A little while ago I spoke about roleplaying games. Specifically, tabletop roleplaying games, as opposed to video games. I wanted to talk about what attracts people, and what attracted me, to tabletop roleplaying.
At its core, roleplaying is escapist fantasy. One of the hooks generally used in many rpg books is that you get to tell your own story and be the hero. If there was ever a moment when you wanted a character in a book or movie to do something differently, this was your chance to make that happen. That appealed to the budding writer in me, as well as the childish part that didn't want to grow up. This was like making up stories with action figures, only even adults were doing it. The promise of getting to make up these stories with my friends, all the way into adulthood and beyond, was very tempting to my 14 year-old self.
It's safe to say that there are a lot of very creative people dedicated to the hobby. Many gamers I know also have a range of artistic talents, from music to acting and writing. I think the nature of roleplaying as another outlet for that creative energy is a strong draw for a lot of people. I've seen people's creativity flourish as they spend time with their gaming group.
Depending on the specific set of rules for a given game, and the personal tastes of each group, there can be more encouraged than just creativity. Most roleplaying games, particularly older ones or those designed in a more traditional style, have some strategic and problem-solving element. Whether it's working out the math of a character's abilities or figuring out battle tactics, there's plenty to keep the analytic part of the brain busy.
Of course, like many fringe hobbies, roleplaying can be attractive to people who don't do so well socially. It's a place where they can be the hero they can't be in real life, saving the day while hanging out with people just like themselves. This is not a bad thing. Speaking as one of those kids who grew up with few friends, never good at sport, never quite good enough in school to be top of the class, this hobby gave me a place to belong. I mentioned in my previous post how roleplaying isn't competetive. Now, I'm not an advocate of all activities having an "everybody wins" attitude. I think competition is healthy and children need to learn a reward system for hard work. However, it can be nice, when you're introverted and have trouble standing up for yourself, to have something where you're not going to be judged, where you're welcomed for who you are and everyone's there just to have some fun.
The social nature of tabletop gaming played a large part in my own development. The more I ran games and the more I saw people enjoying them, the more confident I became. With the right group, it can be a nurturing, positive environment. I've watched people go from being shy and uncertain to bubbly and assertive, not from the game itself, but from using the game as a way of breaking the ice in a social group. Once you've used some silly voices, pretended to slay a dragon or traded witty banter with an elf, you tend to come out of yourself a bit, and that carries over into other social situations with your gaming group. It's good for people, teenagers especially, to feel comfortable enough to be themselves around their friends.
I've found that, as gamers grow older, the social aspect becomes even more important. When there are so many things that need our attention as adults, it's great to have something to get your friends around a table to share some food and forget that you're meant to be a grown-up for a few hours.