Sunday, May 6, 2012

Being Honest With Yourself

Yeah, it's been one of those weeks. But the important part is that it's been a real learning experience for me. Humbling, but educational. And to top it all off I have a hell-a-cold. But I've had some significant thoughts ( significant for me anyway--it remains to be seen if it helps anyone else :) and I thought I ought to share them.

What with my concern over offering offense, I contemplated the future direction of my blog quite a bit. I thought about why I felt the need to continually defend or justify my gaming choices and opinions. Perhaps I was trying to convince myself. I also considered that perhaps I was a lot more concerned with what others thought than I might have wanted to admit.

Some time ago I wrote this. It was a bit of a watershed moment for me really, and I was certain that I was headed in bold new directions right after that post. Unfortunately it has taken me a lot longer than I imagined to embrace the concept, and truly understand a little of what it meant. I had realized things about myself and about my gaming that was in some way fundamental, but I really wasn't able to fully admit this.

I realized that I've been doing a lot of gaming based on what others want from me. Not, however based on what I want. I suppose that's because, deep down I'm pretty conflicted about all that.

Back when I was twelve I started with a small gaming group of 3 other guys, and one reluctant Scoutmaster. About a year later, as I entered middle school (7th and 8th grade) my gaming shifted to another group of friends again 3--and I stuck with those guys for years. That second group was to become much more than gaming friends, and though it would grow and shrink from time to time, a core 3 of us stayed pretty constant.

I've often wondered now that we have all gone our separate adult ways, if we were together still what we would be playing now? And would it really matter. Back then there really was only one predominant choice. But now, things are much different. For the first time in gaming history the company with the DnD name is no longer leading the pack. What if those guys embraced Pathfinder? 4e? GURPS? Or something else entirely--would I be playing with them? I'm almost sure I would--the system wouldn't matter all that much.

But now I'm in a much different situation. I'm the not-so-reluctant adult recruiting kids into the school club, and introducing them to this marvelous hobby I love so much. It's a great place to be really. But it's markedly different from being a fellow gaming buddy. Drance mentioned a few days ago, that I really should look for a group of similar aged people with which to game. I agree--I would love that. I've tried three times now, but it has failed each time. I'll admit I kind of quit trying, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't love to see it happen. Finding the right and willing people in our small community has proven difficult to say the least.

But what if they came along? Two or three like minded adult gamers, willing to carve out a couple of days a month for some serious long term gaming; but what if they wanted to play something other than what I want? I think I would be foolish to turn them down. Becuase I also wrote this. Which I think made a fairly good point that it doesn't really matter what we play, it's a lot more important who we game with.

So why the heck does that leave me still longing for the feel of my old gaming days? Just yesterday I wrote to my brother explaining some of how I felt. I think I recapture some of that feeling by saying,

"My foray into Classic D&D has made me wonder if 5e will manage to put something like that together for their core game. I am hopeful that it will. But admit to a sense of loss and nostalgia for what once was. I was looking at some of the old third party books from the late 70's early 80's and it really struck a chord in me. A chord of longing so intense, that even talking about it now it makes my chest ache. It overwhelms me with sadness to think that its gone. I have tried to resurrect it, but it's like trying to redream a sweet dream that you once had. No matter how hard you try when you release yourself to sleep it still escapes you."

Can it be reclaimed? Well, inasmuch as we can never go back in time--no of course not. I will never be 12 again, never play for the first time again never discover Dungeons & Dragons for the first time again. Part of the nostalgia we feel for the "good old days" is encompassed by the fact that it was in the past. But saying that the past is worthless in the present is plain silliness. Part of wisdom is learning from the lessons and virtues taught to us in the past. No, we can't ignore the advantages of the present or the promise of the future. I'm still a trekkie ; ).

But we can embrace a style of gaming that mirrored that in which we gamed long ago. A style that had many virtues to recommend it. A time when rules faded into the background and fantasy came to the fore. A time when we weren't so fixated on system this or core mechanic that, or game design period. We simply played a game that fulfilled all our childhood fantasies and more. So much more. We didn't play D&D because of it's elegant game mechanics--we played it, 'cuz it rawked!

