Below are two articles that look at the subject or role play from different angles. Comments will be welcome especially from any that have had first hand experience.
An overview by Daniel Thomas
Though I can in no way claim to be an expert on role-playing games (RPGs), I do have experience at playing them; and can therefore provide an insiders view on the subject.
Many of the books written about these games are almost fanatically negative. While there is some basis for this hysteria, there is a much larger area of role-playing which is the opposite of that which most fear in these games. The obviously dangerous mistakes made by the creators of Dungeons and Dragons and other early RPGs have been carefully screened out in most, if not all, of the games popular with the youth of today.
A company named White Wolf created one of the more favoured RPG systems I have come across. This company’s main role-playing titles include; “Vampire: The Masquerade,” “Werewolf: The Apocalypse,” “Mage: The Ascension” and “Changeling: The Dreaming.” In the basic rulebooks for all of the White Wolf games you will find a set of “do’s and don’ts” which both players and storytellers alike must follow if the game is to run smoothly and safely. Most of these rules are little more than common sense. For example, “no weapons. Real or fake.” In my time as a role-play Games Master (GM) I have been asked by players why I rigidly apply this rule, and others, to my games. It is simple; children playing with toy swords may bruise each other and adults wielding plastic or wooden swords can do each other serious damage.
In the above listed games, the players take on the roles of the persons named, therefore becoming, for a short time, a vampire, werewolf, mage or changeling. This may seem to be cause for alarm; however, everything that takes place within the game is governed by a tight set of rules and a good set of ten-sided dice. Players are given a character sheet upon which they will find their character has been rated in physical prowess, social ability and mental power (called Attributes) on a scale of one to five. Innate talents, perfected skills and learnt knowledge (called Abilities) are also rated in the same manner. Once all is in readiness, the story unfolds not unlike a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ book. The players, and their characters, are presented with situations with which they must deal, and the outcome is determined by their subsequent choices and the result of the necessary dice role.
For example, a player decides the use of one of their character’s abilities would aid the group at this time. The player states what they would like their character to do and locates the appropriate pairing of Attributes and Abilities. Their character’s potential for this task is defined by their combined Attribute and Ability ratings. The GM will set a difficulty rating (1-10) for the task and a number of ten-sided dice equal to the character’s potential is rolled. The number of dice, which show a number equal to or higher than the difficulty rating, defines their success in this task. This is the method used to determine all actions within the White Wolf gaming system.
In other gaming systems, the methods will differ. One thing though remains constant throughout all modern RPGs, imagination is the primary, and in some cases, the only tool required for the game to go on. Those who lack it, or refuse to fully use it, are rarely comfortable around role-play games. From what I have experienced of role-play games, they are nothing more or less than exercise for the imagination. There are those who take things a little too far, and cause problem for the rest, but on the whole, RPGs and role-players themselves, are not evil. If you remember that it is only a game, it is so much easier to deal with and you will have so much more fun.
An Insight by Vincent Thomas
What is it? Anyone who has ever played Cops ‘n Robbers, or Cowboys and Indians as a child has role-played. For that afternoon, your imagination casts you in spontaneous roles that seemed to create the story as it went along. It was driven by purest fantasy, evolving as you played, and then ending in a dramatic shoot out, or when you got bored and had to go home. Role-playing games have a few necessary differences, but are essentially glorified Cops ‘n Robbers. Rules have been incorporated in order to prevent the “Bang! Your dead!” “No I’m not!” argument, and to help define each character’s strengths and weaknesses. In addition, one of the players must take on the role of storyteller. Rather than taking on a character, the storyteller creates and guides the stories. It is a careful balance between narration and adjudication, between story and game. Sometimes he or she must set the scene, or describe what occurs, but mostly must decide what occurs in reaction to the words and actions of the characters – as realistically, impartially and creatively as he or she possibly can. – Paraphrased from the introduction to role-playing in White Wolf’s game; Vampire the Masquerade.
Who am I? My name is Vincent Thomas and I am a born-again evangelical Christian. I believe that the love of God means that we can be saved through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Who am I? My name is Vincent Thomas and I am a storyteller for several different role-playing games. I have been involved in the pastime for over three years, and I find it challenges my imagination and my intellect every time I play. I am the weaver of dreams, whilst my friends are the players in the game. As with other things in my life, I have had to reconcile the role-playing with my faith. This has led me to several conclusions, which may be worth considering if you are a player in the game, or a concerned parent.
To role-play, or not to role-play? That is the question. Firstly, there is a simple test to see how healthy your role-playing is. This can be used to judge almost any pastime, and involves putting the game into the full context of your life. How important is it when compared to the other things in your life? Do you spend hours in deep consideration of what your character should do next? When you are with your friends, do you talk about real things, or simply relive old adventures in role-play land? Do you live life to its fullest or just look forward to your next role-playing session? Finally, and this one may be a little scary to some people, if your favourite character died tomorrow, would you cry for a week?
