It struck me this morning that we gamers have some strange allegiances.
In my case, I am oddly loyal – attached if you will – to systems of rules. Evidence for this arises whenever I try, as I have been seeking to do this week, to read an alternative system of play. Even when my intent is to learn from such a new source, rather than seeing this as a replacement for any game I play, my reaction is one of uncertainty and guilt.
But it’s not just me. Players are loyal to particular game systems – sometimes wholly, world and methodology alongside rules mechanisms, but usually partially and committed more to one set of rules than to any one world. Some gamers are exclusivists, determined only to play one game system, while others are more inclusive of systems that are somehow related to one another.
Perhaps the Old-School Renaissance is such as this: gamers who are loyal to a particular methodology tied to adaptations of one particular system of roleplaying game rules; they are not usually tied to any particular world. The source of this seems to be a kind of Originalism, a focus on the “original intent” or the “original meaning” of the roleplaying game; others are more desirous of the “original experience” or the “original methodology”. None of this is by way of complaint or denigration, simply an observation.
We see it sometimes with particular worlds: the fans of RuneQuest who love Glorantha; those committed to the Empire of The Petal Throne, or Middle-earth, or the Star Wars Universe, or the Star Trek Universe… the list is very long indeed. Some, of course, are bound to remain with the worlds of their own creation. I know fewer of these players whose allegiance is exclusive to one or few worlds, but they certainly seem to exist.
For myself, I am asking why I am moved to feelings of shame, guilt, betrayal, and loss when I contemplate trying something new? It is a curious thing, isn’t it? The Buddhists would say I am too attached to worldly things, even to imaginary things. This seems to bear some truth. But why should it be such an emotive and powerful matter to simply consider an alternative set of rules, variant methods, or a fresh world?
I even go so far as to wear the badges of my allegiance upon my body – clothing in my case, but I have seen tattoos and jewellery too. It is a curious allegiance to a game about an imagined secondary world, a game in which we pretend to be Elves, Space Pirates, or Super-heroes, and then become so bound to our identity because of it.
None of this is, of course, “a bad thing”… it’s just a curiosity to me.
This week I have been flirting with a new system, a new set of rules and methods. I have also been sniffing around some old worlds and thinking about visiting them. The shame comes in waves. It’s a strange thing. But I suspect I am not alone in this.
Why are we so bound to our games, our ways of playing, and our worlds? Have we given up on the rich possibilities that exist within the sphere of roleplaying games?
I’m curious to see what happens if I let go of these strange allegiances.
- Will the friends around me disapprove of my straying too far from the familiar, wandering off into the wilderness and leaving them behind?
- Will I find myself suddenly among strangers with whom I don’t feel affinity and to whom I must cling, fearing that they are not really like me at all?
- Will I float free from my tether into an infinite void of possibility that threatens to swallow me whole?
What a strange thing it is, to bind ourselves to the very things that we hope will free our minds to travel to better worlds, to exciting adventures, and out beyond the mundane routine of our daily lives.