RPG Corner: Explaining yourself

One of the challenges I have seemingly every day is explaining myself to people. In my case it's usually trying to tell them what I do for a living ("I sit around in my underwear and draw super-heroes all day" is what I've settled on) and the blank stares in response are priceless.

But that pales in comparison to the difficulty of trying to explain why you play an RPG, or even what one is in the first place.

So I ask you, how do you reply when someone asks what an RPG is, what you do at a session, or why you want to play them in the first place?

I've tried analogizing it to a jazz band, where you all agree to a common theme ahead of time, but exactly how the session plays out depends on each person's imagination, and everyone riffs off of everyone else. Or describing it as writing a group story on the fly, like an improv troupe. "We like to get together and pretend to beat the snot out of things while consuming orange food and beer" comes sort of close. I even tried "Imagine we're getting together to watch a football game and don't worry about what we're actually doing."

None of that worked all that well though, so I'm up for new ideas. Let 'em rip!

9 Responses to RPG Corner: Explaining yourself

  1. So my wife asked me, “Just what the heck do you DO? I don’t wanna play an RPG, and don’t be long-winded about it.” Oy, vey!

    I said, “Each nerd plays a character from Lord of The Rings (or Star Wars, or The X-League) how they each think it should be, at the same time. The funny dice are for keeping the plot of the game fair. It’s fun!”

  2. I’m not chiming in with a story yet, but just a comment: I just love it when someone that knew you were going to play “a game” asks you a few days later: “So, who won?”

  3. I usually tell them: Ever sat and watched a movie, and thought “That’s so stupid I’d never do that!”

    Well this is how you prove it–you get a character like that actor, and you get to decide what he does by pretending to be that character, only as a game instead of as a movie.

    You give the brain power, the thoughts, the motives. You can make them up too if you want, completely from scratch. Make a better character or a worse one, and experience pretend adventures.

    Of course someone gets to be the director and tells you what the world is like, and how it looks, and even controls the villains and extras.

  4. I use the explanatory term ‘interactive storytelling’ wherein each player takes on the role of a character to develop a story. Dice are used to resolve matters of mechanics, like who can do what, but beyond that it’s just one person telling a story while the others write their own roles.

  5. :@ Worf: True! Then she asks, “So did you win?” And I’m like, “Uhh, no. We survived to fight another day. Like a soap opera, or Star Trek, this is a ne-ver-end-ing stooooryyyy….!”

  6. I just tell people we worship Satan and eat babies. Preferably with beer and chips & salsa.

  7. I generally describe “gaming” as a cross between interactive storytelling and improvisational theater between a small group with certain rules that act as a framework for what is possible. Then, if they have further questions, I generally refer them to webcomic sites like http://www.darthsanddroids.net or http://www.somethingpositive.net.

  8. Because all those lead miniatures are actually a home-made radiation shield.

    I don’t bother trying to explain why I love RPGs. Had this discussion with a girlfriend once. She went into a very impassioned speech about why she liked Beverly Hills 90210 (talk about irrational). I “convinced” her that gamers are creative and know how to improvise.

  9. I call it my “geek bowling league”.

    When people ask what we do, I call it “improv with dice”.

    People who push for more explanation are usually asked if they know what fantasy football is. Most people do, and I ask them how they would explain fantasy football to someone who has never even seen a football game. That’s what it would be like for me to explain to you what an RPG is like.

    It would be much better for you just to go to a few football games with me, and then, if you wanted to join my fantasy league we could help you make your team.

    Same deal with my RPG. Come by next time we play.