Why Reading Is Play

Ever since it arrived last week, I have been slowly reading sections from “The Third Imperium” sourcebook recently released by Mongoose Publishing for Traveller. While I was reading, I became aware of the way in which my mind engages with this kind of material and realised that, as I was reading, I was playing.

When I am engaged in a text I will feel it. Reading isn’t simply an intellectual activity, in my experience, but rather consists of a complex array of responses. Yes, I am involved in the intellectual task of translating the symbols on the page into words and sentences, and from there seeking to decode the message that the author has written. But I am also forming a theory of mind about the author’s intent and beliefs, which in turn leads me to evoke an emotional response to those ideas.

Reading a fantastic sourcebook from a roleplaying game is an exercise in more than just ideas. It’s about evoking a sense of place, time, and mood. As I read about the Third Imperium, for example, I was intuiting the kind of cosmopolitan commercial environment that permeates the whole setting. Some ideas resonate while others fail to do so, but overall the impression is of a vast canvas upon which many great stories have been written… and upon which more could be written by us together as roleplayers.

For me, reading is play. It gives me ideas to muck around with, certainly, but with the best resources what is also engaged is my emotion and imagination. If I find myself immersed in the text, if the author can draw me into a sense of alternate reality, then similar responses arise to when I am playing in or running a roleplaying session with others.

Imagination isn’t reserved for when you formally join the group, sit down to describe the scene and ask the magic question, “What do you want to do?” Our imaginative capacities are engaged whenever we pick up and interact with game-related materials. Even when I pick up (say) an item card from my collection, the image and text on the card transports me into thoughts about the game.

Anything I do that is even remotely connected to the playing of roleplaying games draws me into this imaginative, open, emotive, and connective mindset. Books often do it best but even the sight of the Star Trek Adventures Challenge Dice on my desk as I type this post triggers feelings and then ideas about the game I want to play within that universe.

I think we are too prone to compartmentalising our play into formal events, often those enacted around the gaming table. In reality, we are much more open to play in our everyday experience of life than we realise. When it comes to the roleplaying game, any time we interact with something that connects us to the game then we have also entered the arena of play.

As I sit down to read some more of that book this evening, I aim to notice the effect the stories and ideas evoke within me. I might even choose to capture a few of those ideas as notes. But most of all, what I am going to do is credit myself with having played around with some science-fiction… even if I never picked up a single die while I was doing it.

Game on!

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