Almost two years ago, I posted a little rant on the use of the term “Roll-playing“. Yesterday, Gleichman included some debunking of its use as a part of his “Complexity series” (which I’ve been greatly enjoying). Anyway, I went back and read the post and thought that it might be worthy of reposting. It didn’t garner much interest two years ago, but it might now (what with the growth of my readership). So here it is.
It always irritates me when some-one uses the term “Roll-playing”. It is typically used to differentiate games that have a lot of crunch, have a gamist (GNS) agenda, or otherwise fail to fulfill some essential role-playing criteria of whomever is using the term. It is essentially a derisive term and I think it is a disservice to the gaming community for gamers to continue to use it. I mean, we’re all geeks….what do we mean by saying “Roll-play”, that “I’m a better geek than you are?” Jeeze, that’s what we need more of….
Roll-Playing is a pun on the phrase ‘role-playing’ (as in role-playing game) for when character statistics and rolling dice (especially for combat) become more important than role-playing or telling a story. It generally is used to refer to hack-and-slash games such as Dungeons & Dragons. The use of the phrase “roll-playing” is generally considered to be derogatory, and snobbish.
It is also sometimes called ‘Rule-Playing,’ when the mechanical rules of the game become the most important part of the game.
If confronted with this, some users of the term will add caveats, “Dude, its not for me to say how you ought to play…I’m just describing a style of play that I don’t happen to care for…”. Its like saying “That’s so gay…..not that there’s anything wrong with that…”
Many people use the term seemingly unaware of the negative connotations associated with it (Stephen Chenault attempts to use it as a positive in the forward to the Castles & Crusades Players Hand Book, “Where Rollplaying and Role Playing Meet”). The fact of the matter remains that one would be hard pressed to find many who would stand by the statement, “I prefer Roll-playing over Role-playing”.
The term implies that somehow types of gaming that fall under the nebulous umbrella of Roll-playing don’t quite qualify as Role-playing or are an inferior types of Role-playing. What’s up with that? “I am the Uber-Geek! Behold my d20 and cringe in fear!”
Now, there will be some who think that I’m picking nits and there may be some truth to that. But I’m not just talking about someone knocking specific sub-types of gaming. I am talking about the precision of meaning, however.
What do they (oh, yes I’m talking about them) mean when they use the term “Roll-playing”. If not to be derisive, do they mean “games that use dice”, “games that provide a strong tactical focus”, “games that are rules-heavy”, “games that limit GM fiat”, “games with random-generation of characters, encounters, treasure…”, “games with a heavy combat focus”, “games that resolved social interactions, etc. mechanistically”, etc?
The point of using a buzzword is to make it immediately clear to your reader (or listener) what it is you mean. “Roll-play” doesn’t do that. Not by a long shot. So I wish they’d cut it out.
If you’re one of them…you know those guys who use the term “Roll-play” and don’t mean it in a bad way, please leave a comment that explains what it is that you do mean. And be precise! Who knows, I may be completely off my rocker…
~Adaen of Bridgewater