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Three Little Words

Erich Arendall February 4, 2000

Before I begin, I would like to make an apology. Last month, I had a placed a paragraph within my column that was not only unnecessary to the point, it was also inaccurate. Thanks to Patrick Riley and Jack Holcomb, for pointing out that my definition of theme and art were a bit skewed. Personal definitions can be such a mental block.

Speaking of definitions, I guess it's time to get into this month's bit. And the meat of the problem here, too, are people's personal definitions - I'll clarify in a moment. First, allow me to present some definitions that Webster's OnLine (www.m-w.com) uses. I won't waste your time with all the definitions to each word, just the relevant ones.

Main Entry: role
1a (1) : a character assigned or assumed (2) : a socially expected behavior pattern usually determined by an individual's status in a particular society b : a part played by an actor or singer
2 : a function or part performed especially in a particular operation or process <played a major role in the negotiations>

Main Entry: play
1a : to engage in sport or recreation : FROLIC b : to have sexual relations; especially : to have promiscuous or illicit sexual relations -- usually used in the phrase play around c (1) : to move aimlessly about : TRIFLE (2) : to toy or fiddle around with something (3) : to deal or behave frivolously or mockingly : JEST (4) : to deal in a light, speculative, or sportive manner (5) : to make use of double meaning or of the similarity of sound of two words for stylistic or humorous effect
3a (1) : to perform music <play on a violin> (2) : to sound in performance <the organ is playing> (3) : to emit sounds <the radio is playing> (4) : to reproduce recorded sounds <a record is playing> b (1) : to act in a dramatic production (2) : SHOW, RUN <what's playing at the theater> c : to be suitable for dramatic performance d : to act with special consideration so as to gain favor, approval, or sympathy <might play to popular prejudices to serve his political ends -- V. L. Parrington> -- often used in the phrase play up to
4a : to engage or take part in a game c : to perform an action during one's turn in a game d : GAMBLE e (1) : to behave or conduct oneself in a specified way <play safe> (2) : to feign a specified state or quality <play dead> (3) : to take part in or assent to some activity : COOPERATE <play along with his scheme> (4) : to act so as to prove advantageous to another -- usually used in the phrase play into the hands of

Main Entry: game
1a (1) : activity engaged in for diversion or amusement : PLAY (2) : the equipment for a game b : often derisive or mocking jesting : FUN, SPORT <make game of a nervous player>
synonym see FUN

Okay, last one.

Main Entry: role-play
transitive senses : ACT OUT <students were asked to roleplay the thoughts and feelings of each character -- R. G. Lambert>
intransitive senses : to play a role

There you have it. Role Playing Game spelled out definition by definition. But that's nothing you couldn't have done on your own, is it? Well, judging by some of the things I've heard recently, it does have to be spelled out for some of you. You see, a lot of people are focusing on one word of the three word form of entertainment we have.

-I should note that when I call RPGs entertainment, I am not saying that RPGs have no redeeming values beyond escapism. But RPGs are fun, and shouldn't be taken too seriously otherwise it's not really a game, is it? Which leads me to the root of the whole issue here. People are constantly leaving out one of the words in their definition of Role-Playing Games, and most often they leave out the word game (although some people leave out the word role, too).

Definition is important, it's part of how we communicate. Otherwise, I'd just be typing 'ooga ugh ugh' and you probably wouldn't know what that means. If you do know what that means please contact your mental physician this instant. Seriously, though, each word in RPG is important. Whoever first coined the term knew exactly what they were talking about.

Role. Yes, in an RPG it is standard for the players to assume a character that is not themselves (of course there are those who play themselves, but that's another column entirely). So, role is quite the fitting word.

Playing. This word covers a wide range of what is done in an RPG, the engagement of recreation, dramatic performance, and taking part in a game, all of which are done in an RPG. And of course, for many of the roles we portray, to move aimlessly about. :)

Role-Playing. Which is little more than the two words, role and playing with a hyphen in between, still there are those who use the words 'Role Playing Game' and those who use the words 'Role-Playing Game'. I see them as interchangeable myself, at least that's what I determine according to Webster's (not Emmanuel Lewis's character) definition.

Game. The word most left out of peoples personal definition of RPGs; and, quite frankly, one of the most important. This is a word that lets people know that we aren't taking this stuff too seriously, that no, it isn't completely warping our fragile little minds. (Note: Anyone who plays RPGs has to be a little warped to begin with - I speak from firsthand experience.) RPGs are an activity engaged in for diversion and amusement. Go look up fun on your own, or insert your own definition.

RPGs are supposed to be fun. Sure, fun things can be educational, or meaningful, but they can also be just plain fun - and that in itself is important to a healthy mind-set. If it weren't for the game, the fun, I probably wouldn't play roles. Which is of course, why I crinkle my nose at those who leave the word game out of their definition of an RPG.

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? I could be. I'm also still harping on about the over-pretentiousness of many Role-Players, which I promise to stop for a while after this column. Role-Player. Gamer. Either moniker you prefer, you're still a person who partakes in RPGs and that means you comply to all three words - and their definitions. Give your games a deeper meaning if you want, present a lesson, more power to you. Just don't forget that they are still games - and a game should be synonymous with fun.

Erich S. Arendall

What do you think?

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