Role-Playing as a Life Skill

Role-playing games are fun. I’m going to put that out there right off the bat.

You may think RPGs are nerdy. You wouldn’t be wrong. You may also think they’re childish, that only pimply teenagers play Dungeons & Dragons. You’d be partially right. And I say that as a 30-year-old man who enjoys role-playing games.

RPGs are childish. I don’t mean that they’re for children, or that only children play them. I mean that they force us, in a small way, to get in touch with our inner child.

Because role-playing is about imagination, it forces us to do something that most of us don’t do very often—be creative, use our imaginations and tell stories. Kids do this all the time. As we grow older, most of us do it less and less often. I think that’s to our detriment.

Storytelling is fun. That’s reason enough to find entertaining ways to use our imagination more often. But role-playing may encourage other skills that can be useful when you’re not flipping through rule books with Cheeto-fingers.

Playing role-playing games and telling cooperative stories with little or no pre-determined narrative outcome requires a lot of improvisation and outside-the-box thinking. Just the other day, the group I play Shadowrun with figured out how to take down a Yakuza-run virtual horse track almost entirely through social manipulation (and a bit of computer hacking).

While this scenario is ridiculous—especially because it’s Shadowrun, which means the player characters are an elf, a dwarf and an ork who use a troll strip club as a base of operations—the ability to improvise and solve a complex (if absurd) problem is valuable. Thinking through fantastic scenarios, and actually describing them (on the fly, as you’re thinking them through), gets the synapses firing.

As far as mental exercises go, a good role-playing game is like Sudoku on crack.

Plus, like I said, role-playing is fun. After all, where else in life can you slay a dragon or take down an illegal gambling ring without getting shot in the face?


Kingdom Rush Frontiers – My Latest Obsession

While I’m not a huge gamer, I play a fair number of casual web and mobile games. Normally, I get slightly obsessed with a single game and play it through to the end before trying something new. This normally takes a day or two at most (often much less time is required).

My latest obsession, which has actually proven quite challenging, is Kingdom Rush Frontiers, the sequel to the equally brilliant Kingdom Rush.

I don’t have much to say, other than that Ironhide, the studio behind both games, has taken the classic tower defence game to a new level. Rather than just throwing up towers and upgrading them as quickly as possible, the Kingdom Rush series requires strategy. That strategy may even change part way through a level, forcing you to sell towers and quickly build new ones.

I’ve completed the first game and am nearly complete the second (though I’ve been stuck on the final level for days, having finally beaten the penultimate level after about a week and a half of failed attempts). I recommend you try them both if you haven’t already, but only if you have a lot of time to kill.


Playtesting a New Shadowrun Game

I recently learned that Catalyst Game Labs is seeking playtesters for a new Shadowrun miniatures game. I talked to the other guys in my gaming group and asked if they be interested. After getting a “yes” from most of them, I wrote a little 250-word application and submitted it.

About 8 hours later there was an email in my inbox from one of the game designers: we were accepted!

I can’t say much about it, because there are non-disclosure agreements involved, but I am allowed to mention that my gaming group will be playtesting Shadowrun: Sprawl Gangers and that I’m pretty excited to be in on the ground level, helping to develop a game that’s part of the Shadowrun universe.

This is hugely nerdy, but I think it’ll be fun. Sure, there will probably be frustrating moments—we’re essentially beta testers, after all—but I think the overall experience will be enjoyable. If nothing else, it’ll be memorable.