RPGs Sound Like Jazz?
No I'm not talking about Scatman Crothers. I'm talking about how RPGs can exist as an art form.Have you ever asked yourself why you play RPGs? I'm sure you have. And I'm sure your garden variety of answers go something like: I play games to have fun. I play games to kill orcs. I play games as a hobby. I play games because I'm bored with watching NYPD Blue. I play games because I like to show-off how well I know the White Wolf rules set. I play games because I can't get a date. Et cetera.
No I'm not talking about Scatman Crothers. I'm talking about how RPGs can exist as an art form.
Have you ever asked yourself why you play RPGs? I'm sure you have. And I'm sure your garden variety of answers go something like: I play games to have fun. I play games to kill orcs. I play games as a hobby. I play games because I'm bored with watching NYPD Blue. I play games because I like to show-off how well I know the White Wolf rules set. I play games because I can't get a date. Et cetera.
I admit some of those reasons factor into why I play RPGs. I've got other reasons, too. In fact, I was talking about this very topic a few days ago with a good friend of mine. In our bailiwick, our love of RPGs is probably unparalleled. We've devoted vast hours of our quasi-young lives talking about games, the in's and out's of RPGs, and the reasons why we maintain our beloved pastime. We talked about RPGs as though they were Jazz.
Am I saying that RPGs are jazz? Yup. That's exactly what I'm saying. Let me explain why.
Jazz, when done right, is a unique experience. First and foremost, it's a creative process. With jazz, you start by following a pattern, but as things progress you start to go with the flow. You ad lib. There are some rules and guidelines you tend to abide by, but it's usually better if you stay in key, maintain a good timbre, and keep beat. To a large extent, however, you make things up as you go. You adapt. You can follow a path for a bit, see where it goes, and then decide if you're going to keep following it or return to where you were. Jazz is as much about exploration as it is music.
Secondly, jazz is a group effort. . . most of the time. If you go into a bar or to a club, you usually don't see a lone jazz player. There's often a guy on piano, a gal at the microphone, some dude on drums, a trumpet player, maybe a trombone player, and maybe a few more guys doing their thing. In jazz, you have others there to help out. They can show you a new path to take, or help you along the way. With the right combination of creativity and imagination, you and your fellow players can take your jazz to new levels and turn it into an art form. Only a good band can make good jazz.
RPGs, essentially, are very much like jazz. You've got a GM who designs the layouts of the game. The GM knows the paths available and knows the general direction in which the game will progress. The GM shows the players the paths, but it's up to the players to decide which paths to follow. The GM can ad lib a moment, but so can the players. The initial creative process rests mostly on the GM, but as the game commences, the creativity is shared. Like jazz, RPGs are a creative and imaginative process. Like jazz, RPGs can be an art form.
I'm met a lot of gamers in my day and most of them don't consider themselves to be artists. The common take I hear on RPGs is they're just a game. A pastime. For some, it's like watching a movie or listening to a CD. Most people I met don't really care that much about the RPGs they play. It's just their something-to-do.
I don't think like that. I think of myself as an artist. Oh I can't play jazz, and no band worth it's salt would have me. I'm a lousy musician. But, Iï¿½m not a half-bad gamer nor am I a lousy GM. It's not because I have a gift or anything. The only reason I'm good with RPGs is because I approach them as though they were an art form. I can spend hours with a stack of resource books poring over the contents while I scribble down notes. I can spend hours thinking about some guy's PC and what kind of scenarios would get his juices pumping. I can spend hours drawing the map to a new structure for my PC's to explore. I can spend hours upon hour working on games because I love doing it and I love to create things. I love exercising my imagination. I love RPGs.
It may sound silly to some, but RPGs are an artistic outlet for me. I'm fortunate in that I have a great group of people who (for the most part) are of like mind. Are the goals of the game important? Sure. . . on some level it matters whether we save the princess or not. But, it's not the outcome that I'm interested in, rather, it's the process. I don't play RPGs so I can become a Level 18 Gygax Eater. . . I play RPGs to hone my artistic energies. In that regard, the hours that I spend designing, revising, and playing games are far from wasted. Musicians, authors, painters, sculptors, and their like spend hours perfecting their craft. In that respect, I'm no different.
It may sound corny. . . but, I play RPGs because they are my jazz. If you haven't learned to treat RPGs like jazz. . . maybe you should.