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The Perks of Pathfinder: Fantasy Table-Top Roleplaying Games and Their Immersive Qualities
A lot of our gaming, these days, begins and ends with a computer. This is only to be expected with our amazing leaps and bounds we’ve made in animation and graphics technology over the years. Video gaming is a glorious invention and a great activity – sometimes, there really isn’t anything better than being able to sit on your couch and don your heavy headset with a bag of Haribo as your sceptre and best bro’s chatting to you on TeamSpeak.
More than this, it is very easy to get “lost” in particular games. I’m sure we’ve all experienced getting super involved with something (Bioshock *cough cough*) and then suddenly realizing that three days have passed and you haven’t been to bed or fed your cat. But such immersion can also be difficult to achieve when gaming is between you, your computer, your mouse/controller, your keyboard and the needs of the “computer characters” within. It becomes a bit of a crowd. Particularly when you have the danger of technical glitches, everybody’s favorite foe. I find myself having to save a game every two or three minutes to feel truly comfortable when playing a game, after several tragic occurrences in which I lost huge amounts of progress due to blackouts/losing connection/accidentally pulling the plug out/having fallen asleep and somebody turning it off without realizing the weight of their actions.
So how else can we achieve the state of “gamer’s immersion”, def., the ability to lose oneself in one’s game and/or character, without any risk of pain?
I’ve recently become quite a fan of fantasy roleplaying table-top gaming (it’s a bit of a mouthful). Yet on researching it, it appears that most of the time, the enterprise is a little lost in the all-encompassing fog that is video gaming. I suppose that video games are better advertised – you can see adverts for Halo in the cinema, whereas stuff like D&D and Pathfinder is only really known to those who’ve actively decided to explore that scene. More than this, video games can fit literally any person’s interests: games ranging from cutesy “anime” style ventures like Long Live The Queen, to shoot-’em-ups such as Call of Duty and Sci-Fi masterpieces like Dark Space. Any mold of human will fit the cast of a game, somewhere. Conversely, fantasy roleplaying games may be construed as more rigid due to the fixed “fantasy” element of the venture.
However, bearing in mind that you are that kind of person – of the fantasy-loving, theatrical ilk – there’s really no reason why playing roleplaying games shouldn’t be a part of your gaming schedule, particularly if you’re looking to “immerse” in the way that you can when reading a book/being in a play/doing some other sort of hands-on activity. As involving as a headset and engaging video game script can be – you can’t physically touch your character and get into their shoes, put your words in their mouth, or fully decide the extent of your actions or the outcome of the game in the way that you can with a fantasy roleplaying game.
Let’s talk a little about Pathfinder (this is the roleplaying game I’m involved in at the moment, therefore the one I can talk about, hopefully without sounding like an idiot). You create your character pretty much from the ground-up. Of course, you’re still a bit limited – otherwise you could become a universe-consuming, flame-throwing robotic dragon which poops tanks, or something. That wouldn’t really be fair on the rest of your team, and the game would conceivably be quite short. However, the list of things that you can choose from is extensive, and the attributes you may add to your character similarly so. Want to be an elf who’s great with bows? Sure. Want to be an alcoholic gnome with a penchant for magic and a twisty purple beard? Go for it. Want to be a druid with a pet bear? Fine. The breadth of choice you get from the very beginning is amazing, and as you get to craft your character intrinsically to your own tastes, you’ll find yourself inevitably attached to them from the get-go, and thus especially immersed in the actions that follow.
Immersion is additionally achieved through collaboration. The whole game rides upon the ability to problem-solve and act as a team – based on both you as an individual, and your role within the team, and you as a collective, and the outcomes that occur from your collaborations. Outside of your motley crew, there are no other influences – no rigged computer reactions, no set gameplay.
Of course, this could be seen as a set-back if you’re a bit of an “independent player”, preferring to embark on quests alone. However, if you find yourself fitting this type – why not take the reigns as the Dungeon Master? As Dungeon Master you write the whole script, play a medley of monsters and can, if you’re good at it, steer the players into making certain decisions. Back them into corners. Be as mean or lovely as you like. There are no rules – except the ones that you make, of course. You can really go “all-out” in the creation of your world: the Dungeon Master for my particular group goes as far as to make maps and character designs for our monsters and worlds, so we can visualize to our best ability the dimensions of our quests.
Pathfinder is very free. Nothing is allotted to you like in a video game – in roleplaying table-top games, you choose every element, including having the choice to “make” the game as a Master. Sure, there are rule books and character sheets and forums and certain things that you can and cannot do – but these are so extensive that the choice really is endless. It also helps that you’re “switched off” – no tech or bright lights or phones to distract you from the task at hand (we have a “no phones” rule in my group, which I find really helps – you can’t pretend as adequately that you’re living in an ancient, Middle-Earth-like society when you’re simultaneously glued to an iPhone. Put that imagination-trap away). Some people like to go even further, and bring the game into our physical world (as opposed to put themselves in the game) – wearing blankets as capes and lighting up a few candles for maximum atmosphere potential. Like LARPing, without actually leaving your living room.
So put your feet up and grab your dice. Try a fantasy roleplaying table-top game. They’re the perfect recipe for adventurous gaming.