Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Are RPGs "fun"?

 Every now and then I listen back to my old episodes and, despite their cringe-inducing qualities, they do make me feel more connected to the fabric of my own story and help me to fully absorb my own lore.

I think it was in episode three I threw out a comment that DnD was supposed to be "fun".  My own dumb voice haunted me for a while after re-listening to that to the point where I feel I need to retract it.  

The more I think about it, the less I feel that DnD is "fun" per se, at least for me.  This isn't just semantics either; I think it might underlie a schism in the gaming community at large.

What do I get out of DnD if not fun?  It's enjoyment, yes, but not necessarily joy.  A 'thrill' is closer.  A 'sense of adventure' is closer.  A 'connection to my own imagination that I normally do not indulge in' is also closer.  I'm not sure what it is, but it's not 'fun'.  I guess 'fun' implies lightness, which obviously my games aren't.  I'm the kind of person who enjoys horror movies, and not for the Aristotlean concept of catharsis, either.  RPGs are kind of like that.  There's a relationship between RPGs and horror that I want to examine at a later date, but for now, back to the fun/not fun schism.

I perceive a divide in the gaming community that appears to be between old school and new school, but I don't honestly think the systems are the cause of the divide, nor are they even central to it.  I think they are incidental to it.  The divide might be best described as the space between those who play RPGs for fun (like the vast, vast ocean of comedy improv podcasters I can't relate to for the most part) and those who play for ... man I need a word... fulfillment feels like a cop out.  Satisfaction is a cop out.  It has to do with danger, immersion, excitement, wonder... I think I have to settle on the word 'experience'.  A light comedy where characters go shopping or riff in a tavern is not an 'experience'.  A harrowing hour in a dungeon is an experience.  An escape through the forest pursued by wolves is an experience.  Characters solving a puzzle to get the prize is an experience.  Help me out - can you find a better word to describe what you get out of RPGs?


  1. Have to say I've seen this opinion expressed elsewhere and I'm not sure I fully understand it. Fun is just a convenience word that works for short posts... "We had a lot of fun playing D&D last night". Could easily substitute fun with enjoyment. I think it's fine to have had a thrilling, terrifying, tense, nerve wracking, exciting, adventure filled session that stretches your imagination and summarise it as fun. I would expect most gamers would understand that it doesn't mean "we didn't take this game seriously" or "that was a light hearted game".

    I wouldn't be too hard on yourself for those earlier episode either, I really enjoyed listening to them. Loving the format and what you're doing with this, especially the old school vibe.

  2. Thanks for your comments and, of course, for listening to the show. I'm thrilled that you enjoy it. I am still really enjoying making it. I suppose you are right that, when it comes down to it, using the word 'fun' or another word is just semantics, and not really important.

  3. "Fun" in this instance probably equates to "enjoyment". I run a game of Paranoia - traditionally seen as the funny, humorous RPG - and I doubt any of the denizens of the world are having "fun" in the traditional sense - it' a bleak dystopia, where death and disaster abounds. However, the players always seem to enjoy it.

    It's the same with fantasy. Darker tales - like yours - are not lighthearted, jaunted stories (like "fun" is usually conceived of). Indeed, I'm pretty sure none of your cast would describe their wretched existances as "fun" ;) However, your audience certainly enjoys them! There's a lot of lighter tales out there, where the characters are constantly laughing, joking and doing wacky things, and they could be more easily pigonholed as being "fun" but they are no more enjoyable than more gloomy, bloody stories - it's all down to taste!

  4. Right! So the philosophical question is... why do we enjoy this kind of thing? I think having a vicarious brush with death has something to do with it. I also enjoy horror movies, bungie jumping, car racing games (but I hate actual driving)...

    1. My take on your philosophical question is escapism. Experiencing the thrill of a brush with death or accomplishing an epic quest allows us to live vicariously through our characters. Your podcast and the world it inhabits gives us the opportunity to escape with you. I think what I love about the hobby is there are games for all tastes.

  5. Thanks for your comment, Darren! The next good question must be: why would we want to have a brush with death... even a virtual one (or especially a virtual one)? I think the answer can be found in the same reason some people (like me) like horror movies. But I still don't know what the answer is.

  6. Your distinction between fun and enjoyment is a very clear one for me, particularly as I was the group’s DM. The players would sputter over their snacks, make pop culture jokes, have their characters act like sex depraved murder hobos. Me, I kept my head and worried about providing challenge by following the dice while spinning a fantasy-adventure tail. So not fun, but definitely enjoyable.

  7. Oddly, as a player in someone else's game, I'm much more likely to joke around. The social aspect of the game almost demands it. I'm sure this is the main reason why there are virtually no serious group APs out there, but there are a few serious solo ones. Thx for the comment!