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Once Upon a Time:
Gaming For Fun

by Eric Edwards

In which the author explains why youth must have its fling


I first started playing roleplaying games, way, way back, when I was in the fifth grade. The game, naturally, was Basic Dungeons and Dragons. I still remember the first character I ever created.

Well, that is, I don't remember the actual character, because back then it wasn't actually a character. Perhaps I should say I remember the first 'adventuring construct' I created.

Anyway, he was a human magic-user. First level, with one spell, two daggers and three hit points to his name. My friend who was the Dungeon Master, was kind enough to let me pick the spell. Like any wise adventurer, I chose artillery: the legendary magic missile.

Then I went on my first dungeon crawl, and I remember almost every detail...not that there was much to remember. I walked into a dark and musty room and discovered a wooden chest. With great wisdom and bravery, I strode to the chest and opened it. The chest was filled with gold! Proudly, I claimed the chest and its contents to be my property. But then, according to the dungeon master, a creature suddenly scurried out of the shadows towards me.

Now, why I had never noticed the creature before didn't even cross my mind. My first thought was, I can kill it! It is after my gold! The concept that the gold might have belonged to this creature, once again, didn't even cross my mind. Without waiting for further information, I moved in for the kill. At this point in time, I considered it a good idea to ask the dungeon master exactly what I was fighting. He described a creature that looked like a cross between a centipede and a squid. Actually, it looked more like a centipede with tentacles coming from its mouth. And it was only about three feet long! I knew I could kill this puny creature with my mighty spell.

I summoned the mystical energies (read that as, stated I was casting magic missile), and shot a magical dart at the creature. It hit the centi-squid-looking-thing square in one of its body sections. In my mind, this would have killed the little fellow. After all, I was more than twice its size, and I only had three hit points.

But the dungeon master figured this would only make the little fellow angry. Never mind the fact that a carrion crawler probably doesn't have feelings; after all, this was a fantasy game. Anyway, the little creature skittered up to me, and hit me. My character, sorry, adventuring construct, fell over dead. I was a bit shocked, but it didn't really matter. It only took a few minutes to create the character, so we could be going again in no time. And, hey, my new adventuring construct might even run into this one's corpse.

Over the following two years, many similar adventures happened. We also had a couple of other people join the game, which meant that I didn't always die immediately (and that was a good thing). The dungeon master bought some pre-made adventures, which provided unending ways for him to kill us. And we all had fun. That was the key. Even though our adventuring constructs died quite regularly, we were having fun. It was a new experience, and quickly became a great way to pass the weekends. And we had fun.

I keep stating that we had fun to emphasize that fact. To some people, creating adventuring constructs that die not too much later in a meaningless fashion does not sound like their idea of fun. Truth to tell, nowadays, this doesn't sound like much fun to me either. But we were kids, and this was our introduction into roleplaying games.

I refer to the characters as adventuring constructs because that is all they were. Sometimes they didn't even have names. Or the character wouldn't be given a name until it lasted at least one gaming session - that was what we considered an experienced character. To us, the character was simply a generic being that had certain abilities that allowed it to kill things in different ways. But, to us, that was all we needed, that was fun. We were entertained.

As we continued to play, time passed and we got older. We matured. So did our roleplaying skills. We didn't just create characters to die. We created beings who wandered the world, hacking and killing things, and getting more powerful. Character development was a coming of age with us. Eventually, characters were given names when they were created, though most of the names came straight from fantasy books we had read. There was even some consideration give to the character's physical description and his background. Nothing too in depth, but enough to know where he came from. Enough for us to start becoming roleplayers. We still enjoyed going around and killing things, but now, our characters enjoyed it too.

In seventh grade we discovered a game called Gamma World. This opened up a whole new ball game for us. Now, we could wander around a futuristic world, killing things and gathering treasures. But the biggest step forward was the weaponry. With the heavy ordnance of this futuristic world, we could shoot something from a great distance and blow it to pieces with one shot. But this brings up a big IF. You could shoot something from a great distance and blow it to pieces IF you could figure out how the weapon actually worked.

