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Friday 8 June 2018

RPGs are a Virtual Reality Technology

I'm using "Technology" here in a broad sense. 'Technology' is usually thought of as machines, cellphones or whatever.  But here I mean it in a more classical sense, where it's any system or process that that accomplish something.  So obviously if a cell phone is technology, an abacus is technology too, but 'making fire' is also a technology.

The tools of RPGs are obvious: papers, pencils, books, dice. The purpose of this technology is to create a virtual world and populate it and then have players enter that world and interact in it, in the "theater of the mind".

 This whole line of thought emerged from yet another twitter discussion I had with someone stating that RPGs are for "storytelling". But if you look at RPGs as a technology, it becomes blatantly clear they're not. All the elements of the technology are processes created to let you make a world or be a character, not tell a story.  RPGs are more like some kind of sci-fi VR system than like a stageplay or a novel or even a TV show.

Just like you don't wake up every morning thinking 'what story will I try to actively create today'; you wake up and just live in your world. When you're playing a PC the right way, it's the same: they are in the world, living, and the more you can connect to your PC and think of them as real people in a real (virtual) world the better the experience becomes.

Sure, stories can emerge from that, the way biographies can emerge from the lives of interesting people, or short-stories can emerge from a series of events in the real world ("fishing stories", "golf stories", "stories about how wasted you got and the stupid things you did", etc).  But the pleasure of that is a later, secondary and peripheral pleasure.

The pleasure of the experience of play at the moment is always related to how much you are identifying with your character and his experiences.  The more you are genuinely experiencing your character going through things, and the  more the world he's going through things in seems to have a life of its own, the more exciting the game becomes.

That's what it's all about.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Volcano + Blue Boar


  1. Well, not everyone has has the chance of playing in your games, so for that I pity them, as your games as as close as it gets to a living a breathing virtual reality.

  2. Welcome to the club, I been saying that RPGs are a pen & paper holodeck for a couple of years now. That they work best at producing experiences that players can interact with as their characters. That the stories is the description of what happen much in the way somebody describes taking a trip to Greece or climbing Mount Everest.

    1. Oh that the genius of the whole thing is that Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax figured out how to do this with dice, pen, and paper back in the early 70s.

  3. Agreed. I think of RPGs, done right, as an analog VR. And yes, stories can emerge, and it's very cool when good ones do, and yes, the GM can help make that happen if the backstory is interesting and the NPCs dynamic and well motivated, but - what you are saying about how to play and think about the game is exactly right, imo. Thanks.

  4. The quality of the player's gaming experience depend on DM's ability as a storyteller.