When I was growing up, I used to spend a lot of time in my bedroom. I would close the door of the medium-sized room, just big enough for a single-sized bed, a bunch of wardrobes, and shelves. I would frequently dig out the “borrowed” copy of Risk that I had squirrelled away, taken from the pile of board games that my Dad kept in a cupboard.
As I got older, my Dad would introduce me to other types of game. I was playing Panzer, a World War II hex-and-chit wargame, around 1979-80. I was 8 or 9 years old. This was not the first wargame I was playing with him, either. He had a large collection – many obtained from the wargaming magazines he would collect – and I was his guinea pig. To this day, we still really have only this hobby in common.
All the time, because Dad worked away a lot and because I was so isolated (being the bullied, very shy, introverted, and geeky kid at school) I would opt for closing that bedroom door and gaming alone.
Sometimes I would cheat – most commonly re-rolling the dice – to get the outcome that felt most pleasing. I always felt guilty about that “dice fudging” but as it was just me, alone, I would figure noone else had to know. I was having fun finding the outcomes that emerged from play, satisfying my curiousity about the possibilies in each game.
Drawn To Possibility
I was always drawn to the complex games because they had many more potential outcomes. Even with the relatively limited selection of vehicle types, infantry units, and scenario options in Yaquinto’s Panzer, for example, I was able to play for years and never get bored. I think I stopped solo playing that game around age 18, and only then because I couldn’t take it to University. A couple of years ago, I bought the modern edition and played again… and, yes, solo. It’s still got the charm and interest for me, it turns out.
Digression aside, it’s this range of possibility that engages me. Solo play allows me to follow my personal interests and explore the permuatations without bothering anybody else. This is the thing that appealed to me most when I began to discover solo roleplaying in October 2015. But, for some reason, I always seem to stall after a session or two. Until a few days ago, I really didn’t understand why.
The truth is that I still carry baggage from those days locked in my teenage bedroom, hiding in fear of my parent’s interruption. They were suspicious of my activities. I think they feared me developing “deviant” behaviours – remember: this was the late 1970s through until 1989. Memories of those years are bound up with parental reactions to my gaming outside of my Dad’s very narrow vision of suitability, their fear of what my sexual orientation might be, and whether or not I was doing anything illicit.
For the most part, I was just rolling dice and trying not to let my folks see that of which they disapproved most of all: that I was “wasting my time on games”. To this day, I am haunted by the judgement that games are for children, that they are a mere pastime, and that they are a barrier to the serious task of becoming, “successful”. Humbug, I say.
Nonetheless, here I am. Blocked. Or, at least, I think I was. Talking to the lovely, welcoming community over at MeWe’s “Lone Wolf” solo roleplaying community helped me to see how these thought distortions were just that: thoughts distorting my sense of permission around gaming.
My name is Che Webster and I am a Solo Gamer.
Keeping Gaming Analogue
I have played my fair share of computer games. Those are, for the most part, solo gaming opportunities. Back in the early 1980s, when my Dad built our first couple of home computers, I was intrigued by the concept of programming… for a while. I enjoyed Elite immensely. I wrote my own text-based adventure games, using the Basic programs I found in computing magazines of the era. But, honestly, what I was trying to emulate was the experience I wanted most of all: the roleplaying game.
I remain a fan of the analogue game. Board games, card games, tabletop wargames, and roleplaying games top my list. The latter is, for me, the highest form of all. Roleplaying games embody the things I seek most from games. I have never found anything else that comes close to this unending possibility for discovery and exploration of both myself as the player, other people in connection with one another, and the limits of the game. To me, all three are essentially infinite.
Pencil, paper, dice, rules, world, and the game. It’s addictive, rewarding, and immersive.
Discovery Is The Thing
I used to play endless hours of the old hex-and-chit strategy board game, The Rise And Decline of The Third Reich. I feel that this is a confession that might worry the reader so I need to say something right up front: yes, I used to enjoy playing the Germans the most but not because I harbour any interest in their political ideals. I was gaming the system, over and over, to first find the optimal pathway to German victory and then, once I worked that out, the optimal pathway to defeating them.
Essentially, each game presented a set of problems for me to solve. I would doggedly and obsessively game those scenarios out. Inevitably, however, I would reach the limit of the game.
I couldn’t make it any harder. I had solved the optimal pathway. The game was spent. I was done. Third Reich is just an example of this behaviour.
What I discovered with RuneQuest, Traveller, and other roleplaying games is that the game would have, effectively, no limit. The biggest limit on the enjoyment of those games is the willingness of the participants to continue.
In short, no one else has ever seemed to be quite as obsessed as I am with these games. It didn’t take long before I was solo’ing character generation, looking for optimum character builds with each set of randomly detemined attributes. When I discovered points-buy games, sometime in the 1980s probably, I was quickly down that rabbit hole – min/maxing? Yeah, that was me.
I would also run countless combat scenarios solo. I would pit my optimised characters against foes from the Monster Manual. In time, I graduated to generating random creatures. Eventually, I started to use those points-buy systems to build the ultimate creatures to destroy those ultimate characters. But the charm of this wore thin quickly. Once the parameters of a game were plumbed, I was seeking the next challenge. I believe this was what led me into studying and playing more complex games.
