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Roleplaying vs Acting

by Altin Gavranovic

Roleplaying is not drama. I cannot stress this enough. Drama and Roleplaying are worlds apart; a roleplayer on a stage is an average actor and an actor in a Roleplaying game is a bloody nuisance.

The fundamental difference between the two activities is that a roleplayer remains an independent, and dominant, entity from his character even when he is most involved. A roleplayer is always putting on the voice, altering his mannerisms superficially, altering his actions in the game to 'suit' the character, but he is still very much himself when he is playing, what he is doing is a conscious effort to get into the spirit of the game. The only reason roleplayers 'act' their characters is that this makes the activity more engrossing and fun for them. Actors, on the other hand, have to be relatively unstable personalities to allow to do their job well. You see, acting requires that one *become* the role one plays (ie. Dustin Hoffman) or, in a purist theatrical setting, to become submissive to the character, to simply become a presence in the background that does not invade the character. In drama, the character is far more important than the actor, and an actor is only as good as his character.

It may be somewhat difficult to grasp the difference. I'll illustrate; Player A and Player B are both fighters in a game of AD&D, they are both portraying the traditional ^—tough guy' image, and have a fairly hot head about them. The only difference is that player A is Roleplaying and player B is acting. When the characters encounter a fearsome monster both will run into combat, screaming wildly. However, player A will do so secure in the knowledge that he can retreat, that his group is backing him up and that, if it comes to that, he can just roll up another one. The actor, on the other hand will race into combat and actually feel that this monster will threaten his village and therefore think that killing it is his duty, confident that at least he will die honourably. So far, so good, they're just playing on different levels, no real difference to the group or the GM.

Then the following happens; The fighters are struck down by the monster but the other players defeat the monster and heal the fallen fighters. Player A will be relieved and ask what his share of the loot is, and off they go again. At this point Player B becomes a wild card. He could mimic player A, but more likely he will be upset that he didn't land the killing blow, that he was defeated and that some sissy mage had to heal him. He'll become bitter, aggressive to other players and perhaps refuse to fight in the future, all perfectly acted in character. However, here he is blocking both the other characters and the GM. After all, a fighter who won't fight and just sits around sulking is no fun to game with.

I read in an article a while back in which the writer was gaming with a player with a mercenary sort of attitude. They were on a mission where speed was vital and the writer's character had just broken a leg. The mercenary character calmly assessed that the character would only hinder them, that this way he could get easily captured, and then took out a gun and shot him. The player was totally in character, he was acting convincingly. He also sucked at Roleplaying.

Another major difficulty with Roleplaying with actors is the question of motivation. I have (or, had, more appropriately) this actor in my regular group. Actually, pretty much all my group is composed of actors, they just happen not to act when they're Roleplaying. Sadly, my actor friend was unable to understand what motivated his character. He was applying the golden rule of acting to our hobby; when you understand why a character does something, you understand him. But the fact is; there is no motivation for what our characters do. Take a standard fantasy setting; adventurers may be ^motivated' by power, glory or wealth. But the fact is, any of these goals are available to the ordinary man, and he doesn't have to risk his life for it. My actor could not, when pressed, name a possible motivation for his character to do the things that he was expected to attempt (actually, he named my threading to kill his character off if he didn't, but that's just not my style). To use an adventure template I'm fond of; the monster is stalking a small village, the players are stuck in the village for a certain time. The idea, of course, is for the players to learn about the beast and eventually defeat it, becoming heroes of the village. But every normal, intelligent and sane person would barricade himself in the place she was staying and sit tight until the time period expired, or simply attempt to flee the location as soon as possible. The idea that the characters would think to face up to the monster unless their life was threatened is unrealistic, of course, but it's done so the players have fun. My actor was unable to switch his thinking around to Roleplaying mind set and he eventually left my group.

What I think a lot of people need to be reminded of is this; Roleplaying is a game. Roleplaying is pretend, Roleplaying is the adult extension of early childhood games. If Gryax had only thought to name his game Advanced Cowboys and Indians, we wouldn't have this problem. And that's why this hobby is dropping in popularity with newer gamers; we're pitching ourselves as actors, or as writers, or even as philosophers. We deal with adult themes, we catharsise and we're expected to emote and learn while gaming. These are all good things, but we're getting a bit carried away. I mean, for crap's sake, there are people who term what we do as "Co-operative exercise in imagination and fantasy". Now I wouldn't have given up Magic or Diablo (if they'd been out when I'd begun gaming) for "Co-operative exercise in imagination and fantasy", and I can't blame the kids today for not doing so. I don't know about you people but I was 8-9 when I started Roleplaying (I'm told I was a young starter, I happened to think dragons were cool when I was nine,so it goes) and to a 9 year old, dragons, magical swords and fighters are much more important than catharsis. CCGs aren't killing Roleplaying, Roleplaying is killing Roleplaying.

Look at the stuff that's selling today. White Wolf is pumping out stuff that trumpets itself as dealing with themes and issues and, regardless of it's success at doing so, this pitch tends to drive away new (and quite a few old) gamers. More and more games are becoming introvert parodies that only dinosaurs get, imagine a new gamer buying HOL or Macho Women with Guns. More and more games are requiring ridiculous amounts of money to get up and going with. Your averege game has a Player's Handbook, GM's handbook, Campagin Setting book, 5 *vital* (no, really) supplements and a host of other knick-knack that, while maybe high quality and essential, is just out of the financial reach of the average high-schooler. Whatever happened to days when you bought one cardboard box that had everything you needed to play already in it? On the other end of the scale are those stupid 3 page leaflets that pass themselves off as Roleplaying games and that can only be played by a GM with 5+years of fudging games under his belt. Even the good old games of old are becoming twisted and convulsed beyond a joke. Present a novice GM with a CoC scenario and watch him turn white, try to get a character made with GROUPs in under half an hour with new role players and see how far you get and let's just not talk about AD&D. And people wonder why so few people take up Roleplaying.

But we can hardly blame the industry for what is happening to the hobby. The industry is just a reflection of what we buy, how we think. The industry is geared towards the elite, because the elite rules this hobby with an iron fist. I am sad to say that the systemless issue comes into this; the ^no dice, no rules' ideal, while a fantastic way to roleplay (In my opinion at least), is just too much for new guys to cope with. Systemless gaming becomes dangerous when people expect it from someone who just entered the scene, it takes a lot of time before one can comfortably discard the stats and dice. The rise in popularity of these games isn't a catalyst, simply an idicator of how old we're getting as a body of gamers. The aversion felt towards munchkins, even the existence of that term to define new and inexperienced players, is a reminder of what is wrong with gaming; we've become completely introverted. The hand which reaches out into the inane sea that is pop culture and grasps onto teenagers with that precious quality that is the heart and soul of roleplaying, an imagination, is slowly being withdrawn. And with that hand, dissapears the future of this marvelous activity we've created.

We're becoming snobs, and roleplaying is dying because of it.