Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Roleplayers in Iraq

If you're a Penny Arcade fan, you've seen this already: a story about roleplaying soldiers in Iraq. I'm delighted they are organized enough to be able to dungeon-crawl together, and especially delighted that Penny Arcade has taken up their cause.

We roleplayers need a PR firm to help explain to the public the benefits of roleplaying. Too many people see D and D as either too nerdy or too evil. We do good stuff! We're cool too! And in my supreme eloquence, you too have come to understand why roleplaying is awesome. Right?

Ok, ok. Show of hands. How many people actually know what roleplaying is? Roleplaying is unlike anything most people have experienced, and so to qualify it in understandable terms is hard.

It's like an oral choose-your-own-adventure book, with a storyteller who orates the world around you. But roleplaying stories are so much more flexible and fluid than those books. Characters are unique, and can grow and change within the course of a story. My storyteller has to spend a lot of time creating the people, places, and plots to make these stories fun and interactive... all these attributes are unique, and can be difficult to express succinctly. There is nothing quite like roleplaying.

I've learned valuable skills from roleplaying. I am better able to problem-solve, both on my own and in groups. I have learned how to better communicate. (I'm still learning that one!) I can work with rules and numbers much more than I could before. I can understand a variety of viewpoints; I can become a variety of characters. I am often challenged to play a character that is a better leader, a better thinker, or a better communicator than I am - a process which keeps me reaching for new heights in my personal life. I've also learned a lot about my own weaknesses. I've had to organize events, or play key roles in events, that give me good practice for things I might have to do someday. Or maybe they give me experience in roles that I never will fulfill in real life, but was able to experience thanks to the game. I'll likely never be a politician in real life, but I can certainly play one and experience similar challenges through roleplaying.

One thing roleplaying does for me is it gives me the experience of responding to a situation. In the wake of Virginia Tech's school shootings, everyone on campus was asking, "How safe are we? What would we do if this happened to us?" It is a healthy excersize in both personal and schoolwide emergency response... and we all get better with practice.

Roleplaying is also a bonding experience. When my group overcomes a challenge because our characters have worked together cohesively with a common goal, we feel satisfaction. When it comes time to solve the next problem--in game or real life--we have shared context to draw upon, experience working together, and knowledge of who can do what best.

What have you noticed about the public's perception of roleplaying?