The idea of role playing is not new as most children practice it almost instinctively, imitating the life of grownups and heroes that they see around them, but it until 1974 it was something most people stopped when they began to reach their teen years.
Then, people who had grown up playing board games that simulated battles from Chess to Battleship to complex miniature reenactments of actual battles decided that combining the playing pretend of childhood and the board games of their teen years should be combined into a new and interesting entertainment, role playing games, called RPGs for short. Wiseman and Stackpole 1991). The games were originally designed to incorporate the strategy of the war games and board games with high fantasy and storytelling. What resulted was a plethora of new game types ranging from high fantasy like Dungeons and Dragons to dark fantasy like Call of Cthulhu and Vampire to dark future like Cyperpunk and Shadowrun.
The games draw from classic literature like H. P. Lovecraft and William Gibson and Bram Stoker. Strangely though, this new genre met with almost immediate displease and attacks. It has been linked unfavorably to suicide, murder and school shootings. On the other hand, educators have argued it is an effective way to teach (Blatner 1995).
Role playing can teach social interaction, higher reasoning skills, and problem solving. Unfortunately, many middle aged people who were out of high school and college by the time the games became popular have missed the point entirely and see only the media driven stereotype of a fringe activity. Therefore, it is imperative that people evaluate the process of role playing themselves and not accept the stereotypes. Role playing engenders social activity and leadership, teaches problem solving and critical thinking skills and provides a health form of escapism. To critically approach role playing, it is important first off to understand the criticisms levied against it. The first widespread attention to the new system came after best-selling fiction author Rona Jaffe wrote a novel entitled, “ Mazes and Monsters”.
The book depicts a college student who plays a game remarkably similar to Dungeons & Dragons, goes more than a bit crazy and ends up a danger to himself and others in the steam-tunnels under his college (Jaffe, 1981). Then, in 1984, it was made into a TV Movie of the Week “ The film was originally entitled “ Dungeons and Dragons” but I suppose CBS wasn’t interested in the slander ; libel charges that would have surely followed its December 28th showing. Mazes and Monsters’ basic plot line (while deviated from on occasion) follows our bosom buddy Robbie (played by an embarrassed Tom Hanks) on a journey from innocent college gaming sessions to a freaked out mental breakdown…” (“ Spooky Librarians” 2007). To add to the hysteria, in 1996, Rod Ferrell, who was 17 at the time, killed a friend’s parents with a crowbar. The other teens involved claimed he was the leader of a vampire cult based on the game “ Vampire: The Masquerade” (Court TV, 2001).
Spiritual leaders decried the games as a tool of Satan and psychologists around the country wondered about the use of fantasy role playing. No actual ties between gaming and violent crime have ever been proven, though it does appear that some people with a history of mental illness may be attracted to the games. The same could be said for many things. What is more clear is that gaming provides a social acitivity for those who otherwise might not be involved in a team actitivity. In a recent issue of “ Pyramid” magazine, author Brian Rogers created an entire dialogue companring role playing games to team sports.
“ We already have a referee, we already have a group of people working together, and we often have a balanced opposition and clear end game (if you can accept that the GM can be both Ref and Opposition, and if you like scenarios with directed goals). ” (Rogers 2007). The point is clear. . For a role playing game to operate effectively, the players must work together to accomplish the goals set forth by the game master, also called the GM.
This is one of the aspects of social development emphasized by the role playing process. In general, each player develops a character that has certain abilities and cannot be good at everything. Therefore, he must be part of a team to overcome the obstacles set forth in the adventure, a simple but mostly correct explanation of the plot of a role playing game (Wiseman and Stackpole, 1995) But there are other ways that role playing provides a social dynamic that can be advantageous. Role playing, generally, breaks down age barriers.
No one in the game is playing themselves anyway so young teens can interact with college students in a way that doesn’t leave college students running away or degrading the younger players. It also teaches those young teens a bit of social responsibility. Games are mutually interdependent and no one likes waiting for someone who shows up late, forgets their game amterials, or simply doesn’t show up at all (Highprogamer, 2007). These basic social niceties can go a long way toward teaching an otherwise socially inept person how to deal with basic societal expectations.
Role playing can also help people with critical thinking and problem solving skills. In general, the role of the game master is to tell a story. He provides a basic outline of the plot and had some idea of the clear objectives that the players must reach in order to achieve that goal, or essentially, to win the game. He will, of course, place obstacles in the players way. In some games, the answer is kill all the bad guys that stand in the way, but in other games, the goal cannot be accomplished without investigating the problem, talking to people about what they know, and sometimes even working with one faction to thwart another.
In historical terms, the best way to think about it is like this: In World War II, the United States had to discuss and work with the Soviet Communists, with whom they had massive political differences, to overcome the greater evil: Nazi Germany. In many game scenarios, the GM places players in a similar conundrum. You could kill everyone who disagrees with you, but sometimes the enemy of my enemy is my temporary ally. Those are the more challenging games. In less cerebral games, the challenge might be getting across a 20 foot pit with 10 feet of a rope and some basic climbing gear.
The idea is to come up with a solution. Generally, the GM will have at least one solution in mind but will also consider other feasible solutions from the player base. Gaming also provides a health form of escapism (Wiseman and Stackpole, 1995). No matter what era or genre of gaming you choose, there is generally a clear black and white, good guys versus bad guys. Sometimes, role players choose to play the bad guys so that they can do things they would never consider doing in real life.
At other times, they choose to be the good guys. Regardless of the choice, the reality is that gaming is generally simple and the worst that happens if you make a bad decision is you spend a little time making a new character (Highprogamer 2007). Unfortunately, even as a teen or college student, life can be very complicated and people need to escape it for awhile. Some do it with fantasy football and some with fantasy role playing but the overall goal is the same: escape real life with its drudgery and pain for a few hours.
Role playing is definitely not for everyone. For people with a history of mental instability, it is a bad choice. For people who are looking for a quick form of entertainment, it is not a good choice. And, for those who are looking for ties to the occult or murderous vampire cults, it is definitely not the right option.
But for people who need or want an outlet for their creativity, who want to be challenged to think of new solutions to old problems and who want to forget real life for a little while, role playing can be a fun and interesting outlet.
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