This is another piece that has been knocking around in my head for a long time. I know it’s not the most unique title, but I couldn’t find an adjective that encompassed everything I want to talk about. Neither “emotional” not “psychological” quite conveyed what I meant – so I just left it. Pretend the vague and slightly sensationalist title is intentional click-bait.
LARPs and tabletops have had a tremendous effect the lives of their players. Everything from our social lives to our creative endeavors are influenced and impacted by our involvement in the community. The physical impact of games is fairly self explanatory. We write games. There is physical or at least digital proof of the effort. We play games. Any one of us could talk your ear off for hours with stories of the games we’ve played. We go to cons, and run games there. There are entire cons devoted to gaming. – What is harder to see is the emotional and mental impact that games have on writers and players.
Games are sometimes trivialized as these fantastical worlds where you can play hero. You’ve always wanted to be a superhero? There are systems to play that. You want to work magic? There are more systems than I could count for that. And its true that games can serve to fulfill these fantasies in some way. But games offer a lot more than just black and white stories of heroes saving the world from the big bad.
Players in games are faced with situations that they have never faced in real life, and probably never will. They role-play characters sometimes very different from themselves, be it in their upbringing, or their current situation, or fundamental morality, or what they want out of life. Whether for just a few hours, or a few hours a week for years, players step into someone else’s shoes, get into someone else’s head, and live someone else’s life. This builds empathy. Especially if the experience isn’t wholly enjoyable, players learn from their characters.
This might sound weird. Why would you play something that isn’t fun? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? But there is so much more to LARPs and tabletops than just the fun of instant gratification. There is enjoyment to be had in power trips, even if they end poorly for your character. There is satisfaction in lying, cheating and stealing to survive in a world that is trying grind you to dust under the boot of banality. There is beauty in the tragedy of a character with a inescapable dark fate. There is exhilaration in the novelty of tumultuous social and political standing. And like we say in LARPs, the real winners are the ones who end up with a great story.