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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Is Gaming a Separate Fantasy Genre?

I’m a bit ambivalent towards fantasy literature.  Sure, I love Moorcock and Tolkien and confess a fondness for Tad Williams, whose writing (the earlier stuff, especially) transcends genre.  Burroughs, Howard, and Lovecraft also hold a special place in my heart, mainly because they evoke such authentic atmosphere (I’m not a huge fan of the modern Mythos writings though, and tuned out starting with Derleth, who sapped poor Cthulhu of all its mystery and demoted Lovecraft's creations to mere elemental status).  But am I hitting the bookstore and coming home with armloads of books with pictures of dragons and wizards on the cover?  Nope, although it does happen from time to time.

In fact, the last book I read was The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King, and I’m getting ready to hit Updike’s Rabbit stuff (again).  King and Klein are less interesting to me because of their supernatural inventions, which are adequate (although Pet Semetary is one of a few books that actually frightened me).  No, I prefer writing that focuses on the actual human condition (sue me), and both King and Klein (and Clive Barker) do nicely here.  It’s just a matter of preference.  Oh, and I understand that good fantasy can do this as well, and can be an excellent vehicle for exploring any number of human themes... 

But one place I love fantasy is in gaming.  Indeed, I’d go as far as to classify the role-playing hobby as a bona fide genre, with rules and play, among other things, as its medium.  Is it art?  Debatable.  But is a gaming session a form of performance art?  Maybe.  When it comes to tabletop (and some computer) games, I freakin’ love dragons, wizards, and eldritch spells, so bring em’ on!  Hey, some work in oils or clay.  Me, I work in dice.  And as far as creative mediums go, self publishing is a great one because you're reading, writing, and assembling what amounts to an arts-and-crafts project with every rulebook!

Now I'm not some literary snob (the King, Klein, and Barker are proof enough of that, not to mention the pulpy writings of Burroughs and company), and followers of this blog should already know how much I love fantasy.  It's just that my love of it is pretty tightly bound to the gaming hobby.  Simulating fantasy is a lot different from reading or writing about it, although writers are obviously doing a bit of simulation of their own.  But there's something special about listening at a door or hoping you make your saving throw.  Indeed, there's something entertaining about seeing how others simulate phenomenon and resolve actions that's unique and amounts to an entirely different experience of it all.  That's what I like.    

OK, so maybe gaming isn't fine art.  But there's definitely a way to do dwarves and wizards that's experienced differently and unique to it alone; a gaming genre...

So there's really not much else to say.  Literary fantasy?  Some of it is great because, well, it's great and good is good, though I read for something else, mainly.  But expressed as a rulebook with charts and tables?  Fantasy gaming, for all it involves (and implies), is a bona fide genre squarely on par with the Pulitzer Prize winners!  Just my opinion (and maybe a controversial one at that).  Is role-playing a genre or just a clever pastime based on a pulpy literary segment (Tolkien and others excluded)?  You can decide.  But my mind's pretty much made up.  Oh, and when I leave the bookstore, it might be with some role-playing title under my arm that I'll read for the fun of absorbing its rules before hitting the rack with Portnoy's Complaint (a funny, filthy little book) or something else that's purely of this world...


  1. And I prefer stories to yet another series of Rule Books and Monster Manuals.