the Opera to Star Wars. At the end of class we exchanged numbers, and she said we should hang out after her shift at GameStop was over.
Forget forensic psychologist. I wanted to be her when I grew up.
The most of attractive thing about her was this: she didn’t need to draw from a jar of pre-generated cliques. She was just pretty, nerdy, and funny, and everyone else was just going to have to deal with it.
So there I am at D&D last night, wondering why we play RPGs. I look up, and as luck would have it, the room is full of boys. There is a momentary flashback and I am 14 again, flustered and shy, pulling my hair in front of my face. Then I smile. I’m here because there’s a part for everyone to play in this game. And if a pre-gen doesn’t fit, you can make a character from scratch all your own. Even the useless NPCs help the story move along. I don’t play RPGs because I need a crutch or because I want to be someone else. I play because I’m me—a lipstick wearing, Batman loving pirate princess with terrible math skills.
Deal with it.
What do you geek out to just to be you?