Way Back When
Before I got into tabletop RPG’s my mainstay of “gaming memories” were older video games, Playstation and Sega games to be exact. A lot of those games were of the really difficult variety. In all my days of Castlevania, Resident Evil and “D” there were levels and bosses that had me thinking I’d sooner be breaking my television or the controller itself before actually defeating them. There were puzzles that took countless tries to decipher. However, in the end, when I eventually beat those bosses and solved the puzzles it was so rewarding and fun that I’d jump up and scream “yeah!” I’m not sure I could have said the same if something was holding my hand through the entire experience.
What I don’t understand, are people that give up on a game because it’s too hard, or declare that it’s not fun because of the difficulty. Those are probably the same people that use strategy guides. I don’t understand it. What is the fun in playing something when all you have to do is look at a guide that tells you exactly what to do? I suppose to say that you’ve experienced the game, but if that’s the case why not just go see a movie? How can you even claim to have beaten a game if you used a strategy guide? You didn’t beat the game, your instruction manual did!
No Threat? No Fun
Which leads me to RPGs, this is exactly how I feel about role playing games. Don’t get me wrong, I think a nice laid back game of Dungeons and Dragons is a lot of fun. However, I think that a big part of the fun is in the challenge. If there isn’t a challenge in your game then you might as well be playing Chutes and Ladders. If your DM holds your hand and you know they’re insuring the immortality of your character or constantly gives PC’s an alternate-out instead of death, capture, or other nefarious fates then what are you actually gaining? Are you even playing a game at this point?
Risk breeds excitement, if you know going into a game that your character is guaranteed to come out alive every single time – why play? I understand some people might like that because they are invested in their characters and enjoy easygoing game developing rich back story, slaying a few monsters and perhaps doing some persuading. What about games where this is the case every session though, seems like it would get boring quickly to me but hey, to each their own. I’m sure plenty of people would never get bored of this the same way I’d never get bored of a good honest challenge.
Escapism, The Very Definition
I play games for fun and excitement and I don’t want to play it safe. I want to take chances and live dangerously through my character. I play it safe every day in real life, I raise my kids, clean my home, work, and juggle dozens of other things all while maintaining a blatantly non-adventurous lifestyle.
So isn’t this escapism gained from gaming one of the major attraction points for a lot of us? Escapism, to escape! When the rest of my party is afraid to go into a foreboding locale or an obviously perilous room I am always the person that wants to go investigate it. This is, after all, just a game. The worst that could happen is your character will die, and although that can be a bummer, you can always make a new one. Depending on the game you can always attempt to get them brought back one way or another.
I know that this must seem like I’m coming off as “TPK Queen” or something extreme but that’s not really the point here. Characters don’t have to die necessarily, but there has to be risk, something to lose. Losing precious resources, a limb, succumbing to weakness or curse, making a bargain with a more powerful entity, etc. are all actually a lot more moving than just winding up dead.
An Anecdotal Close
Way back when, in 2011, when we still called Winter Fantasy “DDXP”, I got to experience Greg Bilsland’s “Nightmare Mode” while playtesting some upcoming products and it was rough! Really rough! While my character didn’t die, I was almost certain she was going to wind up that as zombie food with every roll of the die. I should mention that it was also some of the most fun gaming I’ve ever done. That’s what I’m all about.
In closing, I just want to say that I think the difficult, clinch, “do or die” moments in gaming are the ones we remember most. Of course, not to be left out are the hilarious, the absurd and at times emotional moments as well – but that’s a post for another day. I’m done for now, but I’m curious as to what your thoughts are on this topic? Let me know in the comments!