Lately I’ve been trying to put my finger on what my disconnect from the general tabletop roleplaying community is. My conclusion is that it’s about escapism vs power fantasy. It’s about what roleplaying promises, and how that’s often at odd with what it delivers.
Escapism is supposed to allow us to get away from the “real world” for a while. It’s a break from the boring, tedious, and often frightening aspects of life. In spite of what some people would say, it can be psychologically healthy to do this. All work and no play, as they say, can have bad effects on your mental health.
My problem is that the real world is already filled with so much pointless violence and random death. We’re up to our eyeballs in hate, and lawlessness, and existential horror. Escapism should allow me to envision a world that’s not run by criminals committing atrocities. Unfortunately, a lot of games enable, and a lot of players embrace, the concept of escapism as a scenario where they’re the criminals committing atrocities.
What I’m looking for is something different. I’m looking for is an opportunity to connect. I want to experience empathy with friends, with players I’ve just met, with fictional characters that aren’t like me. Roleplaying has already been a gateway for education to me, whether it’s history, biography, or the craft of writing. I’m seeking a retreat into creativity, not a vicarious outlet for destruction.
Escapism vs Power Fantasy
This isn’t so much a criticism of a system, a style of play, or you, reader who’s inevitably going to choose to take this personally. It’s more about culture, and cultural values. When we feel powerless, the go-to notion is to feel powerful. The chosen method of this isn’t to seek a level playing field, to embrace hope and love and equality. It’s to somehow be able to wield power over others.
This mentality is what makes the “community” culture online so toxic. It becomes a zero-sum game where it’s not enough to be right; someone else has to be wrong. The whole thing presupposes that there has to be a “right” to begin with. There’s no assumption of basic respect, where you can like your thing over there and I can like my thing over here and we leave each other alone.
Roleplaying, then, increasingly feels more like what I’m trying to get away from. It is no longer a valid form of escapism for me. I’ve been leaning toward story games for a long time now, because I’ve been looking for something that provides genuine escape. It’s been a long, hard road trying to convince people that power fantasy isn’t the only form of escapism, even if it’s the most popular and the presumed default setting.
At this point, I feel like I need an escape from the escapism.