I have some freaking awesome cousins. The two oldest are doctors now, but back when we were kids, they were everything I wanted to be. They could water ski and they designed a car and they were into Dungeons and Dragons. When we went over to visit, after dinner, when it was dark, they totally got us little kids LARPing, before LARPING was ever a thing. We called it “Godfather” so the adults didn’t know what we were really doing. Deadman, who was Godfather’s right-hand man, would come tell us that Godfather needed to see us. So we would go to Godfather’s chambers and there was Godfather (my oldest cousin all dressed up) and he would give us a quest. Then we had to go to a room while they prepared. Deadman would knock on our door and tell us to begin the quest so we ventured out into the darkened hallway with our toy weapons, and they would jump out at us and kind-of-sort-of fight us while we beat him down with our weapons, and then we would eventually get to the right room, find the quest item, and return to Godfather’s chamber where he would bestow some sort of prize or blessing or something.
It might not sound like much, but it was one of the coolest things we ever did as kids, in my opinion. Why? For an hour or two I was not some stupid kid, I was a warrior of light. I could slay zombies and dragons and recover holy relics from the clutches of evil. I could be a hero.
I would see my cousins’ D & D books sometimes, but they wouldn’t let me look at them because they were busy creating a campaign or something. They were going to give me one of their old monster manuals for my birthday one time, after drawing bras and panties on all the naked female-type monsters (succabuses and nagas and such), but my parents weren’t having it. So during my Teenage Rebellion it was pretty much inevitable that I was going to find an RPG to indulge in.
I began to notice these ads in comic books. Robotech? A role-playing game? A) Robotech was probably the awesomest cartoon. Voltron and Thunder Cats were cool, too, but no RPGs for those that I knew about at the time. Transforming fighter jets/space fighters and swarm missiles? Fighting giant aliens? I was so in. I had to get this game, pilot a Veritech fighter, kill Zentraedis, and save Minmei!
But I needed someone to play with. My younger brothers were not into this stuff yet (although one of them would go on to become an even bigger RPG nerd than me), and we had moved to a new city and I was this low self-esteem kid back then, not too eager to make new friends. But somehow I found a best friend in middle school, the guy who is still my brother-from-another-mother, and we totally got all up in the Robotech RPG. I was Jareth Dakk, and he was Max Cho, and we were masters of the Veritech fighter.
From the ads in the Robotech RPG books, we also discovered Rifts, another awesome RPG by Palladium Books. Imagine if Earth suddenly had huge portals opening to other worlds, other dimensions, and all kinds of creatures and marauders and magicians found their way in? So Earth is this post-apocalyptic chaotic place where anything can happen.
I would just PORE all over these books, usually when I was supposed to be doing other things. I read every page and all the stats and agonized over all my character details. I had a process and it was not short. I would try and imagine all kinds of fun scenarios and what my character would have to have in order to survive, win, and be the coolest. When I was Jareth Dakk, I wasn’t the kid who shuffled around school, who wouldn’t look anyone in the eye, who lived out in the middle of nowhere. I could drive and pilot the coolest vehicles. I could shoot guns and make things explode. I could save the damsel in distress. And I could actually talk to a girl. I could be everything I wasn’t but wanted to be.
When I got into high school, we found a new RPG: Shadowrun. This was like Rifts but with attitude. There was technology and magic, side by side, but less chaos. More stick-it-to-the-manisms. It just felt grittier and cooler. It had a mage-girl on the cover wearing a bikini top and high-heel boots. Plus, I found more friends to game with.
But about this time I started realizing something. RPG games took up a lot of time. I would go over to someone’s house for Shadowrun, and by afternoon we had hardly done anything, but I was kind of ready to leave and do something else. I mean, we were having fun but endlessly obsessing over minutiae. Heroes don’t squabble, they get things done. The real draw of RPGs for me was to be someone I couldn’t really be, but I realized that the process had become more trouble than it was worth.
So I started investing more time in paintballing and other stuff. Then computer games started becoming a thing, and now I could be someone I couldn’t really be any freaking time I wanted and stop anytime I wanted. My guilty pleasure went DIGITAL. I was an X-Wing pilot and a Privateer, and you will never know how many hours I spent playing Counter Strike in my college years (but I kicked some serious ass). The point is, I liked wasting my time indulgently, but only if I could get stuff done.
Then computer RPG games started getting good. I played Diablo, but realized that, although I could start and stop whenever I wanted, it was still taking forever to get anything done. So I started avoiding all the RPG games except for hybrids like Deus Ex and Bioshock. My brother told me the coolest stories about his travels in Azeroth in the Warcraft MMO. I’m in a lightsaber group now where lots of them are playing Star Wars: The Old Republic. But I’ve resisted getting sucked in by another time-grinding RPG game for years now. I’ve been so good.
Are RPGs no longer my guilty pleasure? Have I broken free for good?
I had thought so. Then I saw the first video for The Division, and I think I am finally succumbing to an online RPG game. It doesn’t come out until March next year but I am pretty psyched about it. It didn’t take magic and orcs and swords, or starships and blasters. It took a game that felt more real. Maybe I have grown up a bit. I mean, I still want to be a hero in far off mythological and sci-fi worlds, but now I kind of want to be a hero in my own world, too.