Role-playing, whether you are a Christian or not, should be something you do to pass the time, to relax and unwind. Just like any pastime, it can begin to take up a little more than just a couple of hours on the weekend, and that’s when you should take a big step back – and take control.
Secondly, the nature of role-playing itself carries with it certain hidden dangers. In the case of Hamlet, if the actor’s performance is to be powerful he has to get into the part. You hear about method actors who totally engross themselves in their character, sometimes to the point at which, whilst on the set or in the theatre, they are the character. You cannot even talk to them without being marched off to a nunnery. When after interviewed about their performance they talk about how it changed their lives, and helped them discover more about themselves. Then others can turn it on at a moment’s notice. One minute they are having coffee, the next it is a duel to the bloody end. At the end of the scene, they can snap right back out of it again with a laugh and a giggle.
When role-playing you take on a character. For a time you are a vampire, or a werewolf, a Jedi knight, a Barbarian, a wizard, a man in black…etc., the list is endless. These characters should be taken on in a spirit of fun and gamesmanship, which means that upon the conclusion of the game you snap back out of it, and stop playing. The thing to remember is that, it is only a game. A bit like Monopoly only more fun!
The danger occurs when the distinction between reality and fantasy becomes blurred. It happens far quicker, and easier, than you might think. Firstly, you create your character from a blank sheet of paper, then slowly watch it grow into an emotional creature with the goals, dreams and attitudes that you have given it. Furthermore, you are the animator of your creation. It breathes only when you breathe, it speaks only when you speak, and it says only the words you utter. It is a part of you.
Secondly, your character exists in a world that is far more fantastic than your wildest dreams. He is more confident than you are, more independent than you are, and has a life filled with excitement and adventure. He has to, otherwise there would be no incentive to play the game. This combination allows each player to explore and discover new things about themselves through the character that they play. This can bring the shy out of themselves, and help with interpersonal communication skills. They can draw on the strong characteristics of the character they play and use them in their own personal development.
However, your characters are not saints, or angels. In fact, there is a big drive in role-playing, to play the anti-hero. You could be learning from, and drawing on, the strong characteristics of anything from a Barbarian to a Jedi knight. The Barbarian rejoices in murder, and the Jedi knight works tirelessly to hone his occult magical skills. As Christians, God should be the centre of our lives, with Jesus as our example. That is where all the real power is to effect our lives.
Taken to a deeper, extreme level, you may begin to aspire to your character’s personality, lifestyle and very existence. Moreover, you feel so close to it. As I wrote earlier, you have created him, and fed him, until he became all that he is now. No one knows him better than you do. How hard would it be, to be him instead of you? The excitement of role-playing all the time, only it is real! This is when role-playing is at its most dangerous. You can lose yourself in your character to such an extent that you forget who you really are. The problem, with this, is that role-playing is staged and controlled by the storyteller and, more often than not, there is a happy ending. However, real life just is not like that and by the time the fantasy comes crashing around you its too late, and everything you were before is confused.
The ways that role-playing can shape and change character for better or worse is hard to define. In many cases, you have to have been there, and experienced it, to know what it is all about. Personally, I have had my own problems, to which my closest friends will testify. There was once a character of mine called Damien Kane. He was a vampire, with an aura, romance and power about him. He was manipulative, arrogant, selfish and angry. To him the world was his to play with, and anyone who stood in his way was about to have a bad day. At the time he was everything I wanted to be, and I began to emulate the character I played. It was only after a few of my friends told me to pack it in that I even realised I was doing it! By which time half of them hated me. I count this as having been a lucky escape.
Finally, there is one other danger with role-playing that is not so hidden, or hard to define. It concerns the thought processes of the player. When you are engrossed in a good story you do not even stop to think about the atrocities you commit in the game. As vampires, we would kill the innocent on merely a whim, drinking their blood and devouring their bodies. Deciding how to go about it was half the fun. Any imaginable action can be role-played in the theatre of the mind and yet, because it is not real, it seems okay. The storyteller can put a lid on the exploration of certain actions, but only if he wants to. Otherwise, the players are free to do anything they like without fear of reprisals. After looking into it, a family forum of the Christian Life Ministries came up with the following definition of Dungeons and Dragons.
“…teaching on demonology, witchcraft, voodoo, murder, rape, blasphemy, suicide, assassination, insanity, sex perversion, homosexuality, prostitution, Satan worship, gambling, Jungian psychology, barbarism, cannibalism, sadism, desecration, demon summoning, necromantics and divination.”
Now, whilst there can be no doubt that they slightly over-reacted, you do see my point. As Christians, are these the sort of activities that we should spend time acting out in fantasy?
Researching this article, and collating my thoughts and beliefs on the subject, has finally made me face up to them. When I started writing I was a storyteller for several role-playing games – but not any more. Now I am a Christian with a clearer conscience, and more time to spend in the real world with my God, my family and my friends. It is my belief that role-playing can be played without getting too deep, without it becoming addictive, and possibly even without the unsavoury thoughts. The only problem is that it would not be any fun. Why play with fire if it is not any fun?