What is Roleplaying?

This is the first in a series of articles that I plan to write titled, “What is Roleplaying?”

I plan to touch on some important basics of Role-Playing that honestly can’t be covered often enough, as well as some common problems that players and game administrators run into and the ways I have solved them in the past in my own experience.

I will also draw upon the wisdom of other experienced LARPers in the form of guest articles or interviews. If you feel you have something to say about LARP or Roleplaying that people need to hear, then please contact me at: [email protected]

Also, contact me if there is a particular question or topic that you would like me to address.

Well, here it goes.

What is Roleplaying?

The most basic of basics of Roleplaying would be a description of what Roleplaying actually is. A lot of people have some pretty funny ideas about it. Especially the media and “popular” society.

You say “Roleplaying” to someone off the street and they’ll probably think you’re either talking about socially inept kids in their parent’s basement or they might look at you really funny because they think you’re talking about what some adults like to do in their private chambers.

Honestly, the best explanation of Roleplaying that I have ever seen is an article written at larping.org. Their article is presented as a definition of LARPing, but I would say they hit the nail right on the head for any form of Roleplaying, not just LARP.

I could probably just end this here, and say, “go read that article, that’s all you need to know”, it’s that encompassing of a basic description; but I would still like to add my own philosophy about what Roleplaying is, from my own point of view.

Roleplaying is an opportunity to get up out of the spectator’s chair and take charge of your own entertainment or enjoyment. Movies and books are great, but have you ever wished you could change something in them? Maybe try something different than what the characters did? Ever watch a movie or read a book and want to slap one of the characters and tell him not to go down that dark hallway by himself? In Roleplaying you can do that! In a well run game, you get to decide, by your own actions, which way the story goes.

At it’s core, Roleplaying is interactive storytelling, except instead of telling the story, you get to live it. The only prerequisites are an imagination and a little spare time. There’s battle, intrigue, mystery, suspense, emotion and most of all, a lot of fun.

It’s a very creative and collaborative activity. If you just want to sit on the couch and be entertained, then Roleplaying isn’t for you. The amount of fun you have in Roleplaying is entirely determined by how much you participate.

It’s a chance to experience something other than the humdrum of everyday life.

Modern life for many people lacks adventure. The motto of modern civilization could be said to be, “Safety, at all costs.” Everywhere you turn there are warning signs, warning stickers, laws to prevent this, laws to protect people from that. If there’s a fire, or a burglar or some other danger you’re explicitly told not to do anything about it, but to call the authorities who are trained to handle that sort of thing. You’re told there’s nothing you can do to help.

And to some degree maybe that’s for the best. I’ll leave that up to you to decide. Untrained people trying to handle a dangerous situation can get themselves hurt or can even end up making the situation worse.

But who hasn’t dreamt of rushing in to save the day? Rescue the baby from the burning building; stop the purse snatcher; bring down the evil crime syndicate.

Or maybe you’re on the other side of the coin. Maybe you’ve always wondered what it would be like to be the bad guy; an ingenious cat burglar, a ruthless mafia boss; a mega-maniacal overlord bent on world domination; but you don’t like the idea of actually hurting people or going to jail.

With Roleplaying you get to live out those adventures without having to actually put your life or freedom at stake. You can confront the villain boldly, or plot some nefarious shenanigans in the shadows. It’s up to you.

It can be done informally amongst friends, with nothing but your imaginations and some agreed upon guidelines; or it can be done in elaborate costumes with very exact rules. But however it is done, it always involves taking on some identity. The identity can be very similar to yours if not the same, or it can be very different. Again, it’s up to you.

It is not an “escape from reality for the socially inept” as some have described it. People from many different backgrounds participate in Roleplaying: police officers, doctors, lawyers, grocery store clerks, university professors, salespeople, you name it. None of them are trying to escape from reality. They do it because it’s fun.

Roleplaying, as an activity, is in fact growing very rapidly; and naturally so. It touches on something that anyone, in any walk of life, can appreciate. Getting out of your daily rut and getting swept up into something larger than life. Being a part of something bigger than the “get a job and pay your bills” world. And for a few hours or a weekend every once in a while, Roleplaying can give you a taste of that.

– David Pulcifer

David PulciferWhat is Roleplaying?