Here’s another one of those things that crop up every now and again that, while I’m sort of obligated to cover them, I’m a bit out of my depth and don’t really have any business talking about them.
I never played tabletop RPGs growing up. To this day, I have still never touched a tabletop RPG. Actually, I’m not even entirely certain *how* you play tabletop RPGs, though I have a basic, functional understanding of what they are and what they do, mostly through tracing the lineage of video game RPGs and because my work and interests mean I tend to rub elbows with Nerd Culture with some amount of frequency. But the fact remains that this is still something wholly and entirely outside of the wheelhouse of my personal experience. I’ll freely admit I don’t “get” these and never have.
From what I can gather, the primary draw of these types of things is that they’re a form of generative storytelling set in a shared and recognisable universe, and that I *definitely* understand. I think I’ve always been some kind of natural-born performer, and when I was a kid one of the things my friends and I liked to do was pretend that we were our favourite characters and act out our own imaginary stories in the backyard. We would play it as almost a sort of writer’s jam session, coming up with a basic prompt and then just sort of freewheeling it from there: Somebody would randomly shout out some big plot twist, and we would all have to immediately deliver a reaction based on what we understood of our character and how we thought he or she would react-Thinking back on it, it was basically a crude version of improv theatre, considering we were basically actors ad-libbing the entire play. I would guess more or less every kid did some version of this when they were young, though I don’t know how many of them privileged the freeform improvisation aspects of the game to the extent we did.
But it’s this very experience that makes it difficult for me to completely *get* tabletop RPGs. To me, they just look too complicated: You’ve got a weighty tome (sometimes several) with all kinds of tables, charts and statistics that’s supposed mathematically define every single little bit of worldbuilding, which strikes me as running contrary to the generative anarchism of the experience. My regular issues about reducing culture, personality and human behaviour down to numbers aside, it’s forcing what to me seems like an unnecessary structural middleman onto the instinctual compulsion of writing stories. Although, I suppose I *can* see how basing your actions and plot twists around die rolls or playing cards or whatever might be preferable to hinging everything on the whims of your friends, who might suddenly decide to sink the ship or call in a massive Borg invasion fleet or something.
Another thing I never really understood about these games is that, from my admittedly paltry and limited experience with them, they seem to emphasize the world-building minutiae more than the characters: The books I’ve skimmed all talk about building characters from the ground up around pre-existing narrative roles, skillsets and character classes, and while that makes sense for something like Dungeons and Dragons I can’t see it working at all with a property like Star Trek.…