Friday, April 16, 2010

Competence Zone

I'm enjoying writing these, so ...

"Logan's Run Rule:" RPG characters are young.  Very young.  The average age seems to be 15, unless the character is a decorated and battle-hardened soldier, in which case he might even be as old as 18.  Such teenagers often have skills with multiple weapons and magic, years of experience, and never ever worry about their parents telling them to come home from adventuring before bedtime.  By contrast, characters more than twenty-two years old will cheerfully refer to themselves as washed-up old fogies and be eager to make room for the younger generation.

Some weeks ago, upon attending the horrendous local convention, I did notice that the age of most players was upwards of thirty ... and quite a bit upwards of thirty.  My friend Carl of Three Hams Inn has written the same about PAX, but his blog doesn't seem to have an archive that I can search, so I can't find the relative post ... but you have to believe me.  The DM's all seem to be forty.  There are younger players out there, I'm sure - but they don't seem to make themselves known.  Even those players who drift through the local gaming store hereabouts seem, at their youngest, to be in their 20s (what the hell, they play 4e anyway).

So the cliche, at least in regards to RPG players identifying themselves as free teenagers who don't have to pay attention to their parents, seems something that applies to consoles.  Some of those 40-year-old players are probably still living in their parents basements - or, as in one case I know, in their parent's house now that the parents are dead - but they've moved past the rebellious stage.  They're doing their mom's laundry because it keeps mom happy.

However, yes.  Characters in the game are still very young.  I've never known anyone who started players at tenth level who suggested that those characters should be in, say, their thirties.  It is still assumed that these brand new tenth level characters are young - as seen by the artistic depictions of players.  My offline players are all in their early twenties, and massively into hardcore anime (the nasty stuff, where characters wash their hands in the guts of other characters - none of that Inuyasha shit), and so yes, all the depictions of their characters on their sheets or desktops are fourteen-year-old girls and guys.  It disappoints them when I say that their new mage is in his late thirties, or that the dwarven cleric is old.  But no matter - because they forget all that when it comes to playing their character anyway.

The whole issue is locked closely into the perception of charisma that goes along with the game.  Bad enough that virtually every depiction of a character is an image that has at least a 15 charisma (my online campaign subverts this, for the most part) ... but unquestionably, every character who speaks to an NPC does so with the expectation that they will be a) respected on account of their level; or b) respected on account of how carefully the player has decided to shape the words they use in roleplay.  Invariably, a 10-charisma character, speaking to the local innkeeper, will leap in with, "My good man, be a good fellow and see to it that my friends and I are set up with good drinks, a fair bit of entertainment and of course some excellent venison ... be quick and I'll ensure your efforts are well paid!"

No one wants to approach a bartender with, "Uh, I'm a ... I was thinking ... is the ale ... uh, good?  Can I get some?"

Some people, playing a 7 or lower charisma, might try, "Gods, what a dump. Got any ale that isn't piss?"  Which is, of course, fun - but this low-born loquaciousness immediately evaporates when the character is faced with someone, or something, capable of re-fashioning the character's spine into a deck chair.  Too much bad charisma is not good for one's health.

I think people would rather be beautiful, and they would rather be accepted as beautiful - and throughout the culture, young is beautiful.  Even the 40-year-old wants to be 16 again, this being a fantasy of older persons since forever - and in a way D&D, as it and the players age, becomes more and more a venue for that.  I would expect to see, in another twenty years, the game played in old age homes as a nostalgic way to get reacquainted with youth.  They learned it in high school ... when again they're forced into a social living environment, they can revisit the game again.

No doubt, a given portion of the population finds this cliche intolerable. I'm not one of them.  I am much more attractive in my mind than I am in reality, and as my forty-fifth year dwindles away I am much younger in my mind also.  I still view 22-year-old fetish fuel pump jockeys in leather and chain bikinis pretty much as I did twenty years ago ... only now, I know if I actually met one they'd look at me and think, "Why is that old fart hanging around here?"  Once upon a time, this would have been closer to, "What the hell does that geek want?"  So my expectations aren't any lower, they're just redirected.

Thus, I don't look at my player's representations of themselves and say, "Isn't that a little much, given that your face was cut up very badly in that run-in with the pedaphile treant?"  No, I just look at the image and say, "Cool."


Anonymous said...

I'm really digging this series of posts, Alexis. Your 2nd to last paragraph was so true it hurt.

Oddbit said...

I've always found my character ages tend to be within 5 years of my own (with some exceptions and equivalents) Mainly I think it's due to finding it easier to relate to. Of coarse it's not saying much considering I haven't left my 20s yet. (And BTW 4th edition is trash)

Alexis said...

Thank you Oddbit. Now tell your peers.

Matt Conlon said...

Role playing, at least for me, is all about the role playing... Hence the name, right? My highest level character ever is just a 6th level fighter, and I've been playing off and on for 20+ years!

The fact is though, that playing these games gives us an opportunity to play certain aspects of our own personalities that we either don't get to play, or that we wish were more prominent. It's difficult to play an ugly character, because for once, you get the chance to be beautiful!

My first concern is always for the story. If an ugly character would make the story sing, I'm all for it.

As for age, I too have a tendency to make them young, at least for whatever race they are. This was just in case I get to play them for several years (which game time, never happens!) or I get hit with an aging spell... Which in fairness, also never happens. I guess at this point, it's just habit.

By the way, great blog! :)

Badmike said...

Very much in agreement that the wish-fulfillment thing is a huge part of gaming, particularly in the areas of age and looks.

In one campaign many moons ago, my brother created a priest character. Going against type, he said his priest was a 78 year old cantankerous old crank with bad eyes and gout. Not to be outdone, MY priest character created right afterwards was a 79 year old cantankerous old crank with bad hearing, gout, AND troubling bowel movements who I said had a long standing grudge against the "younger" priest of the party. It was "Grumpy Old Men" taken to the D&D level.

The funniest part was the horrific reaction of the group, and the DM. The DM could not understand why we would want to play infirm, possibly disabled characters in a dungeon enviorment; the players thought we weren't min/maxing the game enough by playing aged characters instead of buff young studs. Ah well. We still had fun.