When was the last time you truly used, focused on, for any significant length of time, your imagination; your active, conscious, willful, artistic creativity, to get back in touch with that ability to appreciate the wonder that you yourself can create and bring forth, all from within yourself? Were you ever able to do that? Did you ever do that? Can you still do it? Do you do it when you game, as player or GM? Will you do it? Could this be missing from a lot of the newer, younger RPG'ers of today?
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” - Albert Einstein
C'mere for a second. I don't want to say anything in front of... you know... the other guy. He's a nice guy, and an okay player, mostly. He knows the rules pretty well, he can make characters, he tries to get into the game, I think... I guess... maybe. But I've been thinking... there's something about the way he plays, the way he talks about the game... I think I know what's wrong.
Do you remember when you first started playing RPGs, and reading sci-fi or fantasy, watching awesome movies and shows, reading comic books, or even writing, or drawing, your own stuff? Making up your own awful, or awesome games? Did you read adventure gamebooks? Lone Wolf, Zork, Endless Quest, D&D, Sagard, Wizards and Warriors, Fighting Fantasy, Choose Your Own Adventure?
Do you remember imagining being someone else, somewhere else, doing something else? Seeing scenes in your mind's eye, either in a fully immersive, sit-back-and-close-your-eyes exercise, or just while you were staring off into space, while not doing homework, while someone was droning on?
When was the last time you truly used, focused on, for any significant length of time, your imagination; your active, conscious, willful, artistic creativity, to get back in touch with that ability to appreciate the wonder that you yourself can create and bring forth, all from within yourself? Were you ever able to do that? Did you ever do that? Can you still do it? Do you do it when you game, as player or GM? Will you do it?
I was talking with a friend of mine the other day, we'll call him Ted. His 15 year old stepson, eh, name him Brent, has played games with us enough to understand the basics of a few systems, how gaming works, including GMing, and even ran a few sessions of Warhammer FRP 2nd Edition adventures from some of the more famous campaigns, and I thought, did pretty good - he's a little rough around the edges in places, as player and GM, but for 15, he's got a good grasp and has the dedication to sit down and work on NPCs and go over the adventures he's going to run, when he wants to, to prepare.
So Brent is starting to GM for his group of friends, about 3-5 kids around his age, give or take a couple of years. He essentially observed that he felt one of the main problems with his group was that, besides them not being previously acquainted with RPGs, besides online (MMORPGs/WoW etc) or console games (that's all for another post), he felt they just really didn't seem to have the ability to <em>imagine</em>.
Granted, that's just Brent's opinion, and potentially carries some bias and he's not exactly a trained psychologist, but from the standpoint of his experience with gaming, I think he might have enough authority in this particular subject to be able to at least "diagnose" that much of an issue, if it's as obvious as he thinks it is. His friends do not fit the "gamer mold" as most of the rest of us (Brent, me, my friend Ted, my cousins, the group to which I and my friend belonged) - voracious readers, interests in psychology, philosophy, trivia, history, arts, various sci-fi/fantasy, various analytical pursuits or aspects of the games themselves (his is the in-game hierarchy, intrigue, etc., mine's mechanics). Brent's friends aren't really readers except for one who's also a Star Wars fanatic, one's a sports nut, etc. In a way it's neat to see out-of-the-ordinary "types" (for us anyway) interested in gaming, but in another, it's a real head-scratcher as to how to deal with them or explain things.
Brent's statement about the lack of imagination made me think about when he started gaming, and when my own cousins started, and when I started, and I think his observation is probably not just valid but significant. When I was in 7th grade, our science teacher did a guided imagery exercise where we closed our eyes and imagined what it was like to be an animal as a rainstorm came up - we had to run (or fly) for shelter - the smell of the rain, the cooling breeze coming in, the sound of the drops and wind, the other animals also scampering for cover, the intensifying breeze, flashes of lightning, booming thunder, all that. This was at least 20 minutes, maybe longer. I just thought this was one of the most awesome things I had ever experienced in school, as I was already playing RPGs at this time and realized at that time most of the other kids probably didn't do anything that would lead them into anything that would ever give them the cause to do anything even remotely similar to that, and likely they never would again.
I flashed forward back to Brent's statement about his friends and I realized that it's quite possible that his friends, now that they had matured into self-awareness and long out of the influence of the toddler "imagination" stage, had no real practice in engaging their imagination, as they had no cause to do so. They didn't read, only one drew or wrote; they most all played video games, but everything is already rendered very concretely for you. The only thing I could call to mind that might fire their imaginations was music so I hope they at least have that.
But again, I thought back and realized at the time of the animal visualization, even though I played RPGs and I did some peripheral visualization and wrote my own stuff and drew, I really didn't do all that much true imagining either. Everything was always fuzzy and vague, and still is. I think that's why that exercise was so awesome to me, because it was a true novelty even for me, because I was able to appreciate how it could fully be applied and its use in something, rather than just "This is cool but what good does it do?" like the other kids probably thought.
When I gamed, GM or player, it was always a mesh of mental calculations of game mechanics, narration and vague mental image of the current action - I never fully clarified in my mind the full scene, it was always just a snapshot or a video clip of what was going on, like <* SCENE: Pit Fighter throws Dwarf Trollslayer through window into goblin crossbowman *>. Sometime it would just be a hazy face or general outline, especially if I didn't get a good idea of an NPC or creature from a description - it's more used as a placeholder in my head, than for imagination purposes, just to categorize things for how and when I deal with them.
