Sorry to be so late this morning. I'm still recovering from Dane's company's holiday office party and a post-party party,* and well... I like to go over the previous posts to see if there's anything needing a response. This needs to be repeated: y'all are a wonderful community--intelligent, engaging, and fun.** Thanks for making me feel so at home. [pause] I mean 'at home' in a good way, of course. Be warned. I'm still drinking my morning coffee. (Tea is for snuggling up with later in the day, see.***) Anyway, today I wanted to chat about something less weighty. Let's start, shall we?
Hi. My name is Stina, and I'm a habitual pen and paper RPG gamer. Specifically, Dungeons and Dragons. I was hooked [cough] I mean... I started playing a very long time ago. I ran a D&D group (as the DM) for sixteen years. (Nine years with a four year break and then seven years. Consecutively and with the same set of players.) I've said this before but running a campaign for that long taught me a great deal about writing, but role-playing has also taught me a great deal about gender culture and life in general. That isn't shocking information in this crowd, I'm thinking. However, I remember being asked repeatedly (back in the day) why I would spend so much of my time at an imaginary activity? Me, I see pen and paper role-playing, like reading, as an important means of experience expansion.**** The social sciences have employed role-playing as a tool for a very long time.
Regarding writing, RPGs taught me a great deal about story pacing, characters, and dialog. When you have immediate feedback from players, it's easy to see when you're boring them. They start chatting with one another. They text their friends. You can see by their expressions whether or not you've got their attention. I think it's a good thing for all writers to experience. RPGs are a great place to experiment with characters too. Paul's question from yesterday about how much of an anti-hero can we get away with before you lose your audience? You can get a pretty good idea from an RPG group. Mind you, the test audience will have a bias, but it does help. As for dialog, writers need to be observant people. Listening to how real people speak is the best way to learn about dialog. If you get a chance to observe a group that really gets into the role-playing aspects of the game, I highly recommend it. You can catch non-verbal cues between their actual personality and the one they've assumed. You can do this with theater and film too, but it's far better if you actually know the person. I tend to watch poker players for similar reasons. It's fascinating.
RPGs were vital in teaching me life lessons too. Like one of the greeting cards currently tacked to my office wall says: Before you criticize someone you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away, and you have their shoes.
At the risk of sounding like a Monty Python old person (cue the shoebox in the middle of the road quotes now) -- when I started playing D&D there weren't many women who played RPGs, let alone DM'd. I had to be twice as tough on my players as male DMs were in order to get respect from male players. (When I think about it, this is why I was so damned rough on Liam. It's how I was trained to tell stories.) Once I got their attention, I learned right away that I had to portray convincing male characters. This came with it's own set of deeper issues that I'm likely to get into here, but it did have the advantage of teaching me a lot of finer points regarding the cultural differences between white straight males and white straight females. People respond to you differently when you present yourself as male versus female. Beyond the obvious reasons there are a million subtle things I can't even begin to describe. While we have many things in common, Male is a very different head space than female. One isn't better than the other. It's just different. Role-playing male NPCs brought all sorts amazing new insights when female players finally joined the group. To this day, I feel my relationship with my husband is a lot smoother because I have a certain understanding about the male experience. He likes to say that I've earned a "man badge." (I wish men could earn a "woman badge." I think it'd be an eye-opening experience.) Interesting thing? I started actually playing (instead of running) a D&D group and one of the male players who knows me from my DMing days has a hell of a time remembering that the character I'm playing is male. I find that confusing since he definitely didn't have that trouble when I was wearing my DM hat. There have been times when I've become frustrated with his unspoken assumptions regarding my character's competency--something he'd have never done when I was a DM.
Lastly, I mentioned in one of my replies on an earlier post that I'm a basically shy person. Again, most writers are introverts. You kind of have to be on a certain level. Writing is a solitary profession. You probably won't believe this but I used to be so frightened of strangers that I found it difficult to call a shop and ask for their hours of operation. Answering the phone was scary. (I was bullied as a kid, but a lot of kids are.) As a result, I had an image of myself as a cowardly and weak person. D&D totally changed that. My first DM emphasized that in RPGs you could be whatever hero-type you wanted to be. So, my first character was a fighter-mage.***** Over the course of that game I came to discover that courage wasn't about not being afraid. Courage was about being afraid but doing what you had to anyway. It was a huge lesson for me--life-changing, in fact, and if there's one thing I'd thank Gary Gygax and company for, it's that.
I bet I'm not the only one.
* Too much whiskey was consumed. I won't say by whom. Ahem.
** No shit. I know. This is Charlie's blog, and 'like attracts like' as they say.
*** I love tea. I've an enormous collection of tea, vintage tea cups, tea spoons, and a number of tea pots.
**** I'm making a distinction between pen and paper RPGs and computer RPGs here because in pen and paper RPGs you have actual other people present. Computer games are just as fun and valuable but for other reasons.
***** I've played nothing but fighter classes ever since. Paladins are my favorite at the moment. Before that it was Rangers.