29 June 2011

Before I had game controllers, I had imagination

I had this idea for a shirt the other day.  A picture of a game controller with the words, "Before I had this" above it and the words, "I had imagination" followed by several dice (d20s, d10s, d4s... non-sixers, basically).  Because that's the way I feel about gaming.

My mind usually takes a tortuously weird route to get to places.  For this one, it all started with seeing a castle-like store front and remembering one of my local game stores, The Game Keep. And that had me remember a conversation I had with the owner after he hung up from an incoming call.  The caller wanted to know if they carried X-Box games.  And he had to  explain to them that no, that's not the kind of gaming this store is about.  He told me there are regularly calls or visitors seeing the word "Game" and thinking that meant computer/console/portable games.  Role-playing and board games were foreign concepts to them.

And it saddens me to realize how true it is for so many people.  When I look up "gamer" on various social websites, I find people dedicated to playing X-Box or PC or DS or any other electronic game out there.  Dice and character sheets are never mentioned.  If I don't realize that those are the kinds of games they are talking about and ask which system people prefer, I hear debates on X-Box vs PS3 vs Wii rather than the merits of D&D 4th ed over GURPS instead.  Independent games?  What are those?

Don't get me wrong.  I love my computer games as much as the next person.  I'm currently heavily embroiled in a game of Puzzle Quest Gallactrix on my DS, have far too many Facebook games for my limited amount of time and am looking forward to kicking my nephews butt in Smash Bros Melee on the Gamecube over the next week.  Computer games are a great way for me to wind down and relax.  But they don't get my imagination running.  They have a set story line or a specific purpose for the game and you can't throw a monkey wrench into the game designers plans.  You can't bring your characters in directions that surprise you and everyone around you.  You wait, breath drawn in, for the clatter of dice to stop rolling on the table to see if you were successful in your attempt to steal the crown jewels or not.  You can't use your imagination.

I didn't start role-playing until college, when one of my friends introduced me to GURPS. I played a psi character based on me.  And I loved her.  She was rough... very rough.  I didn't know as much about creating a character in those days.  But she was also a lot of fun, sending out a mental broadcast to all Supers in the area to come to the recruiter for the government Supers (played by my friend Jake) so I could get away from him and ending up having a three day building party.  (I rolled pretty good on that one.)  We played a fantasy game where I was a mage that loved the death touch spell a little too much.  We played a Bureau 13 game.  In short, we played anything and everything, letting only our imagination limit us.

With the advent of the internet, most of my gaming is online now.  I've played on message boards and played through e-mail.  I've made friends with people halfway around the world.  I've practiced my writing and stretched my imagination.  Because I never know what will be thrown at me next - or how I may change because of the other people I'm playing with.  My character on the now-defunct Tazlure started out as a worshiper of the god, Pan.  She wanted to follow his path of joy - which often involved sex - to become a Rose (think Companion from Firefly and you're somewhat close).  Not long before I started my character, though, the Red Rose Guild closed.  So Sevti, my character, wanted to try to reopen it.  But life had other plans - war came to her isle, she met a man that she fell in love with, and then thought she lost that man forever.  We even touched on the future through the dream world, where she found her lover again.  By the time the game closed it's doors, she was no longer trying to follow the path of joy, but trying to follow the combination of all three paths - joy, art and blood.  She was going to be a priestess of Pan.

In electronic games, you can't get that kind of growth and change.  Or if you do, it's predetermined.  Sevti could have easily left the isle after her parents were found and traveled to restart the Red Rose Guild.  Or sworn her heart away from Pan when she thought her lover had been killed.  There were so many possibilities that she could have taken. And for each one, she would have ended up a different character.

Gaming fuels my imagination.  It opens my soul to new possibilities.  It challenges me to accept change and roll with the punches.  Because I become invested in my characters, as much as any writer does when they are penning a novel.  My characters are a part of me and a part of my soul that those created by a computer programmer can never be.  Because they aren't completely mine.

I'm teaching my kids to use their imaginations.  For all that Teddy loves his GBA and my DS (and he's learned quite a lot from the games he's played there), he's excited to start playing his first RPG with us - Happy Birthday, Robot!.  He's always loved rolling the dice for us when we would get together with friends for the (increasingly) rare times we would game face to face.  And he's got such an active imagination anyway - this, the boy who will gladly play a Pokemon battle with imaginary Pokemon. I think he'll do well at it.  And Pete... well, Pete follows in his brother's footsteps.  So if Teddy's doing it, there's no doubt in my mind that Pete will be doing so soon as well.

I love imagination. I love the ability to stretch it.  I love having that creative outlet that gaming brings.  And I wish more of the world felt the same way.