Tuesday, February 2, 2021

One Year of Writing about Role-Playing Games, 2020-2021

Today marks one year since I began this blog.

It has served the purpose that I wanted it to serve for me. This last year of thinking and reading about role-playing games again, and playing them regularly again, compelled me to collect my thoughts and recollections in words, to put together the fragmented archives of my memory, to rummage through old boxes of the games I had not sold or given away, and to write about some of what I found. I also have been taking a look at what's new out there, with mixed feelings about it.

A novice with social media, I never expected more than a few glances by readers, but instead there have been tens of thousands. Many left comments of encouragement and interesting reflection. Many filled me in on interesting things I never knew. A few dear souls let me know that they did not like what I had to say. I am grateful for all your remarks. Each one taught me something.

As I said in the first post, "When I run out of things to say, I’m going to stop." Although I haven't run out of things to say, and probably never will, I am not sure today whether writing them will continue to serve the purpose I had in mind. Although I felt disoriented at first, I now feel that I know what is going on in RPGs well enough, at least to my satisfaction. I also no longer feel like a stranger to a hobby I once knew well. I have acquired a basic sense about what is going on out there today. There is still a gap of years before 2010 that I don't understand well, but it doesn't interest me as much as the last ten years and the first fifteen.

With this blog I put a chunk of my youth into a historical context that makes sense for me. I learned that my experiences were just like those of many others, including the episode of return in middle age. There are many others like me, who got back to gaming after being away for a long time: thawed-off referees and players who found more than just nostalgia in rekindling the fun games of youth.

By studying old zines that I had not seen in the old days and revisiting publications I could not really comprehend when I was ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, etc., I also learned a lot about the early history of role-playing games that I never realized as a boy.

Much has changed in role-playing games since the mid-'90s, when I left off. I don't like everything about the way things are now, but there is no going back. That's the way the world is. If there are plenty of games I have no interest in playing now, it was always that way before.

There are many topics left over for which I have already thrown together notes that could turn into blog entries. I have had in mind writing some reviews of things I played. I have a few tips for new referees and observations and reports about things I tried, though it does not seem as if anybody reading this really needs tips. I have questions for the friendly readers about their own experiences. There are many bits of history that I'd like to write up, too big for footnotes in a book but perhaps sufficiently interesting to be blog entries.

But will I keep writing? I am not sure. I think that's what I am trying to say in this entry.

Writing this blog did contribute to two new things to my life completely unexpectedly. That is, if I had not started this blog, they would not have happened.

(1) One is that a close colleague at my university wants to co-teach a course with me combining the early history of role-playing games with perspectives and methods from performance studies. There is now a sufficient body of scholarship, and enough potential guest speakers from the field, that it could be done to a high standard of quality. Performance theory has a lot to contribute to role-playing games, and vice versa. If I were to do it, I would require the student participants (ideally those new to the university) to play three quite different game systems during the semester, including being Referee for one of them, in addition to the normal reading requirements. Analytical play reports would be mandatory. I'm not sure if my current responsibilities will grant me time to do this, but it's fun to think about--kind of like the way it's fun to think about running a game.

(2) The other unexpected thing is that my own rule set has developed to the point that I may release it online--like hundreds of others who have done the same. I have been playtesting it and I'm happy with the way it works so far. I enjoy simple computer typesetting and layout when there is no pressure from work, so I have set it in a presentable form. If I do release it, it will be absolutely cost-free. It's likely that zero other people would ever play it, given the vast array of personalized rules out there. Also, players like "official" rule sets, and "official" means that you paid for it. Spending money on a game seems to give players a stake in enjoying it. A free gameset undermines itself by cutting out the economic incentive to try it. But I'm having fun with it all the same and it seems silly to make something and not to show anybody.

Where do I go from here? Maybe I finish the entries I already started and leave it at that. Then again, these inquiries can be almost as addictive as playing itself. As one commentator wisely remarked to me in response to an earlier discussion on this blog, there is a hobby that consists of talking about the hobby. I have enjoyed it so far. Won't I enjoy it in the future?

But I have other things to write for my work, too.

Anyway, it's been one year. Maybe there is more to come, but I am allowing myself to let it go if that is what my heart decides. Thanks to all the readers so far! I almost feel that some of you are friends of mine now. I've had fun.