And I wondered about that. The whole point of games is having fun and I realize it comes down to what your definition of fun is, and not only that, I think it depends on WHICH definition of "fun" you're going to choose each time you sit down to play. Some days you're in a "standard gaming fun" mood, character sheet, dice, pencil and whatever else, and there's nothing wrong with that at all.
But there is the more primitive but no less valid definition of "fun" - it isn't about leveling up, hording coins, sucking up XP, buying new implements of destruction, slaying monsters, figuring out stats, or how many inches a feat lets you jump or how much damage you can do - not really; gaming, like any entertainment, are about escapism, and they're about losing yourself, letting the books and numbers and dice and everything fall away, enjoying sharing the same make-believe world for a few hours with other people and everyone getting along and loving the whole experience of being able to be somebody totally different.
So, when you make that warrior or knight character, maybe you see him on a horse, okay... but... can you see YOU on the horse? Have you ever tried it? Is there a difference in first and second or third person point-of-view imagination scenes? How much does it change our emotional investment? Our enjoyment? Our appreciation? Can you imagine looking down from the view of the lush expanse of deep green meadow and the far distant lavender mountain range and dark silhouetted tower, and grabbing the saddle horn in your gloved hand, feeling and hearing the soft leather creak slightly as your grip tightens, while the bit and bridle jingle musically, and your whole body is jarred rhythmically as the eager horse trots forward in surprise, anticipating your tugging on the reins? Can you see your own royal blue velour tabard cascading from your body?
I think Brent's friends, and probably a LOT of people, maybe a LOT of experienced gamers, may need a primer for just imagination - not a "game", not an adventure or a scenario, but just like a 10 minute "walk-through" if you will, of just guided imagery, read by the GM, nothing but one long "read-aloud" box, directing them, similar to the animal in the rainstorm exercise. No dice, no stats, no character sheets - just "sit back, close your eyes, relax and imagine".
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? Responses (11)-11
I found this to be a very deep and thought-provoking article the first time you showed it to me and, reading it again, I have realized that I do do this. I just don't do it consciously. This is the stuff dreams are made of, for me anyway. I've always been a very vivid dreamer. Going as far as to claim prophetic visions at time, only realizing their meaning when they come to pass. But it can be very hard for a waking mind to escape all of the reality around you and feel the armor around you, the horse beneath you.
I've grown up playing Video Games, I'm of a younger generation, being only 23. But I've always loved and cherished my imagination in ways that no one else ever talked about. I write, mostly for this site or short stories or poetry. I draw, hardly ever with a purpose, I just like to sit down and let a picture form. But, my favorite escape is dreaming. It's like writing or drawing, only my subconscious is in control, I'm not actively thinking of what I want to create. My mind knows what will be the most fun for me and it plays it out. his is how I imagine.
I used to bring this to games, using my analytical mind to devise mechanics for interesting events and descriptions. But, I'm finding that the older I get, the less I want to share my mind. It has become something personal and sacred. Thank you, JP. I think I need to rethink what I do with my imaginary imagery, and maybe enlighten others as to what imagination can be.
Very good sub sir - Really makes one stop and think.
I wish I had an imagination such as yours Pieh - mine is more ponderous and considered, which is one reason my output has fallen off so much.
Need to get back into it I think.
Great style of writing, I feel like I could go on reading this forever. I view this as an inspirational and well informed piece executed splendidly. I applaud the good use of quotes and images.
Bumping what deserves more comments.
A lot experienced gamers think the point of gaming is to have fun. As far as fun is defined as pure pleasure I disagree. The social part of gaming should be fun, it should be relaxing but the actual media of the game need not be just fun. It should be challenging, and engrossing. Gaming should make your world larger, allow you to toy with experiences you don't normally have or could not possibly have. A game need not be just entertainment, it is interaction and imagination. So Brent should be afraid to ask for more from his gaming experience. I know that as GM even as an adult I have been too polite to ask for more from a group, that is not to say I don't play with great groups, I do play with great groups. But there are always those players who don't want to bring imagination or creativity to the game, but rather just want to have video game stats and huge base attack bonuses.
But I am thankful for this article, because I often forget to fully realize an object in my imagination. I think the details would make one more invested in the game world and thus would make it more fulfilling. I would like to point out however that in the table top RPG secession however a fully immersed player is not always a good thing. Particularly if that player is more into his head than he is into the game as the other participants are experiencing it.
Wow, thought provoking and very accurate when it comes to some players/gm's I;ve seen over the years. Having taken my imagination for granted, (Continually writing novels and short stories will do that to you) I often forget how hard it can be for others to imagine things easily and fluidly.
It would take a bit of work, but an actual rpg book containing a hundred or so of these "short imagination walks" so a gm could read an entry before each game session to help players unlimber their imagination; would be a huge asset to the rpg community.
Hmm sounds like a worthwhile project actually!
BUMP, the picture is missing..
oooh! Pretty picture. But more importantly, great sub!! Well-phrased, well-nuanced, and makes you think, as everyone has already said.
Everyone else has said it all. Good writing style, I think the quotes and the knight really added to the piece. Take a HoH. Now imagine yourself receiving the golden medallion in the Great Hall of the citadel, with red tapestries...
Hmmm. Apparently I have no more HoHs to give. I will be back to give you it when I get another. That is, if I remember to give it to you.
I have remembered the HoHs. Here 'tis