Lately, I have had to process a personal revelation concerning a dear feature of my geek-centric life, something I had always believed was complimentary to, but which I now understand was in competition with, my creative writing.
I love role-playing games (RPG). Though Dungeons & Dragons was published ’74 when I was 13, I didn’t play my first session until a couple of years later. While I have trouble remembering the exact date of that first game, I vividly remember the character I played—half-elf Torian Asgard—and the non-player characters (NPC) who were my companions—Sadar the cleric and Bluehelm the magic user—and the place we explored—the digs of Roghan the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown: Quasqueton! These two great heroes had driven off a barbarian invasion but had disappeared during an expedition against said horde, leaving their stronghold, Quasqueton, just waiting to be explored and its treasures plundered.
I do not exaggerate when I say that first gaming experience was a nothing short of revelatory (thank you, Ken!). Having read Tolkien, Malory, Lewis and Howard during my pre-teen years, I yearned to have adventures like Frodo, Arthur, Lucy and Conan and from the first roll of the dice, I knew I’d found a way to scratch that itch. It truly felt like I’d discovered buried treasure.
It didn’t take too long for the storyteller in me to demand space at the game table. I quickly assumed the mantle of Game Master (GM) and began weaving my own scenarios for a group of players who would become my brothers-in-arms and life-long friends. Though I left D&D behind in favor of more intuitive game-engines, for the last 40 years I have continued to play, destroying the minions of evil and amassing a body of story, mythology and history to rival the most prolific of literary heroes.
Due to circumstances, however, and though the crew still gathers to talk geek as we have for decades, we can’t seem find time to regularly game any more. I’m not going into the politics of this situation, for they are a rough emotional sea of wild cinematic waves and whirling simulationist water-spouts. Suffice to say that a “perfect storm” brewed itself made of equal parts life, age and personality. I would rather do is relate a realization and discovery made about myself and my creative writing while in the midst of this gale.
Due to this gaming short-circuit, I found myself in a creative vacuum and as a result easily irritated, dissatisfied and, without overstatement, a bit bitter. Without regular gaming, I turned to my work-in-progress (WIP) to fill the void (which at present exists within the context of Holly’s HTTS class). It seemed natural. If you don’t have creamer, you reach for the milk. I mean, was I not creating imaginary worlds, cultures and religions as I develop my WIP? Did not heroes romp about discovering, fighting, loving, betraying, exploring, etc. in similar fashion to gaming? Were there not dark sorceries to overcome, conflicts to resolve, and villains to defeat? I thought to myself: a good bout of creative writing would be my surrogate game session while the ship groaned ominously and I waited for the storm to sort itself out. Good enough and off I went, bummed about the loss of regular bone-rolling but thankful I had a creative shelter in the storm. And indeed; while it wasn’t the same as gaming, it was medicine for my queasy stomach and balm to my wounded creative humor. So, for the last few months I created characters, spun dialogue, developed conflicts, wove plots, done necessary WIP world building and, all in all, had a rather productive time of it.
And that’s when it hit me…hit me, I say, like one of those looking-for-lost-glasses-oh-shit-they’re-on-my-face type realizations:
Without a game to creatively develop and GM, I had directed more time and energy into my WIP. Without a game to regularly express myself and play, the desire to role-play had been somewhat assuaged by writing.
To many this may seem a “Well, duh!” sort of moment. To me it was nearly as watershed as the advent of gaming itself. It made me lean back in my chair and blink. I had always known that prepping my game-world in anticipation of a GM session was a creative outlet, but up to this point I hadn’t fully realized how much I depended on it nor how much of my storytelling energy I devoted to it.
I have long lamented that juggling the two has been difficult. I see now that far from complementing each other, they have been in competition much in the same way books and films compete for audience. Each mode of storytelling: books, film, rpgs, may have entertainment as a common goal, but they use different methods to do so and deliver different story experiences as a result. I think this is the main reason why those who read are invariably disappointed when their favorite book is adapted to film. It is also the reason that while gaming and fiction writing share some commonalities and even inform each other, they both demand time as a resource and as a result find themselves in competition.
Though I would never exchange my years of gaming nor even now give it up—it is a very important social outlet and connection to my brothers, as well as, an enjoyable mode of storytelling—I now understand better the creativity-sink it can be and realize it is not a replacement for serious writing…no more than writing is a replacement for role-playing.
Well, what to do? I plan to adapt to this new reality and learn to walk its rolling deck. I’ll not exacerbate gaming’s present illusiveness by wasting what time I have waiting for a second advent. I will embrace the situation as a mixed blessing and make the most of it by romping in my WIP’s land of dark sorceries and bright heroes. I have learned a valuable lesson: time and energy are finite. When the storm finally passes, and it will, I will strive to keep the weather-gage and maintain a more satisfying balance.