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Sep 4, 2012

RPG in Real Life

I recently considered how to take my career to its next step. I have entertained the thought of taking the LSAT and applying for law school. However, I have been seriously...well, "discouraged" is probably the best several career attorneys. And yes, that can be interpreted in multiple ways. So, while the jury is still out on that decision, it seems less likely the verdict will by a four-year sentence.
Anyway, several thoughts have been stirred by this process, and it even brought up some previous discussions about character development. Fascinatingly enough, character development, in this case, is in reference to playing role-playing games.
Some readers may not be aware, but I am actually a published author - with much credit needing to go to my co-authors. But years ago, a group of college friends and I created a table-top game/book called Pelicar (ISBN: 0965316602, © 1996), which could best be compared to Dungeons and Dragons for those unfamiliar with the genre. Like many things in my life, it didn't go as hoped but was worthwhile in unexpected ways. Commercially, it was a failure. There were very limited sales; however, I still consider it a huge success for the lessons I learned from the experience.
I have digressed. The discussion is about character development. Much like real life, characters in the game have strong attributes and weaker ones. However, one key difference is that in the game, there is an outside person (the player) managing the life of the character. The sacrifices for improvement are less personal and greatly detached. Further, it is easier for the player to understand the long-term benefit while going through a training or leveling-up process. As an aside, my friends and I would joke how the in-game characters might complain to us about our lack of compassion for their betterment.
Another interesting thing to note is what players would improve about their characters. This is something almost opposite of real life. When a player sees the characters strengths and weaknesses laid out quantitatively on a character sheet, there is a natural tendency to shore up those problem areas. Dumb characters go to the library to become smarter. Physically-weak personas start "working out" to build more muscle. Wizards find some way to wield a nasty-damage-doing weapons. And so on.
If the fantasy role-playing game were reality, then wizards would probably shun weapons (like the never-played stereotype) and half-ogres would continue to smash down fortress doors and never pick up books. Why? Because they are good at what they are good at - and that's what would be practiced. The long-term good of diversifying would simply not be valued. Further, does a dumb half-ogre even know that he's dumb if he can't see his own character sheet?
At one point, another designer and I discussed using analog graphs to represent everything that was a number on a character sheet to better give the sense of the ambiguity surrounding skill-precision, which numbers qualified too-well for realistic decisions to be made in our fantasy game. But when we realized we had used the words "realistic" and "fantasy" in the sentence, we laughed at taking ourselves too seriously.
However, one "problem" with fantasy role-playing games is the players' desire to create the unbeatable uber-warrior. Players create defenses over every exposure and train every unnecessary skill to be all-things-in-all-situations. Of course, these games are marketed to testosterone-ladened under-achievers who have probably not done much with their lives - at least not in ways typically merited by society. Maybe not all gamers, but there's enough truth in that statement to defend.
But the point is not about the players, but about the way they play the characters. If most players applied the same "quantitative logic" to their own lives as they did their characters, they would probably not be playing the game. But they can't see the numbers on their own character sheet. None of us do that well, gamer or not.
So, without a list of numbers to expose the value of traits and skills in real life, we rarely do anything to honestly measure our own abilities. Further, we are often very unaware of our weaknesses - perhaps even our own thoughts are diluted to believe some of our shortcomings are actually strong points - because without "character sheets" we can't see the numbers.
This is why I have been taking an honest look at some of my own skills and particularly my weaknesses. I have been finding ways to quantify my skills, talents and attitudes to be able to apply a more game-style approach for self-improvement and honing the weaker parts of my own character. However, I'm still a little weak on my magic resistance.

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