Gamma World was set on a post-apocalyptic world, and decent weapons were gained by scavenging relics from the past age. The problem was, there was this little table you had to roll on to see if you could figure the artifact out. I had a tendency to end up on a little skull and crossbones, which meant you had blown your own head off trying to figure out which end of the gun was the deadly one.

I didn't get upset though, because creating a character in this game was even more fun than in Dungeons and Dragons: in this game, you could create a freaky mutant! From here, all the possibilities opened up, and new worlds of fun lay before us.

As time progressed, and we grew older, some of the guys lost interest. Some moved, and soon, only a few of us were left. And then I moved. I had to give up gaming for a while, due to the reputation roleplaying games had gathered. Most people considered players to be some kind of freaks, and nobody was willing to give it a shot.

Then I went to college and was able to return to the realm of gamers. There was a gaming and comic book store near campus; I met some people there, and started roleplaying with them. By this time, it had turned into roleplaying. We created characters, who had real problems, and real concerns. We were playing a superhero game called Villains and Vigilantes. There were still plenty of combats where the heroes tried to beat the crap out of the villains, but there was more of a meaning behind it now. After all, we had almost all grown up on comic books. We knew what kind of problems these guys had to deal with.

It has now been several years (try seven) since college. I still game, though I know of none of my old friends who still do. Some of the people from college still do, and I keep in touch with them occasionally (but this is limited by the 400 mile gap). I still enjoy roleplaying, and I still enjoy rollplaying too.

I have developed the skills to create a three-dimensional character, and to act and react, and make decisions and play as that character would. I enjoy this. However, there are still times where I enjoy rolling the dice. I enjoy going on the romps through the dungeon, for no purpose other than to gather treasure and cause a forced relocation on whatever might be living there. Thankfully, this desire is currently being met by tabletop miniature wargaming. I enjoy this outlet for that style of gaming, seeing how I don't get it with my roleplaying as much any more.

However, I have noticed a trend that is quite disturbing to me, these past couple of years. There are a lot of people who condemn others for 'rollplaying' rather than 'roleplaying.' They make snide comments under their breath, or even outright, to the players who are rollplaying. Oftentimes, these rollplayers are young kids. Kids like me, when I was in fifth, sixth, or seventh grade. These kids are not allowed to join a game, because they aren't "mature" enough to roleplay a character, at least according to some high and mighty adult standard. So, a twelve- or thirteen-year old is considered immature because they are still having fun going into a dungeon and killing the monsters, and haven't had the opportunity to devlop the roleplaying skills that other gamers have. Gee, no kidding? I was expecting the kids to go straight from Tonka Toys to Vampire.

You know what? If I had been insulted the way I've seen some kids insulted, turned away from a game because my only real experience had been rollplaying, or just snubbed outright because of my age, I don't think that I would be an avid roleplayer now. And while I eventually developed into a roleplayer on my own, I might have done so much earlier if I was given the opportunity to see some more of what roleplaying could be. But back in those days, I was just having fun killing things, and that was all that mattered. The roleplaying came naturally as I matured. And I kept on having fun, regardless of exactly how I was playing.

In a time when the hobby/industry is perhaps fading in strength, it is a sad sight to see the elitist "real roleplayers" killing the hobby because, in their humble opinion, someone doesn't roleplay right. I have actually heard the comment made to a kid: "You don't roleplay right." The last time I checked, there isn't a right way. And all a comment like this can do is hurt and annoy the person in question.

Back when I first started, a stupid comment like that might have stopped me from developing my interest in roleplaying games, might have kept me out of the whole hobby. And if enough people keeping making comments like this, no kids will ever get into roleplaying, and the hobby will die a quick and well-deserved death.

Thankfully, the only comments I heard as a kid were from my friends. These typically consisted of something along the lines of "That was really stupid" or "Nice going, bonehead!" But at least we were having fun, which is, after all, the entire goal behind gaming. Be it roleplaying, rollplaying, or anything else.

Eric has been roleplaying since 1982. He is happily married and the proud father of a champagne rat named Buffy. When not working as a sales representative for an international manufacturing company based in Nashville, Eric enjoys roleplaying, surfing the net, and going to movies.

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