Monday, December 5, 2011

Out of the Cave

Man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
- William Blake

It’s pretty easy to get tunnel vision while playing in or preparing for an RPG session. We are constrained in various ways by the rules we choose, the story to be told, the clichés of genre that dictate the common language of fantasy, or whatever milieu we may have selected for our game. We sit in our caves and draw upon the walls with chalk and charcoal, telling stories by firelight. But there is a whole world of gaming out there. A million caves where a million tales are being told. And, like the million monkeys with their million typewriters, a few Shakespearean epics are being written.

Whether it is a plot, or a rule system. An ideal game mechanic, or the most satisfying narrative twist. It is out there waiting to be discovered if we are open to it. One of my art teachers in college, Richie Kehl always urged us to look at stuff with a naive, or innocent eye. One of my favorite experiences in his class was a multi-hour barrage of imagery shown so fast, you were soon unable to put names to what you were seeing, and saw only shape and color. Looking at games and game rules in a similar way requires some significant effort. Acquiring and reading game rules is a labor of obsessive love. I would be the first to admit I don’t really have the patience for it. But I’m slowly doing it anyway. Because I’m curious, after decades of gaming, about what else is out there. Beyond my cave.

Over the last few years I’ve gotten active in my local RPG community, and online, to connect with others via a hobby that I’ve found entertaining and fulfilling since I first discovered it. That the hobby still holds me in its spell is testament to the power of gaming. But I returned to gaming with renewed fervor a few years ago when I found that I was becoming isolated and sad. I was looking for a cooperative social outlet (and wasn’t working at a daily job.) I missed being part of a team. It has been a rich and rewarding experience. I’ve been more experimental in my gaming, and willing to game with people I didn’t know. I’ve learned new games and met new people.

I’ve always kept myself open for surprises. I don’t plot and plan.
-Steven Spielberg

As I’ve played more, I’ve tried to be more open to change. I’ve honed my session notes to a few pages, and try to listen to my players for cues on where the game should go. When playing I’ve tried to add creatively to the worlds I’ve been invited to explore, helping the GM define the place (and hopefully making it richer for everyone involved.) When creating characters, I’m not usually going to spend as much time on the mechanics of how, as I am the mysteries of why. But I’m open to discovering the answers to those mysteries in the run of play.

So now I find myself thrown back into the world of 9-to-5 work. Gaming, instead of being the core cooperative experience of my week, is a luxury. An option. I’m really enjoying the work. (I had the odd experience last week of putting in a full day, then racing to my FLGS for the weekly D&D Encounters  session. I enjoyed both in equal measure, for entirely different reasons.)

Life is something that, to a certain extent, can’t really be plotted or planned. You surf the wave of experiences and sometimes you lose your balance, sometimes you wipeout, and sometimes you hang ten and rip it all up. The wave’s a little different today. I’m fighting for balance, and looking ahead to see what opportunities might present themselves. I’m trying to remain open for surprises, to keep an innocent eye on what I see.

How does your gaming fit into your life, and what priority to give it?


  1. Gaming is one of my very few hobbies and one of my primary sources of entertainment - certainly the most satisfying.

    It factors regularly into my week to one degree or another, from small posts for a PBeM, to planning out a coming encounter setting, or running a weekly game.

    Games are pre-planned and organized, so they do not get trumped by anything other than personal emergencies, family needs, or work.

  2. I started really gaming only about a year ago when we joined our gaming club. I’d been heavily into work and school and Patrick felt that I needed a more social hobby than just reading. All I’ve had to do is make some room for it by decreasing my reading and giving up practically every Saturday for gaming. It’s okay though because I enjoy creativity and that creativity had disappeared in my thirties when I had no real outlet. Gaming gives me that opportunity and I find that talent coming back full force in other ways. And, best of all, the games are not dependent on every single person showing up so there’s no guilt if you have other plans!

    But it is a hobby, not a priority. The flip side of that question is how much gaming is too much gaming? I do worry about Gamers who make gaming their life and I’ve encountered quite a few in the last year. Gaming IS their social circle, it’s their means of avoiding a whole host of problems in their lives. It’s easy to do when you can live a pretend life. I have lots of examples, but to keep it short, let’s just it’s too easy to get sucked in to a fantasy world. But this is not limited to LARP or tabletop players. Patrick’s Call of Duty clan leader is a young woman who plays about 30 to 40 hours per week. That’s way too much I think. These things are not reality and they don’t make distress in your life go away. There has to be a balance for the mind and body to be healthy.

    (And BTW I agree that sometimes you wipe-out on life, but that’s when you get up and try again! :o)