Why I’ll Flunk Out of Gaming University

Posted: March 19, 2013 by jddennis in GM's Corner

Isn’t it funny how academic the role-playing game hobby is?

There’s no end to it. In addition to all the rules-sets I own, I have books on how to prepare adventures and how to work improvisational techniques into games. There are blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels all devoted to breaking down and analyzing gaming. As an example, here was a recent panel I watched: Is Fantasy Dead?

Oh, yeah! Panels! Ostensibly, we go to conventions to play games with new people or to pick up a hot, new rule set. All that’s available, but the panels seem like they’re ported over from an academic conference. Are you interested in the discussion about “A Postmodern Examination of the Prevalence of Monolithic Evil in Role Playing Games?” That’s in conference room 317. How about an examination of dice-based mechanics versus diceless mechanics? That’s 423. Oh, and did you hear that so and so just made tenure?!

Speaking of dice, there’s the analysis of RPG math. Dice probabilities are examined. Bell curves are charted. I’ve even seen comparisons of mathematical probabilities of dice brands. I have a friend who has a PhD in Mathematics. If she took a serious look at the math behind game mechanics, she probably would be thrilled to death with RPGs.  It’s just that all that stupid acting gets in the way.

And then there’s the part that really gets me. The self-labeling. Wherever there’s a group of people interested in the same topic, they have to divide themselves down into smaller groups. It’s like you’re talking about psychology. Do you take a Freudian approach, or a Jungian one? Which is more valid – tactical gaming, or cinematic gaming? Are you a modernist gamer , or are you part of the Old School Renaissance?

I sound like I’m breaking bad on all of this introspection. And, yes, I’m a bit critical of it. But I can’t condemn it outright. That’d be hypocritical of me. After all, the entire purpose of this website is to document the gaming sessions of my friends and me.  And, yes, I’m very aware of what our play style is and where we fall on the spectrum (cinematic OSR with modernist storygaming sensibilities).

It just seems to me that it’s easy to lose focus on actually gaming. We become so wrapped-up in the peripherals of the hobby, we can get lost in the social nature of the game. To me, gaming is great because it allows my friends and I share in collaborative creation and while enjoying each other’s company. In the famous words of everyone’s favorite Muppet Jedi, “do or do not.” While we may enjoy talking about what we do for fun, I’m convinced it’s more fun to actually do it.

It doesn’t really matter what it is I’m playing. Old school, modern, tactical, cinematic… Just so long as it’s with friends, and I’m having fun with them, I don’t really care.

And that’s why I’m going to flunk out of Gaming University. Because I was too busy goofing off with my friends.


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