Why I Love Roleplaying Games

I love many games, and in fact try to play everything at least once, but I always come back to roleplaying games. Today, I’m going to share my love for them.

RPGs — by which I means the whole damn penumbra, from Traveller to Apocalypse World, from Pathfinder to Fiasco — blend, in different ratios, playing a game with rules and determining a story both in the moment and afterward in our retelling. Some people call it “collaborative storytelling,” and it sort of is, if you treat the game itself as one of the folks participating.

And I totally do.

The frameworks of RPGs exist to make high moments uneasy, to make palpable the emotions influencing our characters, to create moments of triumph, fall, and (most importantly) cost. If this was just structured storytelling without a game element, we could describe those moments, but would we feel them? Probably not. Would we yearn to retell them? Doubtful. Would they affect us so greatly as they do now? I’m gonna say no.

That’s because these frameworks allow us to experience the story in a way that goes beyond telling it. That’s true whether the framework is adversarial like in traditional games or strongly structured resource games like in many GMless ones today. The game truly happens when our options becomes limited and when our decisions risk our avatar’s agency in the story.

One of the criticisms I’ve heard too often is that RPGs are (sarcastically) “the best 30 minutes of fun you’ll have in four hours.” I’ll counter that with my decades-long observation: Roleplaying games provide the best 30 minutes of fun that you’ll remember for years to come, as a shared experience your friends will remember and celebrate along with you — as people who were also positively invested in those 30 minutes.

At least, all that’s what roleplaying games mean to me, and I think that’s pretty awesome. :) It’s why I keep playing and making roleplaying games: I want to feel and encourage lifelong stories.


What about you? Why do you love these games? What do they mean to you?

– Ryan

(One down, Will.)


2 Responses to Why I Love Roleplaying Games

  1. Bill Garrett says:

    There are people I know for whom “roleplaying” is just collaborative writing, with no rules. I have had GMs for whom “roleplaying” was just reciting the actions of NPCs with periodic solicitations for feedback. And I have gamed with D&D grognards for whom “character background” was a foreign phrase. But when people ask me what “roleplaying” means, I tell them it means storytelling with challenge and surprise.

    Challenge means the possibility of failure. Robert Frost famously said that “writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down”. The net makes us work hard. The net forces us to think instead of coast. Risk compels us out of complacency and into competence.

    Surprise means the introduction of new ideas or unexpected directions. My stories by themselves aren’t better than stories poured into the crucible of collective examination.

    Stories are how I entertain. Feedback is how I improve. Roleplaying is a natural fit for my interests. And I’m always glad to meet other people who enjoy it as much.

  2. Roleplaying games for me are all about surprise. More so than many other forms of entertainment, roleplaying games require constant effort by all participants to get anything out of them. While this requirement can be difficult at times, it also breeds amazing situations. I live for the moments when somebody ad libs a conversation and absolutely nails it, when somebody caught in an impossible situation manages to find their way out, when somebody faced with a hard choice astounds the table with their decision–and, by extension, teaches them something about life, because what is fiction other than life refracted? Almost every time I play an RPG, I find myself surprised in the best of ways over what people are capable of.