24 April, 2009

The Uses of Re-Enchantment

Reading Dylan Horrocks' review of Mark Barrowcliffe's The Elfish Gene and his short comic, The Physics Engine, struck me with a pang of nostalgia for the world of roleplaying gaming.

I have tremendous sympathy for kids who get into roleplaying games. The RPG geek's lot is somewhat tragic, and not in the usual sense. Far from the odious, egotistical stereotype, I feel that most teenagers (or at least boys) respond to roleplaying, offers two succours in an otherwise difficult period: a sense of empowerment and purpose in an otherwise chaotic period of development and a safe way of exploring (intellectually and emotionally) the fearful and banal new territory of pubescence.

Childhood is a mysterious time. Children are all artists and magicians. And they are all roleplayers. As children become self-conscious teens and young adults, they are often divested of free communion with the world of the imagination; many people feel this loss of beauty and enchantment bitterly.

Roleplaying is playing. It is about creating worlds, characters, exciting events and involving other people in one's own imaginative world. A bit like writing stories. Or acting. Or drawing cartoons. The charge of escapism is at least as legitimate of these other creative activities as it is of roleplaying.

I recently read Lynda Barry's What It Is , which saddens and inspires by turns. Barry gives a recognisable description of having her mental life stripped of confidence, imagination and creativity - albeit far more brutally than most of us experience - to conform with a vision of adult normality.

Ironically, this child's-eye view (indeed, caricature) of being 'grown up' has little to do with emotional maturity or social (or even personal) responsibility. It reminds one that being told to 'grow up!' is to be admonished rather than encouraged, where innocence is conflated with naivety.

Although I haven't taken part in a roleplaying game in many years, my memories of it are mainly of friendship and creativity. Respect for the natural world, understanding of and empathy with others, and foresight require imagination. It seems to me that the world could do with more of this.