Stories drive me. They contribute to my sanity on my darkest days. I’ve read, watched, or played some of the greatest stories that people have been able to tell; obviously, I’ll never experience every story, but there are billions of people in the world and each one has some kind of story to tell. Humans are natural storytellers. One of my favorite ways to tell a story is through the medium of the roleplaying game.
Roleplaying starts early. One of my earliest memories is from when I was in preschool. A couple of boys in my class had picked up the silos from a Little People farm set, and were holding them like cannons.
“Bank robbers! Bank robbers! Boom boom boom!” they chanted.
Little me, though, loved heroes: Ninja Turtles, Super Mario, the (Real) Ghostbusters, Batman. I couldn’t understand why kids would want to be bank robbers, but if they were bank robbers, it was my job to stop them.
So I tackled them. Hard. I remember one of them crying… Maybe not, but it makes a better story if one of them was crying, so one of them was totally crying. Don’t worry, though; I got in major trouble. Mrs. Riccio was not impressed with my heroic shenanigans. I had to sit in her kitchen while she made cookies, and then I’m pretty sure that I didn’t end up getting any.
Not long after that, my parents purchased a Nintendo Entertainment System. I’m fairly certain that it changed the course my life. (Maybe for the worse. Maybe for the better. The jury’s still out.) The NES allowed me to not just experience stories from books, but also actually PARTICIPATE in the stories being told. I was Mario stomping on goombas. I was Link slaying Ganon. I was Balloon Fight Steve floating around with frustrating controls…
Don’t get me wrong, I still became a voracious reader. My mom was awesome and took me to the library often. I was entranced by the stories of the Boxcar Children and Laura Ingalls. I was also blessed to have some good grade school friends who were also readers. One of them introduced me to The Hobbit. I was immediately intrigued by this cover of a morbidly obese man with a butter knife being stalked by the sad spawn of Count Orlok and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Thus my love of fantasy began. Grade school became a time of hobbits, the mouse protectors of Redwall, the land of Narnia, and all kinds of various magics and dragons. Good always triumphed. Evil always failed. And the smallest of creatures (like me, a kid in grade school) always had the courage to stand up for what was right. That kind of morality gets lost in the grittiness of the adult world sometimes. Roleplaying games are fat with fantasy settings, so it’s obvious now that I would be instantly drawn to them.
The term RPG didn’t enter my lexicon until I discovered Final Fantasy after Nintendo Power magazine sent the strategy guide for it to my house. Even with the guide, I didn’t understand the game at the time. The turn-based combat didn’t make sense to me; I’ve never been a great tactician. However, the fact that I could create a party of adventurers, give them names, and send them out into a world of mystery and magic was immediately appealing to me. RPGs eventually became my video game genre of choice. The Final Fantasy sequels, Dragon Warrior/Quest games, and Chrono Trigger all became my favorite games.
The next step in my RPG journey takes me to the internet. After receiving maybe 40 AOL discs in the mail, I convinced my parents to give it a try. One of the first things I discovered was a little game called Gemstone III. GS3 was multi-user dungeon (MUD), which basically means it was an MMORPG before that term existed. It was text-based, but I was playing with real, actual people on the internet! I was making friends and thwarting enemies who were actual people. Mind blown.
And then came Dungeons & Dragons. Introduced to me by a friend in Jr. High, I had never before played a game that was both so rules-intensive and yet so freeing. Anything could be done in D&D. My character had a family, became mayor of a town, and finally died at the hands of a vile beast… And I’ve never been able to shake that kind of storytelling. It’s interactive and collaborative.
Now that I think of it, maybe tabletop RPGs are the reason why I tend to thrive in cooperative settings.
Autumn often leads to me being introspective. I’m writing all this because I’ve been a little bit reflective lately. Why am I who I am? What helps make me tick? What are good things that I can pass on to my children?
Communication is just storytelling. I pray that I can instill in my kids and others a love for it. I have this suspicion that important virtues like empathy depend on a person having a love of stories.