I am a Beautiful and Unique Snowflake

Being a child of the 80s I was exposed to many unsavoury things at a young age. Mullets sat with undeserved pride atop the heads of thousands. Spandau Ballet loudly extolled the virtues of gold, while Reagan and Thatcher set about teaching the population how to perfect the art of selfishness. Nike convinced us that we needed air in our shoes, VCRs chewed up cherished video cassettes like they were strawberry bootlaces and a clown called Ronald began exposing his steamed meat to unsuspecting children worldwide.

The innocence of youth prevented me from appreciating the full horror of what surrounded me, but those already in their teens were busy scouring the cultural landscape for some form of escape. One of my older brothers, quivering with despair at the state of universe, found his salvation in an unexpected place.

That’s right folks, my brother was a dice-throwing, spell-casting, flail-twirling role-player. And by the early 90s, so was I. Now, I’m well aware that by admitting this I’m leaving myself wide open to all manner of abuse from Varsity jocks and ‘cool’ kids everywhere. The cliché is unavoidable: the mental image of a spotty, bespectacled ginger kid wheezing through his braces and whining on and on in a nasal voice about hit-point modifiers. Indeed, as one of the brethren I have seen some evidence to support the accusation. However, as I role-played with my brother and his friend, both of whom were 10 years my senior (and neither of whom wore braces, glasses or experienced significant breathing difficulties) I connected role-playing with all things adult, mature and downright awesome.

My bro would assume DM responsibilities and, to his eternal credit, took his job very seriously. He would write huge, sprawling adventures, pages and pages of quests, scenarios, plotting and dialogue all tailored to the mythos of the universe. Our favoured systems were AD&D (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) MERP (Middle Earth Role Playing) and Call of Cthulhu; my brother had an intimate knowledge of the Tolkien universe and Krynn (one of the D&D realms), and we all had a soft spot for Lovecraft. We had our dice, carefully selected and unique to each player, and with these geometric gods of chance we would develop a spiritual equilibrium, a kind of harmonic unity that was essential if were to walk the path of the victorious. We agonized over the character creation process, desperate to sculpt dynamic, vital entities that we could possess for the duration of their often short, always violent lives. Then, once the DM had set the scene and the first dice were cast, I was gone. A stranger in a distant land, free from the world my physical body inhabited, far from television’s stupefying gaze and boredom’s suffocating embrace.

As you may have gathered from my liberal application of lyrical-wax, I was quite fond of the time I spend role-playing with my bro. Life being what it is, circumstances have cut short our adventuring careers, but I will never forget the satisfaction of willing worlds into existence through imagination alone.

The reason I’m babbling on about all this is because it is only recently I’ve felt video-game RPGs have managed to provide the same levels of immersion, characterization and simple, honest-to-goodness choice that attracted me to the pastime in the first place. The Zelda and Final Fantasy franchises set the bar during the 90s, delighting gamers with their large worlds, exciting stories and colourful characters. And yet I still felt hemmed in. Don’t get me wrong, I loved them dearly, and have recently been pouring precious and enjoyable hours into Final Fantasy VI (or III, depending on geographical perspective). My problem, I think, lay in the pre-prescribed nature of the characters. Sure, you could tinker with your inventory, personalize your character’s weaponry and fighting style, but when it came down to it Link was Link, and there was no escaping that.

In Fallout 3, Mass Effect and Oblivion, I am unique. My choice of race, class, appearance, proficiencies and back story combine to make Max Stanton, Ami Sheperd and Tryst Solus one-off creations. There may be similar characters lurking on the hard drives of other RPG enthusiasts, but thanks to the wealth of options made available in these stellar titles, the myriad of subtle tweaks and customization opportunities I feel safe that my character really is my character. And this, for me, is what the essence of role-playing is all about: freedom of choice. And the best kind of freedom is one that allows you to truly create as well as destroy.

Now, how to choose which one to play first? I’m sure that d6 is around here somewhere…







5 responses to “I am a Beautiful and Unique Snowflake”

  1. GamerGeekGirl avatar

    I’m not sure about Mass Effect, but I certainly agree with regards to Fallout 3 and Oblivion. (Both of those could so, so easily be converted to Roleplaying systems)

    I’ve been Roleplaying since I was 18 (for the past three years) and tbh it’s probably one of the best things to ever happen to me 🙂

    I feel truly blessed to have found it, because through my RP club I’ve met some of the nicest, coolest, most awesomely geeky, games-obsessed people you could imagine – and I get to sit around 2-3 times a week with them having a laugh and eating lots of sweets while we roll dice, and I get to pretend to be a Battle-cat-mage in the Medievals or a Roman Whoreomancer (Love Mage) ^^

    As for games I’ve played… Deadlands, Ex Machina, Edge of Midnight, Nobilis, Shadowrun, Ars Magica, Unknown Armies, World of Warcraft, Homebrew Superhero Game… Oooh… Serenity.

    Probably more XD

    Okay, I’m gonna go before I get more overexcited 😉

  2. John avatar

    I too, love the Role Playing – You should check out the podcasts of the Penny Arcade guys along with Scott Kirtz (PVP) and Will Wheaton (yes really) playing the new D&D. I truly want to give this a go!

  3. Dave Irwin avatar
    Dave Irwin

    Fallout was originally intended to play alongside the GURPS system (developed by Steve Jackson Games), but a deal fell through before the game was released. So the developers of the original Fallout had to come up with a similar system in a short space of time. So technically Fallout is based on an RPG system.

    My knowledge of GURP’s existence has probably led many to assume that I too am a Role Player, and they’d be completely right. I was introduced to it at university and I’ve never looked back. I mostly try to GM/DM in the hopes of converting new people to the concept. Currently sitting on my shelf are the core D&D 4th Ed books, Paranoia (Stupid amount of fun here), World of Darkness (plus Vampire: The Requiem & Changeling the Lost) GURPS (but you knew that already) and D100 Call of Cthulhu (along with Dark Ages and Kingsport)

  4. GamerGeekGirl avatar

    Have to admit, I’m not a fan of White Wolf at all; and D&D was… well, hard to say – i don’t like it particularly because it’s so “generic” – but the only reason it’s generic is because soooooo many things have ripped off D&D. And I have to admire the improvements in system design for 4th ed.

    I think Nobilis and Unknown Armies have some of the best systems (and the fiction is wonderful too)

    I love Shadowrun (NOT THE GAMES!!!*) and Ars Magica but the systems aren’t very good – far too overcomplicated.

    *There have been so many “Shadowrun” games over the years, none of which have been any good or even stayed true to the lore/fiction of the Roleplaying Game. It’s a shame, because the lore/fiction is effin fantastic, and could easily make a kickass game.

  5. Lorna avatar

    Great post. I only had a brief flutter with D&D waaay back in my first year of secondary school during an activity week but I loved it. Sadly i never had the courage or knowhow to get involved in a group but bought a D&D rules cyclopedia which I read feverishly for ages, making characters, tracing pictures and imagining quests and towns…never really played it too much though…I think the scope was a little beyond my experience but I still have the book…part of me wishes I’d done more 🙂

Leave a Reply