For gamers, community is key

Hadley Jolley

Photo Credit : Bullion

This year, juniors Ryan Lum and Christopher D’Autremont came together with some friends to test out a zombie role-playing game using scrabble tiles: one created by another Whitman student, senior Jackson Cahn. Despite its novelty, the game worked out fairly well.

“I knew the rules inside and out in 30 minutes. It was a totally new system, too: I’d never played any scrabble-based games before,” said D’Autremont.

Role-playing games like zombie scrabble, as well as other types like board games and those played on the computer, are quite popular at Whitman. For many students, they offer camaraderie, community and a chance to think critically outside of an academic setting.

Gamers are often seen as geeks, according to Lum, and he says there is some truth to the stereotype. However, it is only particularly true of the most extreme gamers.

Role-playing games have a slightly different focus than other games, as their structure encourages creativity and is tailored to each individual group. They are also unique because the person who is running the game: sometimes called the dungeon master: has quite a bit of power over what happens.

“There are several ways to approach Dungeons and Dragons. One revolves around group storytelling,” said Lum.

Lum compared the second way to play to computerized fantasy adventure games, like Zelda and Final Fantasy.

“It’s you the player against the dungeon master,” he said. “Most groups are a combination of the two.”

Lum, however, prefers games with a focus on storytelling, not fighting. He describes four basic character types in Dungeons and Dragons, the game he most commonly plays. Two types, the leader and the tank, are less active in fighting, but are easier, he claims, off of which to build a good story. The other two, controller and striker, are more useful for focusing on the fight scenes of the story. Lum prefers to play one of the first two.

This chance for storytelling is what sets role-playing games apart from other games. Sophomore Tim Wilder, another Whitman student who likes to game, prefers strategy games, like Settlers of Catan and Magic: the Gathering. He has played some role-playing games: he considers some role-playing games, like Dungeons and Dragons, to be strategy games: but what he wants out of a game is not the same as Lum and D’Autremont.

“Games where you have decision trees which affect who wins and loses are strategy games,” said Wilder.

He prefers games that challenge his decision-making skills, which keep him thinking and analyzing outside of class.

This same benefit also draws in people who prefer other games.

“I think the main draw of table-top role-playing games is that it offers a non-academic outlet for critical thinking and creativity,” said D’Autremont.

Despite the stereotype of the solitary, isolated gamer, D’Autremont and Lum both said that the most fun part of role-playing games is in the people they play with.

“The main fun of the game isn’t in the game itself, but rather the interaction between players and the person running the game,” said D’Autremont.