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Once Upon A Time: An Interesting Diversion

By Raymond Smith

In which the author confesses he prefers reality to fantasy


Many of my friends think of me as a role player. After all, every fortnight I get together with some University friends and we spend a goodly while gaming at whatever takes our fancy. My name is stamped on a web site devoted to gaming. I know there is more than AD&D and TSR. I can play a good character and have even been asked to GM on occasion. I have defended role-playing against the criticisms of the narrow minded. In short, I have role-played lots and have all the qualifications of the gamer.

But I'm not. At least I don't think I am. After all, I don't even own a D20.

The Babylon Project is published by Chameleon Eclectic. For a comprehensive look at Babylon 5 check out the Lurkers' Guide

The only source material I own is the Babylon Project and that has more to do with my addiction to the television series than any desire to play a scenario. (Incidentally if you have my copy, please return it!)

Maybe it's guilt by association. My brother Rick writes RPG systems, as does my friend Simon Dennis. Steven Darlington, (slave driver, um, I mean editor of this 'zine), is an addict, who resorts to harassment to get his weekly fix. I could go on and list all my other fanatical gaming friends, but that would belabour the point.

"Why do you play?", you may ask. Well my first encounter with RPGs was in year 7 at school. The game was called Living Steel. From memory it was a lot like Shadowrun, or Manhunter (although Steve tells me it was more like Battletech). An opportunity to play bad guys running around the universe killing things.

What was your first RPG? Why not write about it for this column?

This was about the same time that playing with action figures, or pretending the school was a spaceship during lunch became very uncool. An offence punishable by derision by friend and foe alike. However, role-playing was safe because it was a cool thing that teenagers did. Negative press was also an advantage.

So role-playing was at first an adult way for me to play action figures, albeit, a much richer game. It soon became clear that throwing the figurines away let our imaginations soar to new heights. The richer game probably improved our literacy as well.

But we weren't at the stage of wearing the cloak of a different character. Instead we tried to be what we most wanted to be. For me, that meant being a "Wizard", the enigmatic person with arcane power. Of course, the ability to break the bones of toughs was far from my mind.

Avon was the computer genius of the cult Sci-Fi classic Blake's 7.

Then I discovered computers and got to live my fantasy for real. Arcane knowledge, the magus's power to shape the world within the machine. This was the beginning of a long hiatus in my role-playing. Cutting code, and controlling the machine became outlets for my imagination. I became Avon rather than Gandalf.

While at high school my time was taken up with computers and debating. The closest I came to gaming was Heros Quest. It wasn't until the end of my university years that I heard again gaming's siren song.

But actually, like most computer nerds I have had an interest in SF, Fantasy, and History since my childhood. Throughout High School and Uni I retreated to them and let my mind wander in other peoples worlds and argued with friends about these authors' fancies. So the fantasy of worlds in story was never far from my life. It's just that I experienced it as an omniscient but impotent observer.

At that time I was creating virtual worlds of software and logic, rather than fantasy worlds of imagination. For me, the two are closely related as they are both concerned with creating systems and simulating reality.

Ray's technical skills are also responsible for the production and presentation of the magazine.

You see, I love building and exploring complex systems of interacting entities. Not only technological ones, but also people and their relationships with one another and the world, which forms one of the most complex and interesting systems. A large part of role-play's appeal to me is its simulation of this system at different times, in different places.

But this is not what makes role-playing worthwhile. After all, I can explore these things with more depth and rigour in numerous arts and sciences, and some might say that we should just go out and live! Role-play's appeal is its subjective and (above all) shared experience of these systems.

In role-play we can throw aside the protocols and conventions of reasoned argument and, over Pizza and Coke, let our guards down and allow our minds to wander through what we expect people to do. We can share a hallucination, brought on without mind altering substances. Say things we'd never say in real life and explore the absurd without fear of being called stupid, or ruining our lives.

Role-playing allows me to enjoy exploring worlds, without the proscribed seriousness that usually accompanies that task, and I can do this in a social setting, with friends. However, while I find this an enjoyable diversion, for me, it cannot be more than that. For once the Coke is drunk, and the adventure ended, we must awaken to the greater adventure of our lives, with all its people and complex systems. The utopias and dystopia of our imagination can only ever be facsimiles of reality, and while I enjoy living in them, the Real World is infinitely more fascinating.

As the only scientist amongst the editors, Raymond is an important, yet shadowy figure on the PTG, PTB staff. He wastes much valuable role-playing time tinkering with computers for CiTR and HUMBUG. Enjoys Babylon 5, Tolkien, literature and restoring his beloved Rover P6 automobile.

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