For those of us with imaginations that become easily immersed in works of fiction, the notion of role playing games fits like a warm blanket. Whereas reading a long story, or even a long series of books, where the story lines follow the many developments of characters, their acquaintances, and their various adventures, can be a highly enjoyable way to “vacation” without actually physically travelling, role playing games can be a way to directly participate in the unfolding tales and adventures that you are not just living within, but creating as you go – through all your interactions with other characters, places, allies and enemies.
There are so many different types of role playing games online – many of which focus on just the high-powered, fast, first-person view of your world, where the object is merely to KILL KILL KILL as many enemies as you can, as quickly as you can, before you are killed. These games sometimes offer the ability to meet and team up with friends, watching each other’s backs as you go on your rampage. Or, more interestingly, go up against whole other groups of people who have allied themselves with one another, and who want nothing more than to kill you, and all your friends.
These are “worlds” where the meekest person can become an agressive killing machine, finding power and dominance over this virtual world he’s participating within. It is fast-paced, action-packed – live or die.
You learn and develop techniques to stay alive, and to kill. You toy with adversaries that are weaker, or less aware of their surroundings. You require perfection of your friends – that you all become single-minded in your approach to situations so the victory of the pack will be assured.
Some people will always take reckless and agressive tactics, gaining a reputation for themselves as fearless and strong. Others develop a silent and deadly stealth.
These are the role playing worlds for the most raw, survivalist, cruel and absolute parts of our psyche. A place where we can become victorious through mindless, yet cunning forces of dominance.
However, other types of RPGs (Role Playing Games) do exist. Ones that allow you to pay much more attention to who it is you want to be, and appear as – how smart you want to be, or how strong – how sturdy or wise – how charismatic. How evil or good, or lawful in your evil, or chaotic in your good – how, with the elf blood flowing in your veins, you are able to see much better than others in the dark places, and how, being a smaller, dexterous halfling, you are much better at hiding in the shadows, or stealing a needed key.
In these more subtle and rich worlds, you gain experience with each of your encounters. You learn to use a longsword, grow stronger, and are able to fight much better with it. Or you find new spells along your adventures, and with your growing knowledge, the spells you know become more powerful.
When adventuring with friends, you mix your strengths and weaknesses. The strong fighters move out front, taking the brunt of an onslaught, while a sorceress stays in the back, protected from attack so she can work her magics on the enemies, while the clerics fight when necessary, and call in the powers of the divine to aid in battle, or heal the wounded.
Online gaming has become extraordinarily diverse – and complex. It allows you to assume a character, “become” it, and interact with others in a completely fictitional world. It is very interesting to see how people react – what becomes important to them, how they feel about helping or hurting or taking or giving. In many ways, it allows people to explore a life that they will never lead, but somehow still, can live.
And I think that not all of what is experienced within these worlds remains just there. Real or not, these are experiences. And like all experiences, we learn and we grow from them.
In our “real” world where everything is so defined – our roles that become a solidification of the definitions we have for ourselves, or others lay upon us – how nice it can be to sometimes just utterly destroy or overcome an obstacle. Or even moreso, how wonderful it can be to have the capacity to offer a great act of pure kindness to another.
Even though it is not real.