Playing on other worlds in other lives

As kids we played “Cops and Robbers” and briefly ran around wearing invisible badges or masks holding non-existent weapons. Powered by imagination, this augmented reality had phenomenal resolution and features, but was lacking in rules. Each game devolved into the same squabble, “I shot you!” “No you didn’t.” “Yes I did!” “No, I ducked!” Players invented guided bullets and impenetrable force-fields on-the-fly, but the game-play suffered.

We never lost our love for that immersive experience. We just stopped playing it and started paying actors to make it a spectator sport.

Tabletop role-playing games put you back in the action by adding the rules we were missing as kids. The complexity of those rules runs on a spectrum, from fitting on a single sheet of paper to spanning multiple volumes. They can provide just enough structure to keep the fun going or they can calculate trajectories and ballistics, and everything in between.

That's me.

But there’s an even better innovation. You’re not playing some generic cop or robber; you’re playing a person. That person has a name, and a background, skills, and challenges, loved ones, maybe some enemies. This person has a personality that can be similar or wholly different from your own. You’re the actor here, but you’re also in control so you’re writing your own path. It’s improvisational and what that person does is all up to you. Maybe you decide you’re tired of a life of crime, or the bank isn’t what needs protecting, or that the Indians were here first, or that government agent you just spoke with is hiding something, that the realm must be defended, or that you can wield magic even though there could be consequences.

It’s your other life. You do what you want.