Know what? He's absolutely right! So much time and
effort is made in defense of gaming that could be better spent on the
best defense of all: a good offense. So, with thanks to Steven, here is
a primer on What Games Are:
Roleplaying games are educational.
For some time now, educators have been using games
to teach. The educational possiblilties in both RPGs and CCGs are
numerous; possibly even too numerous to mention here. David Millians, a
teacher from Atlanta, Georgia, uses a simple set of live-action
roleplaying rules to allow his students to not only learn history, but
live it as well. Likewise, roleplaying can teach History, Geography,
Current Events, Theology, or many other subjects.
Jeff Brain, a teacher from San Francisco, uses Magic: The Gathering
cards to teach a number of lessons: database management (in which
children build a computer database of a collection of cards organized
by various criteria), statistics, even mythology.
But you don't need an educator to learn something
from a game. By themselves, without an instructor, RPGs and CCGs can
educate someone without them even knowing it.
Take the Generic Universal Role-Playing System
(GURPS), for example. Created by Steve Jackson Games, this system is
designed to accomidate any type of role-play, from historical to high
fantasy to superheroes to sci-fi.
In this system, a character is created by spending
points rather than rolling dice. A specific amount of points are
assigned to a player, who then begins to spend them on character
attributes. Commonly, this number is 100, but if a "heroic" character
is being made (such as a superhero or other powerful character), the
starting number can be considerably higher. Already, a lesson in
proportions is being taught.
As the player spends points on attributes
(Strength, Dexterity, Health, and Intelligence), skills (such as Pilot
Vehicle or Chemistry), and advantages (like Luck, or Nerves of Steel),
their remaining points dwindle. The player can (and usually does)
purchase disadvantages (such as a phobia, poor eyesight, or a social
stigma) to offset the cost of the purchases, or to gain more points to
spend on other things. As accounting goes, it is simplistic, but it
establishes some of the basic concepts.
The Gathering, the card game that has taken the world by
storm, has an important lesson in income management hidden in it's
play. In the game, a player uses land cards (forests, islands,
mountains, plains, and swamps, as well as others) to generate mana,
which is then used to bring other cards into play. Players can
(usually) only play one of these land cards per turn, so the resources
that are available escalate as play progresses. The player must
carefully judge which cards to bring into play, based on their cost in
mana, how useful the cards will be in the continuing rounds of the
game, and how likely it will be that the opponent will counteract the
play. In that decision, the player must also judge how much mana to
leave free for other possible plays, since it is possible in Magic to
play cards during your opponent's turn. The ability to budget oneself
is crucial among the skills of a Magic player.
Roleplaying games are developmental.
Role-playing games require much in the way of
reading; rules are written in books, after all. At it's absolute
minimum, a person playing an RPG must at least read enough information
to be able to create a character. Someone choosing to referee a game
must do a great amount of reading; game rules, setting, history,
backstory, plot, character histories and descriptions, all of these
must be read before a game can be properly played. It helps a lot if
some of the basic facts are memorized, as well. All of this reading and
rote memorization is exercise for the mind.
|Gamers from Oklahoma enjoy a bit
of unspeakable horror with a session of the Call of Cthulhu
RPG. From left: Dave, Rob (GM), James, Aaron, and Cole. Not pictured:
Jason, who was taking the photo. (Click
photo to enlarge.)
RPGs can also involve a bit of writing to go along
with all of the reading. Many players write their own character history
and background, to help flesh out the persona that they are portraying.
A referee who decides to write his own adventure must create a setting,
plot, and characters at the very least, and usually ends up getting
rather involved in writing an enjoyable story. In both cases, not only
are writing skills being developed, but creative ones are as well. More
exercise for the mind.
Then, there's math. While there is little in the
way of geometry or triginometry in the content of the average game,
there is an awful lot of basic math, and it is often used in rapid-fire
situations, such as combat. Modifiers to die rolls are added and
subtracted until a final target number is reached; percentages of
numbers are calculated to determine a number that, if rolled on the
die, dictates a critical success or failure; points are subtracted from
a pool and added to abilities or skills as a character is being made.
These are but a few examples.
While it only applies to certain games, the
subject of mapmaking bears mentioning. Often, a game will take place in
an area where a map is necessary for the players to get a clear idea of
their characters' surroundings. This is usually done on some graph
paper, and works best when the referee dictates the directions and
dimensions to one of the players who is acting as the mapmaker. This
type of activity builds a unique skill that not many can hold claim to.
Roleplaying games are social.
There are no gaming "loners" or "outcasts."
Role-playing and collectible card games are played with other gamers.
