After reading The Function of Role-playing Games by Sarah Lynne Bowman (2011), I felt it was most appropriate to begin a longer discussion about the healing powers of video games rather than a single review of the issues she raises in her work. In the subsequent parts I will discuss her views on the concept of using role-playing to heal communities as well as the ability to solve problems, explore identity and eventually serve other social functions like dealing with bigotry and racism. But today, I want to offer a look at the roots of role-playing games, why they might potentially offering “healing practices” and my own personal experience and fascination with this genre.
First, my transition into the genre of action-adventure and RPG
My first experience with the action adventure genre and introduction into the fantastical world of RPG games began when I was about 7 years old and to my great delight my father brought home a new Super-Nintendo entertainment system, complete with a new controller and my own copy of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I can remember the first hours of my gaming experience as I marveled at the eerie feeling of being trapped inside a medieval dungeon and finally the wonderful exuberance as I emerged from the first quest to a bright landscape revealed by the afternoon sun.
After playing this game, I went outside and did my own self-play using the Hyrulian characters and putting them in interesting and novel situations. These games helped me to create my own narratives and facilitate my inquisitive nature and creative side.
Roots of RPGs in Medieval Fantasy, Science Fiction and Gothic Punk
|Little did I know when playing The Legend of Zelda that this action adventure game would help me transition into the world of role-playing games like Final Fantasy and others. Moreover, as I continued playing these games I learned about several unique cultural developments which had made the genre possible. First, the common medieval themes in role-playing games are partially the result of the paperback release of J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings book, which became “tremendously popular, especially on American college campuses during the late 1960’s and 1970’s” (Bowman, 16). The success of this work led to resurgence in the genre of fantasy fiction and inspired a plethora of other works based on the Tolkien taxonomy (elf, human, orc, hobit, etc.). Moreover, resurgence of interest in the realm of the fantastical meant several things to Tolkien. According to Bowman, narratives served three important functions for Tolkien. First, they allowed people to escape the mundane in order to recover a sight that was previously obscured. Furthermore, the participant in the fantasy received a sense of Consolation and moral reinforcement, which Tolkien called eucatastrophe, or a “climactic affirmation of both joy and light; pleasure alloyed with moral confidence” (56). Rather than despair which is present in the genre of horror and speculative fiction, Tolkien claimed that fantasy led to “moral rearmament” of the individual in addition to simply a necessary escapism (ibid). In this way, fantasy narratives like Lord of the Rings allowed readers to experience both joy and pleasure, but also to begin to reclaim some of the more heroic aspects of their lives.|
|One particular form of communal reenactment that emerged during the fascination with medieval fantasy was the Dungeons and Dragons game. D & D was a unique blend of role-playing and strategy which combined themes present in Tolkien, the concept of the alter ego implicit in communal organizations like SCA, and the tactics of war simulations games also growing in popularity. D & D introduced the role of an impartial referee, allowed participants to identify with a particular individual rather than the whole army (like in chess), introduced the concept of a story-line or campaign rather than a single battle (as players journeyed to enter dungeons and explore caves), and it allowed characters to perform a multitude of actions beyond fighting (Bowman, 20).|
|As Generation X began to challenge the materialism and inequalities of the generation before, their attitudes of criticism of power and privilege inspired a new kind of introspective gaming experience. White Wolf’s Vampire: the Masquerade (1991) game serves as a “direct thematic response” to the concerns of Generation X. The subtitle to this game, was a “storytelling game of personal horror” bringing together the “conventions” of a romanticized Gothic world with the aesthetics of punk culture (Bowman, 22). In this game, you play the role of a vampire who struggles to negotiate a predatory nature with a sense of compassion in a world which displays the victories of greed, corruption and moral bankruptcy. Thus, as you play the role of vampire you not only must overcome the brokenness of the world, but you confront uncomfortable choices and analyze the moral consequences of your actions in a more personal and profound way.|
The Potential to HealWhen we are talking about healing, we are primarily talking about the restoration of social relationships and emotional healing rather than physical healing (although game devices can be used to accompany physical rehabilitation programs), meaning the development of a web of social relations and connections which build up the individual. But, in a video game can such a form of “healing” become realized if the world in which social interactions takes place is a virtual one? The next post will cover how video games connect individuals to a community, and a critical look at how the online or virtual community helps individuals to build social webs, and recover from feelings of loneliness and isolation.
|About the Author||
Tim Urista is a student of the Claremont School of Theology. He's a longtime Zelda fan and an old-school gamer with a lot of love for the storytelling capabilities of video games. As Professor Gamer, he shares his insights into the world and history of the various gaming genres and franchises.
Tim Urista es estudiante de la escuela de teología en Claremont. Es fanático de Zelda y jugador de la vieja escuela con mucho amor para la capacidad de contar cuentos en videojuegos. Como nuestro profesor compartirá sus puntos de vista hacia el mundo y la historia de los varios géneros y series de juegos.