So you're sitting in the first day of class. It's a small discussion class, and the professor asks the students to go around the table and say their names, majors, and their favorite hobby or pastime. You dutifully state your name and major, but get a little nervous when you say your hobby:
"I play tabletop RPGs," you mumble.
"RPGs?" The professor asks.
"It stands for Roleplaying Games."
"Roleplaying games? Mind if I ask what that means?"
Trying to get it over with, you make a little self-depricating joke: "If you're expecting something dirty, you're out of luck. It's more geeky than kinky. I'm talking about things like D&D."
"I never really understood what D&D is. I've seen the movie and there's that video game. It looks like Conan or Lord of the Rings or something. But what do you do?"
A. Refer to it vaguely as "...kind of a mix between improvisational theater and a board game with a referee," thus hoping to make it sound really complicated. If they don't like improv theater and aren't interested enough to inquire further, that's fine by you.
B. Describe the reality of most gaming sessions: "Basically, you pretend to be a hero, kill monsters, and take their stuff." That's the gist of it. If they want you to describe the specifics of how it works, you'll be here all day!
C. Try to evoke memories of childhood pretend games while trying to protect your dignity as a mature adult: "It's a grown up version of cops and robbers, but you have rules to settle disputes and someone who works hard to make up cool plots for the rest of us to play with."
Or D. Relate it to computer games since anyone who is capable of understanding probably plays some kind of interactive game anyway: "It's like a fantasy video game, but with paper and pencil. Like if you played final fantasy without the playstation."
If you chose A...
"Well, RPGs are kind of a mix between improvisational theater and a board game with a referee."
Suddenly the class is interested. They're college students in a discussion class, and they don't want to get the syllabus yet, so they feel the need to stall for time. Suddenly you're the subject of a barrage of questions:
"Do you dress up in costumes? What does the referee do? Is there a goal? How do you win the game?"
"No. Well, some people do. The referee makes up the story. Yes there's a story. The goal? It's not like that; you make up goals based on the plot. You don't really win, per se. I mean, you can achieve the goal you set, based on the story. Yeah, it's like the referee is writing a book and you're helping. Dear god stop asking me questions! Tina the Poli Sci Major knits! Ask her about sweaters or yarn or something!"
Exasperated, you slump back into your uncomfortable conference room chair, red-faced and embarrased.
If you chose B...
"Well, basically, you pretend to be a hero, kill monsters, and take their stuff."
"Oh. OK. So who's next?"
The person to your right starts talking, "I'm Mike. I'm a sophomore psychology major. I do crew..."
* * *
Later, after class, Tina the Poli Sci major comes up to you.
"Hey, my boyfriend in high school played Vampire. Is that the same kind of thing?"
"Yeah," you enthusiastically reply, hoping for a sympathetic ear, "it is. I've played Vampire, too. It's pretty cool."
"Oh. OK." By the look on her face, she seems to have confirmed that gamers are all losers acting out their repressed dominance fantasies. She was hot, too. Damn.
If you chose C...
"Well, it's a grown up version of cops and robbers, but you buy books of rules to settle disputes and someone who works hard to make up cool plots for the rest of us to play with."
The guy to your right chips in: "Books of rules? That sounds complicated. Why not just play Everquest or something?"
"Because there's more freedom when you're sitting around a table. You aren't limited to the options the game gives you, and you can make the game yours by making up your own plot."
"That still sounds really complicated. How much time does it take?"
"Well, my gaming sessions take about four or six hours. That's two games a week. But when I GM - referee - I have to spend another six hours or so preparing the plot for the next game. Some people play more often. Some play less often. I used to play only once a week."
"Oh. That's a lot of time."
He seems fairly dismayed. You get the idea that he was actually interested for a while there. You've gone and made it seem like you spend eighteen hours a week making up specific details for an overblown cops and robbers game.
If you chose D...
"Well, it's like a fantasy video game, but with paper and pencil. Like if you played final fantasy without the playstation."
The guy to your right looks at you, "Final Fantasy X was pretty cool. How do you do the cool summons and stuff without a PS2?"
"You imagine them."
"So why not use the playstation. They did a good job with the graphics."
"No, what I meant was it's like the video game because you imagine your own characters, progress through a plot of your own making, gain power based on rules in a book - which usually differ greatly from the rules Final Fantasy games run on - and everything is in your imagination. Well, maybe you use miniatures."
"So it's not like a video game at all."
"Yeah, pretty much."