While there can be solitare versions of both, they are rare in the case
of RPGs, and extremely so in the case of CCGs.
In a typical role-playing game, the participants
are usually working together to achieve some kind of goal. During the
acquisition of that goal, the players may also compete for resources on
behalf of their characters; wealth, fame, and reputation, to name a
few. The more concrete of these resources are often split up among the
characters. Commonly, there is also the concept of "experience points,"
which are handed out by the referee to the players as a reward for
achieving certain goals, and for exceptional feats of role-playing or
storytelling. Therefore, the most common practice of role-playing
combines an intricate mix of cooperation and competition.
This means that people are playing as a group,
working as a team, and even competing against each other to achieve a
specific goal. While doing so, they are building real-life
relationships to accompany their in-game ones. New friends are made,
and old friendships are strenghtened.
In a typical collectible card game, the
participants are competing directly with each other, although there are
many situations in which players can cooperate to defeat other players
or achieve certain goals. As mentioned above, it is very rare to find a
set of solitare rules for a collectible card game.
The gaming convention takes socializing to a whole
new level. There, gamers flock to play games, buy new releases in
advance, and meet some of their favorite celebrities, both gaming and
otherwise. A good-sized con attracts thousands of people, who sign up
for games, often weeks ahead of time. There, they are matched up with
other players who are interested in the same games, and play with them.
In the case of RPGs, these tournaments often have several rounds; when
a player advances to the next round, he often ends up playing with an
entirely new group of people. CCGs are played similarly, with the
player going head-to-head with a new opponent at each turn.
Roleplaying games are fun.
|Wollongong, Austrailia - Alan
Saunders and his son Cei, along with mom Catherine and daughter Maya
(not pictured) play 3:16
Carnage Amongst the Stars. (Click
photo to enlarge or see the original here.)
The best part of the adventure gaming hobby is the
variety of choices that are available... We're not just stuck with Dungeons & Dragons
anymore (not that there's anything wrong with a good game of D&D, of
If high fantasy is your fancy, you can find many
on the market besides D&D... there's Ars Magica, Middle Earth
Role-Playing, Earthdawn, Elric!, Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play,
and the Palladium
Fantasy RPG as well.
For those interested in "hard" science fiction,
which has recently (as of this writing) been revived under the GURPS
system. For the "soft" sci-fi, there's Star Wars, Alternity, Trinity,
and many more.
Horror fans can find something to frighten them
with Chill, Call of
Cthulhu, Kult, or many of the World of Darkness
settings. The benefit of many of the horror games is that they take
place in a contemporary setting, which makes playing a role a lit
easier for those of us who live in the present day.
Fans of comic-book or anime style adventures can
find solace in Champions,
Truth and Justice, Mutants & Masterminds, GURPS Supers, Big
Eyes Small Mouth, or the games based on the Bubblegum Crisis
and Sailor Moon
If your tastes run to the unusual, you can try
many of the "hybrid" settings that have become popular. Shadowrun mixes
high fantasy with cyberpunk, with troll computer hackers, elven street
mages, and dragons that run for public office. Deadlands mixes
horror with the wild west; it's sequel, Hell On Earth takes
the setting over two hundred years into it's future, for a mixture of
horror, wild west, and Mad Max! Or, you can make your own alternative
setting; take two or three GURPS
books off of the shelf and turn them into a genre... Aztecs, Dinosaurs,
and Space, anyone?
For historical settings, you can head right back
to good old D&D.
TSR once released a series of sourcebooks for playing in different
parts of history; Vikings and Charlemagne's Paladins come instantly to
mind. The World of
Darkness setting also has a series of historical
sourcebooks... you can play Vampire or Werewolf in the
Dark Ages, Werewolf
in the Wild West, Mage
in the Renaissance, or Wraith
during the Great War.
All of this variety comes at a fair price as well.
While you can easily go overboard and spend your whole paycheck on
gaming books, it is possible to run many an adventure using only a few
core books, at around twenty to forty dollars each. Considering that a
gaming campaign can last several weeks to several months, that's a very
cost-efficient entertainment purchase.
Roleplaying games are educational:
Used to teach many lessons in the classroom
Basic concepts of strategy, accounting, budgeting and mapmaking are
taught in everyday play
Roleplaying games are developmental:
Reading skills developed with reading rule books
Memory skills developed with memorization of rules and background
Writing skills developed with writing character backgrounds and
Basic math skills developed with many in-game calculations
Roleplaying games are social:
All require fellow players or opponents
Contain both cooperation and competition
Conventions encourage strangers to get together and play
Roleplaying games are fun:
Wide variety of settings and genres
Hours of entertainment with minimal expense