Now, I don't begrudge those who looked at the game at wondered why an elf couldn't be a Druid, or why females were limited in their ability stats, or that the level system seemed a bit contrived, or that the combat system was wonky. Those are the guys who branched out into other games, and many of them set the groundwork for the next generation of games. I guess I wasn't that smart--I just played the hell out of it. To me it was not only the best game on Earth it was the only game on Earth.

So here I am now, still feeling a very strong connection to past methods of gaming, and yet finding myself conflicted over what was lost and what is now. I don't have a bunch of friends all telling me to play game X, Y or Z. It's just me, frustrated with the conflicting desires of a bunch of young gamers who don't always desire what I do. So I try and play what they have wanted and only grow more frustrated. I've been through this with 3.5, with 4e and now with Pathfinder. Am I going to repeat the cycle with 5e? Why do I even let it bother me?

Just play the game you want and let it be. That's what I decided when the year ended. I was blasted if I was going to play something I didn't want to again. Let them play what they will--I was going to play MY game. Problem was I wasn't really sure what my game was. To be honest I was processing all of this just as 5e dawned on the horizon. Would 5e manage to create a system that would allow me to embrace my style of gaming while still pleasing everyone else as well? I realized that WoTC was doing the same thing I had been trying to do myself. Reconcile opposite poles of existence.

As much as their is much wisdom to be gained in seeing the common ground which opposites share, and in the assimilation of the diametric poles of our own existences; I seriously doubt if all things were meant to be so assimilated. Some things are simply meant to be a part. The past the the future shall never meet, nor shall I ever be able to game like I did when I was 12 and just encountering D&D. I am not the same person I was back then, and my experience of the game is now burdened with 31 years of intervening time. But this does not mean that the truths learned way back then have to be discarded. Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax uncovered some powerful magic back in the day. And that magic is worth preserving. We've been playing in it as a fanbase for over 40 years now.

I have heard others make an analogy of music to gaming. Whatever you grew up listening to you, is your "classic" music. For me it is Led Zeppelin, Rush, Black Sabbath, Eagles, Willie Nelson, CCR and the like. I think the analogy can even be extended slightly. Long ago Gary said RPGs are not at all like Art. But I would propose that in a way a similar phenomena has evolved in relation to RPGs and art. Namely that of Art Criticism and that there's no accounting for taste. Ultimately, with music, art, theater, movies, and games there are all sorts of theories describing why a certain work is good or bad. B-movies are notorious for being "bad" yet there are those who absolutely love B-Movies as their ultimate expression for quality entertainment. There's no accounting for taste. his doesn't mean that some people like trash, just that they may like what you don't. Black Velvet Elvis paintings hang in the houses of more people than does Picasso or Van Gogh. Does this mean it's better? I guess that really is in the eye of the beholder. One man's trash is another man's treasure. And you can get all noble and and try and look down your nose at someone's screenplay, thinking it's no On Golden Pond, but it might draw more money than OGP ever did.
Another analogy if you will. I have a good friend whi, while he is very spiritual is not very religious. He and I were talking one day about near death experiences and he quoted one lady who had "crossed over" and come back. She had been allowed to ask several questions, and one of her queries was if there was why there were so many churches? The response she received, is that there are so many churches because there are so many different types of people. Hmmm ...
I'm not here to make religious pronouncements, but as far as it goes I would say the same thing about today's world of an overabundance of RPGs. The one true RPG? The one for you. Be honest with yourself and you'll find it.
I'd be lying if I promised I won't be geeking out over why my chosen style of gaming is better than all the rest at times. I can't help myself. It's sort of like the one we love. As far as I'm concerned my wife is the best, most wonderful person in the entire world. But I'm sure there are lots of other people in love out there who might feel different. Love is funny like that. And we all love RPGs--just some more than others. Expect some different stuff from me in the future, but don't be put off if I geek all over your shoes, because I'm having a love or hate fest here on my little blog.