What never seemed to quite occur to me as a teen was that I could have extended beyond the limits of character generation and combat. When I returned to solo play about 5 years ago, I now realise, I was still bound by those old habits. Even armed with the Mythic GM Emulator, a tool that I truly admire on a conceptual level, I could never quite fully immerse myself into the endless game that I do, at heart, seek. Part of this was the shame of the past… but it’s also the fear of the infinite nature of the game.
You see, I want to discover these endless realms in which the characters I have created live. But I also fear becoming so entirely lost within them that I would lose my sense of self. Roleplaying immerses us into fantastic worlds and, for me, this can be very intense. The primary limit of my own gaming is my fear of committing to a game which I rather suspect will be infinite in scope. Thus, I fear the game will never end… well, at least until I end it. And I know I am not quite ready for that level of commitment.
But I want to discover those worlds. I want to tour the whole Third Imperium. I want to explore all the realms of Glorantha. I desire first-hand knowledge of Middle-earth. And I want to investigate the scope of the Global Occult-Alien Conspiracy that I know exists in the pseudo-Modern setting which inhabits my mind. I just don’t know if I dare.
I Don’t Want To Go Alone
Honestly, I wish I knew some gamers who had the time and willingness to explore these worlds with me. Ever since I was first introduced to roleplaying games, I found the amount of time available to play was inadequate. I was and remain obsessed with the thrill I feel when I am sitting around the table with friends who want to roleplay.
While I can do this alone, I’d prefer to share those journeys with others. But here’s the thing (and it’s not a judgement or complaint, just an observation): most gamers don’t want to play the infinite games that I want to brave. They are content to play for a little bit and then try something else. When you couple this with my own fear of immersion alone, I have found it very hard to go there too. And that’s ok… and also vaguely disappointing.
I sometimes feel that I am alone in seeing the awesome potential of roleplaying games. Many gamers accept the programmed limits of worlds presented in incredibly high-resolution on their consoles and computers. Others are happy to delve for a little while in the imaginary wonders that these games can offer. But few seem willing to play to see just how infinite the possibilites might truly be. Sometimes that leaves me feeling very alone.
And I am hoping that, in reading this rambling confession, you might be someone who understands where I am coming from. If you do, please let me know. I’d love to find another kindred spirit.
This article gave me a chuckle; it reminded me of the phrase I previously used to describe this issue for myself: “The vast possibilities that these tomes promise is intoxicating”. You’re certainly not alone!
Hi Che, I do understand where you come from! I’ve been playing solo a lot, though usually not rpgs. Then I was lucky because I’ve a bunch of younger bros, whom I could introduce to gaming, adapting and simplifying rules. But usually my first phase was always playing solo, especially wargames. Many of them remained stuck in that phase.
Go on with the gaming!
Dude i totally get where you are coming from..as a disabled child i was bullied so withdrew into my own world of books. I was lucky enough to meet a group of people to roleplay with at secondary school. The weekends we spent trying out the multitude of different games thst came out over that period (80’s) are the best part of my childhood. Outside of thst i have always spent a lot of time playing games solo. The final fantasy game books and their ilk were a lifeline for a lonely child. Of course Tunnels and Trolls was great too. Now i have my consoles and couple of gaming groups. But with these difficult times solo gaming still serves me well. Finding a group who wants to fully roleplay is hard to find..I have been with a few over the years. They are the best games. Sorry to ramble . This comment got away from me somewhat
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for the comment, dude. And it’s ok to ramble… I do that a lot too. Seriously, I think gaming has been a lifeline for many and I am glad it helped you too. Game on!
I understand. I am so drawn to sandbox play that I really don’t like written scenarios. I crave that wondrous jointly improvised experience of a world unfolding and coming to life as we play. That is what gets my juices flowing.
LikeLiked by 1 person
interestingly this is the 2nd blog post I’ve read today about infinite play. Both have resonated with me. I do a lot of solo gaming, mostly Traveller (as pretty much it is a toolbox of solo games: character generation, world creation, designing ships) but also a good chunk of fantasy (lots of world building that honestly, while I do post on my blog, I really want to see how it works in a game with real people!).
I did take a couple decades off of gaming, but a while ago (another decade or so ago) I started back up, re-joined the local game club, and was back to playing weekly with other people. It did not always scratch my itch for a deeper dive (touring the 3rd Imperium as you mentioned) as we swapped games way too often for my tastes. With the current world, though, we play virtually and finally get to play longer in the same game world. And one of my gaming buddies and I do have a shared fantasy world (one I started in college far too long ago) that he has been adding bits to. And another buddy & I keep talking about doing it but so far have not yet started.
It is more fun to have a shared world, but sometimes there is just us.
And so, no, you are not alone!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hey – I don’t even know how I found this blog post but it resonates. My mom always said I was very good at playing alone. I’m the youngest of 4, and my dad’s only child (share my mom with 3 siblings). Grew up poor as shit, which I credit with helping develop my imagination. Needless to say all my friends growing up were more into EverQuest or Tony Hawk (I love video games) and never wanted to come over. All I had were my books until I turned 13 and got a PlayStation when it was already and aging console. Anyway, I’ve had this unnameable desire for total immersion ever since I was a kid. I’m 35 now, just started solo RPGing and I think I’ve found something pretty profound. Check out my first session, would be curious to hear your feedback https://youtu.be/CbTDwlIYMP0
LikeLiked by 1 person