Roleplaying, but how far? by Mathew Abonyi (Cornelius)

a dissection of roleplayers from 1975 to 2015

Roleplaying, but how far?

Dating back to the 1970s tabletops of Dungeons and Dragons and Middle Earth Roleplaying, there has been a rising culture of the most disparate types of people to subsume themselves in the role of a fictional character. This is separate of course to reading a book -- it is something interactive, in which they tell their own stories, however splendid, trite, grand, moral, graphic or dismally unimaginative. The lure is not that there is an escape -- the lure is the ability to transform oneself into the character in a story of one's own making. The lack of creative energy around us today is palpable, as we live in a post-Moon-landing, post-Modernist, post-world-war and post-Communist age. Our predecessors have exhausted their creativity in real life, or so we feel (another topic for another time), and we wish to subsume ourselves in something properly and genuinely new. Something... ours!

The games industry and the computing industry very slowly joined hands (slowly in terms of our own lifespans, of course). Any of us who have lived to see even the tail end, like myself, of the Dungeons and Dragons crew clashing with the Magic the Gathering card games, the Ultima Online frenzy and then the World of Warcraft crazes of one's early twenties put a spin on something that was altogether -- on the surface safe, but beneath -- dangerous. It was peculiar, even psychotic, desire to neglect? No. Life was still there and we fed it the pennies to keep going on our slot machine of roleplaying, because it gave us something better than a jackpot of pennies. It gave us back our sense of era.

I say dangerous instead of adventurous precisely because the adventure is something that can be limited to a few pints of beer or talking to the girl you like before running away. Dangerous is when you really take a plunge and take a risk that you may regret. In the early days, this meant you were socially ostracised for being a nerd or weird, or that you formed into cliques that self-protectively watched for others that would criticise this forbidden pleasure of creative genius. You may even be forced out of them. The roleplayer's perspective on youth or time spent shifted: you sacrificed this so called real life for something that made your blood boil and your heart pump with passions. The real world of glossy consumerism and faint-hearted bands wouldn't give you this... you wanted MORE.

We come to a point now where the games industry -- and I stress industry, because it is not creative like its progenitors -- has moulded, packed and repacked every imaginable combination that would fulfill our interests to roleplay over a casual period of time. Casual. This is the word, indeed. The real roleplayer is someone who is hardcore! They want to feel it, breathe it, live it. When the first online roleplaying game, Avalon, appeared, there was only quests, adventures and points -- a character? a life? a house? a city? Many other things to quantify but not pigeon-hole your existence in this fictional skin, emerged in 1989 and allowed one to express it to others. It began as hostplay, where twenty others in the room would share their character and life stories in a unique blend of artistic creation mediated by its founder, Yehuda Simmons -- Genesis, the god of time. It is a world of mechanics and being able to express oneself deeply, constantly, real and role, that cannot be denied by its own mechanics; indeed the mechanics force it along. Many others since have followed this pattern in the following years but then there came a cutoff point: when the commercial, not of individual or small business, but of corporate, reined in the mechanics to be purely commercial.

Look at the games that were born since then. Ultima Online carried itself proud, World of Warcraft sold itself cheap by inches, Guild Wars and Aion attempted to make the graphical its own forum of hate and contest, Final Fantasy XIV attempted to gloss and purify those passions into numbers called progress... as you take the snapshot of these industry developed games, you realise that the roleplaying involved becomes less and less. What you must do is GRIND. You must work. Is this any different to our normal lives and our normal commitments? Of course not. There lacks the passions that pumped in our veins going to a renaissance festival at the age of 9 or the convention of dumpy leather-strapped maidens and nerds in armour that sublimated themselves in a world of their own risk and imagination at the cost of what they were to the real world. We separated the worlds, we combined the worlds, our era is the definition of the roleplayer.

So we look at these industry and manufactured vacuum packed plethora and ... We became jaded and now we look on the game industry wondering:

Yes, that's roleplaying, but how far?

I am Mathew Abonyi. I am Cornelius, the all-consuming, of Avalon. I am a roleplayer, a game designer, a writer... this is my era and I claim it by my own creations.