When I was a kid, imagination came easy. Sit in an abandoned car. No. I’m Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon. Venture to the hole in Millsboro, DE? Ha! I’m Indiana Jones and the Crater of Chaos. Then we moved to New Jersey. It took awhile but friends came and with them came the new imagination…the tabletop RPG.
Now I played Dungeons & Dragons but griped about it all the time. As a book freak, comic fan and wannabe writer, I was always, “Where’s the plot?!” Seriously, you start in a dungeon. How did we get there? Why? To get treasure from monsters was the usual answer. It’s a +3 sword. How does my character know? Is it inscribed in the hilt? Yeah. That was me every weekend. How did I keep those friends then? Should have been a journalist.
But one common response was that I shouldn’t ask so many questions, especially serious ones,during a game about FUN. Fun is a way to ‘forget reality’. That’s what games are for.
I begged to differ. As the only non-white kid in an all white group of gamers, I found the character classes (all European) biased. When one magazine offered an African based class, or the hippopotamus like Griff in Spelljammer, I grabbed it up to a good deal of gruff for ‘trying to hard to be different’. But I didn’t have to try. I was the odd duck in a crew of odd ducks. Different comes normally.
But I also tried to make a point. Is fantasy, or any genre, race specific? When we kill everthing our characters meet, then what? If we kill indiscriminately and so do those of a chaotic evil nature, what’s the difference? Why are goblins and orcs always evil. You know they call that prejudice, right?
Eventually we moved on to superhero games and giant mecha, martial arts, etc. I became the narrator, and got obsessed with telling, not just a great fight, but a NARRATIVE. This is _____. This is ___. X happens. The effects of X is ____. Resolution. What leads to what? Ideas came from surrealism, race riots, murders on the news, war stories and more. I used real things that mattered to avoid reality so we could discuss what we were avoiding. Got it?
That’s always been my argument. Humanity, a lot of it, becomes fatigued dealing directly with hard truth. Especially now. Yesterday an earthquake killed over 2,000 people (so far). 800 Africans migrants drowned in a capsized boat near Italy. Tragedy. Sorrow. Let’s talk about something else! Grab an RPG! Run!
Let’s watch an action flick about a violent hero, beating a villain and stopping his plot to kill hundreds of people in a terror attack. Let’s avoid the long American war on terror by watching someone fight terror. Then let’s cycle around to talk about terrorism. Inevitably while we watch, some onlooker brings up 9/11 or his brother’s PTSD from the war. See? We hate direct, negative news. But we love the loopholed, roundabout route to do the same thing.
I hate when people say stories are told just to be stories. Do I wear glasses to be glassy? Eat to be eatful (ugh)? They use children’s stories, most ending in morals, as if those prove their point (HINT: most kids’ tales remind us to be good friends). Stories funnel, process, sift and focus our world for us. They are social computers in the form of writers and artists to make you see art first…then calculate the more dire thoughts slowly ring in your mind. Clever humans.
That’s what my Railroad City Legacy does. Made as a roleplaying game way back in 1993, I wanted a place to talk about America, race, gender, and heroes. Good and bad, the pros and the cons. Why do heroes just wait for something bad to happen? If heroes are different, why do they seem the same on teams? Every now and then I hit it hard. Racism, rape, criminals get off scott free. If you read my first book An Unsubstantiated Chamber, you know it starts not long after the greatest heroes were killed by the American government! Smack! Only average selfish folks are left. Will any of them bother to step up, do good? Heck, can they, and if so, how long can they uphold it? Now let’s start from there, and see what happens.
Sound harsh? Don’t worry, it’s a story. As it’s told, you’ll forget about the harder details…
…so you can dwell on it later.