I mentioned in my return from hiatus post on Monday that collaborative storytelling has always been something of a coping mechanism for me in trying times.
Collaborative storytelling… those words just prove I have been quite good in my life as phrasing some rather nerdy things in flowery terms to sell myself to other human beings.
What I really mean, of course… is role-playing.
The Bad Old Days
I still remember the first time I played Dungeons and Dragons. And what a little tit I was at the time. My pre-pubescent idiocy notwithstanding, there was always something of a whiff of the undesirable about role-playing when I was growing up, as it was, of course, considered deeply un-cool or interesting to be involved in games of make-believe.
To a degree, that was almost understandable during the 80’s and 90’s as storytelling hit a new medium with the launch of the video game era. Who wanted or needed dice when you could have the new Ninga-box 9000 with kablamo-vision and advanced intelloronic shot processing!
Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but the 90’s was very like that in terms of pushing new technology at us, and a ton of good came from it. I love video games, and some of the best stories I have ever consumed came in digital format and needed my input to get to their conclusion. Great!
But what role-playing offered then, and still does now, is a complete freedom to tell stories of your own creation. And that was always going to outlast any period of teasing, nerdiness and even the sadly misguided attempts of some religious elements to blame it for poor behavior.
Image is shamelessly taken from Roll20.net, a great place to get into some games. Click here to do just that, I love this site.
The Good Old Days
Role-playing is definitely more widely accepted today. I think we kind of forget, in our modern literate society where literacy across the world is increasing every year, consistently, that telling stories was once quite a niche job and high class thing.
To have gone form the days where you had to wait for traveling minstrels to bring the newest stories to your area for you to listen to, to carrying potentially thousands of books in your pocket now on the latest smart devices… that’s a heck of a legacy.
Our familiarity and access to words is so innate and fundamental, we dont really think about, and thus telling tales has kind of become an accepted and established thing which anyone can potentially do. It means it’s not seen as quite so glamorous anymore, but it does mean more potential for consuming more tales more easily.
And role-playing is a great way to learn the basics of proper story-telling.
When I first started my forays into all this, I knew stories should have a beginning, a middle and an end. There should be a villain or threat, and the hero or heroes should face that threat to ‘win’. Great!
But really good story-telling is much more nuanced than that. I’ve lost track of how many works in progress I’ve seen in the last two years where all of that happens, but the work still felt bad to me. Often, the greatest cause for such I find is that things just happen to the main character, who doesnt insitgate anything themselves, only reacts. That’s very unsatisfying as a reader, and immediately makes it hard to relate to the character.
Other issues I remember encountering include bad guys who seem to be evil just for the sake of being evil. They are plot devices, not people. At the other end of the spectrum, there are good guys who are just too good, without any flaws. Without some personality defect, they don’t feel real, and without some weaknesses, their victories feel meaningless and hollow.
All of these points are things I know I did wrong myself when I was younger and first dipping my toes into the storytelling pool. When I began taking my experience online, I was still in my writing infancy, making similar mistakes. But roleplaying helped me learn all these quiet little rules and tricks, without going to college specifically to learn about them.
Sometimes I wish I had pursued higher education in writing, but that tends to be idle thought about how nice it would have been. Its certainly not any slight against the education I actually got, on the shop floor as it were with other young writers, trying to hang a compelling story together around each other’s ideas… and succeeding.
My best friends are all part of that same internet roleplaying age. My husband came from there too. All of us love writing and stories and the better part of my Tuesday has been spent guiltily away from my main writing projects because I have been asked to run a game of Shadowrun 5th Edition.
I’ve been asked to tell a story, and on saying yes, my friends all got very excited to be part of it. To make characters to clash with my villains and try to unpick the secrets I will be putting together for them. I love how role-playing can have that effect on people, and how I can share part of my head and thoughts with others in such a fun and light-hearted way.
Roleplaying is kind of the best, you guys, and definitely good practice for more formal writing. Long live the nerds!