I have made no secret of my long-running play of tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs). Nor have I made it much of a secret that I am currently playing in an online one, another Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) game, if one using an older rules-set than the current. (It’s still one more familiar to me than the current one; RPGs update, partly to make more money, but games continue despite them.) And, as is common, I have a character in that game, one character whose thoughts and deeds I narrate in reaction to the thoughts and deeds of other players’ narration of their characters and to the overall milieu which has been presented. It is, as Daniel Mackay has described it, extemporaneous, rules-assisted, collaborative storytelling, and I have found it to be great fun across years.
The game I am playing now has me playing a hunter turning clandestine security operative, and it dovetails with a concept I’ve often turned over in my head, playing L5R. There is a group of purportedly elite guards, and it has long occurred to me that they would be in position to be kingmakers or eliminate rising threats, and it has also occurred to me that their internal affairs analogue would be both present and fearsome. The character I am playing now is working towards becoming such, although that work is not going quite so well as I might like it to. (It’s a common thread with me; I’d like most of my work to be going better.)
The thing is, much about the character is at odds with who I am. There is little clandestine about me; I am open, perhaps too much so, and make little effort to hide. Nor am I so committed to causes as I would need to be to be able to act on their behalf; I am timorous in the main, averse to risk more than desirous of reward. I am certainly not an outdoorsy type, preferring air conditioning and indoor plumbing to open skies and tree-leanin’. (I remain Texan, however.) And I am aware that playing a character is, at best, a fleeting and transitory thing; I know better than to think that my experience in the RPG translates in any way to the real world.
I know that much of the allure of RPGs is escapist. That is, they allow players to inhabit other lives for a time, leaving their own behind. And they are or at least try to be fair, which the real world decidedly does not. And perhaps it is that fairness that I look for as I play, that notion that what happens happens not because the system is set against me, but because my own skills and choices, with some random chance at work, have led to such outcomes. I know I feel forces working upon me that I can hardly name and can worse understand, and I do not think I am alone; the idea that I have some control is a welcome one, time and again, at table or in online simulacra of one.