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10/16/99: Flying Solo
by Pieter van Hiel

When I started at my current reporting job, I spent some time catching up with an old gaming buddy who also worked there. We talked about D&D for a bit, and one of my fellow crusaders of journalistic truth overheard us. After my gaming buddy left, he stuck his head out his cubicle and saidÖ

"Why play D&D in real life? Baldurís Gate or Diablo is way better, man!"

Poor, sad, deluded soul. While I did not answer right away, the immediate analogy that leapt to mind was thisÖ

Role-playing in a computer game is like trying to make love to an inflatable rubber woman. Or a rubber man I guess, if youíre so inclined. Itís fun, but the experience is ultimately hollow. Thereís no post-prandial chit-chat, you have to clean up all on your own, and the next session is going to be the same hollow experience all over again.

Role-playing is most socially intensive hobby ever invented. Online or off, a good RPG depends upon the interaction of the players in a way unlike any other game.

What about Monopoly, I hear you ask? Bah. Be off with you, knave. Gin Rummy? Youíre making me laugh, sir! Bingo? Crazy Eights? Pokemon? Hardly! All these games depends upon competition, and concentration on yourself. Only RPGs force you take part co-operatively. What other type of game forces to brainstorm to save your life? What other type of game allows to build an interactive and original epic? No other type!

Well, all right, so Iíve established that RPG rely on intense social interaction. Weíre agreed, right? Right. On to the point of this weekís column.

Iíve noticed in many rooms that people will hop in and post a scene that is limited entirely to their own character. This is calling "playing solo." Everyone does it from time to time. We have to, to establish our character, or present a situation that others might be interested in. We hop in, make a few posts about how our character is walking the street, or sitting in such and such a bar. If no one else is in the room, we might post a brief "solo" scene to leave for hoped for amusement of the next person in.

However, I was in a room last week and noticed that some people were running self-contained little plots with no opening for outsiders. Even though the room was packed and the role-play was hot, they were off in their own little worlds. Some appeared to have sat at their terminals earlier, writing down lengthy scenes, then just went online to cut and paste Ďem. Others were obviously ad-libbing online. You could tell them by the bloody monstrous "mega-posts" they hit the room with every 10 minutes or so.

One person was so impressed with her role-playing ability she commented OOCly to herself that she should really "log this."

What wrong with that? Iíll tell ya! These people arenít role-playing! Theyíre writing fiction. Writing fiction is a fine and wondrous thing, of course, but they seem to be missing the olí space freighter.

Imagine if this happened in a real-life game session. You have the GM and players arrayed around the table playing their hearts outÖand in one corner a solitary soul natters on and on, narrating his own private tale set in the same universe as the game, but having no connection to what the other players are doing. It might be a very good private little story. But heís still missing the point.

Very few people care to read the goings-on of your own character when no one else is involved in anyway. And NO ONE wants to read annoying, self-indulgent, mega-posts. No one. Not you mom, not your cat, not the most bored player in the room. Not after the second or third one, anyway.

So get out there and PLAY! PLAY donít TELL! Itís one thing to post a solitary role-play in an empty room. Itís quite another to sit in a room full of willing partners and  play by yourself.  Itís like mastrubating in a room full of willing bedmates. Really.