Monday, January 12, 2009

Faith Check: Natural 1

I find myself troubled. This journal is not, as a rule, for detailing my personal life, but this particular issue is somewhat thematic, so I hope you’ll indulge me.

Last month, I turned 30. The change was not immediate – realistically, I’ve been feeling it coming on for a number of months – but I do wonder if it is not at least subconsciously linked to beginning my fourth decade of life: I seem to all appearances to have grown out of tabletop roleplaying, just like my father always said I would.

I explained these feelings to a friend the other day, and said that I was feeling odd and depressed because I had always been defined by tabletop roleplaying. He disagreed, replying that I had always been defined by telling a story, and that for many years roleplaying was the best way for me to exercise that interest. I think he might be right, because that is exactly how I feel: I’ve reached a point in my storytelling career where telling a story through a group of participants has become inefficient and ultimately unsatisfying. It’s not writing. It’s barely even practice.

My dream job is writing for roleplaying games, whether they be tabletop games or computer games or console games. But that’s not the same thing as sitting at a table with four friends and wrestling them through over-long combats and awkward interpersonal acting, and I’ve begun to realize that I can’t get there from here. Even the best computer or console roleplaying game is still a linear experience at its core, no matter how many subplots it contains. Even a play-by-post game is more an interactive novel than a true tabletop experience, by necessity. Even tabletop roleplaying sourcebooks tell a story that ultimately has nothing to do with the people sitting around the table. It is the gamemaster’s job to interpret these dense documents into something personal and enjoyable for the group, and that is what I’m tired of doing. I’m tired of writing my story and then having to chop it up and shift it around and – in short – give someone else say in how my story goes.

I acknowledge that this sounds spectacularly selfish, but I do not feel unjustified. Gamemastery is possibly the only art form that requires such input from one’s audience. And that is good; it is all part of the fun of tabletop roleplaying. The trouble is that it is no longer interesting to me. What I want is an engaged audience that appreciates and recommends without actually being involved in the process. I want to keep reading roleplaying game materials, and designing game systems, and writing stories, and having them bring people joy, but I no longer want to workshop them. I want to be my own author. I want to be a complete entity unto myself, and I want my audience to be a complete entity unto itself.

And who knows, next week I might realize this was all a fevered hallucination and that gamemastering tabletop roleplaying sessions is really where I belong. But I doubt it. I feel like change is on the wind, and it is time to grab my hang glider.

It is a long drop.

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