In a world where RAM pertains more to computers than a castle siege, dice are thought to belong only in board games such as “Monopoly”, and random character name generators take the place of good old fashioned creativity, there is still a great deal to be said for playing “old school” games using actual miniatures, dice, paper and pens. This was written to explain from one participant’s viewpoint why and how such “antiquated” gaming actually improves and amplifies the experiences in an online gaming experience.
What a man does with his own minions in his own bathtub is his own business.” This rather bizarre and amusing sentence actually has a rather inauspicious origin, but it is one of my favorite game night jokes. Paper and pencil roleplaying has not gone the way of the dodo bird, but rather can actually make online gaming a more enjoyable experience. From inside jokes to a better understanding of your team’s fighting style to using already proven strategies in another field of battle, the older version of gaming doesn’t have to be ignored by modern gamers, but instead can actually benefit their pixelated preferences.
The first time I played “old school” Dungeons and Dragons, we would gather in the food court of the local mall every Sunday; when the mall closed, we would call a brief respite and cross the street to McDonald’s continue the chaos. I was also attending community college at the time, and the inevitable black cloud of doom known as examtime was a week away. From this came a confused dream with elements of Buffy the Vampire Slayer mixed with Dungeons and Dragons and a bigger test than any teacher could bring about: my persona in the dream was charged with saving the human race from the army of vampires that had sprung out of nowhere. Fighting and tracking them back through a labyrinthian building, I managed (with the help of my trusty sidekick) to locate the boss. Eavesdropping at the door (much like a cutscene in a game) I heard the boss, also known as our dungeon master (DM), planning his strategy and pointing out that I would never be able to suspect him as being the orchestrator of this because he’d been commanding his troops from his bubble bath, so that he could honestly say he’d been taking a bath all day long. I still flash back to listening to him plan the murder of every member of our little resistance from his bubble bath (which is funny in and of itself considering he was well over 6 ft and a burly karate black belt), and every time the memory makes me smile in amusement, even as it inspires me to go into battle to defeat the guy trying to take us down. How does this better my gaming experience in World of Warcraft, or any other game of this nature? I’d mentioned earlier that this was not the first time through the dungeon. This means there have been previously failed attempts, and tension is starting to mount. Your blood pressure is rising, so being reminded of an old joke is a quick way to blow off steam, thus clearing your head and restoring your ability to focus clearly on the battle at hand.
As for understanding your teammate’s fighting style better, this is a key factor in successful combat. There’s a reason that the instinct when faced with a stressor is known as “fight or flight”. I’ve heard several arguments that video games encourage violence; I think that this is a scurrilous argument made by people who keep their eyes firmly closed to reality. If someone plays a game repeatedly, it is because they identify some portion of their character in themselves. Would I go into a town, swinging my sword frantically at whomever might approach me? Heck no! However, I would be a total liar if I said I never felt my blood boil in complete indignation and even ire at the problems in the world around me, be it injustices in foreign countries or the idiot who cut me off in traffic and slammed on the breaks while I’m trying to get my little boy home in one piece in the middle of the insanity known as Rush Hour Traffic. My husband and I get on our respective computers, and he knows me; not only the me I present to the world who is well mannered, well-spoken and ready to bend over backwards if that’s what it takes to help someone or feed my family, but the me who feels the need to run blindly into a room full of dragon whelps or throw a fireball at Onyxia just to see if she notices. Yes, I am the Leeroy Jenkins in my family; my attention span makes a long discussion of strategy difficult, but we’ve long ago learned to perfect our work accordingly. I have a macro set up to poke my husband when he aggros before we’re ready. Why do I have this? I know him enough to realize he’ll do this at least three times in a gaming session. If he groans in a dungeon, I know he was too busy healing the rest of the party to pay attention, and needs a resurrection. Likewise, if we’re in the middle of a complex cave system, and I randomly say “Shinee!” (Yes, this is how I pronounce it, dragging out the “E” sound at the end as I run down a tunnel.) this means that all combat has been forgotten for the fifteen seconds it takes me to hit a mining deposit, and then the rampage will continue with all of the enthusiasm of a 7-year-old with a candy bar. When we game with old friends, even if I haven’t gamed with them a bit, I remember who liked to tank, and who was likely to moon a boss in an attempt to aggro or flash a villain if that’s what it took to keep them in a room. I’ll remember who would back away from combat with a wolf vs whomever would leap at the chance to improve their skinning skills, and can direct combat even when a corpse.
How does this lead to my final point? When you know your teams strengths, that makes it easier to fight. However, what if you already knew not only vaguely how they might participate, but actually knew how they would respond? It’s easy to operate on a supposition, but if you’ve had the opportunity to fight along side them in a dungeon before, then it’s entirely probable that your gamemaster (or DM, as we D&D gamers specify) has created a similarly laid out room. This means that you’ve faced it before in some way, even if you’ve never played that dungeon before. If your rogue snuck into a position to sneak attack while your mage prepared a fireball, and that worked, then guess what? That’s probably what you are going to do in this instance, and with the same results! You may not have seen it on a screen that time, but you’ll remember your DM talking about the tree monster’s look of confusion before collapsing in a pile of sticks at the ferocity of the attack.
So whether it be a joke about minions and bathtubs, knowing your teammates well enough to plan for the hothead, or a sense off deja vu leading to victory, there are many advantages to picking up the pen and not just focusing on clicking a mouse or tapping frantically at a keyboard.
Picture this: you find yourselves deep in the bowels of a dungeon, preparing for a boss fight. You listen to the cutscene as the boss outlines his plan as you try to strategize over your headset; this is the 5th time you’ve done this dungeon run and you are determined that this time will not result in the total party wipe you’ve experienced every single time today. You just know that your resident “Leeroy Jenkins” fan is going to race in, so you prepare accordingly for how to draw the roomful of monsters into a more organized form of chaos- one in which you have a chance of surviving. My husband can usually tell when I’ve drifted back to the dialogue in the cut scene when he hears me snickering. Invariably, it’s because the boss has said something that drew me back to a dream I had and it’s inevitable resulting quote, “What a man does with his own minions in his own bathtub is his own business.”