Something I’ve heard a lot in my years of playing online text RPGs is the phrase, “it’s only a game.” Granted, it’s usually used in an attempt to calm down a raging player on the other team, and it’s usually intended as half-insult, as if to imply that the other player has nothing better to do with his life except sit around and yell about a text game. But it’s a phrase you do hear often.
It’s also a phrase, frankly, that never made much sense to me. Yes, it may be a text game, but why does that mean a person isn’t allowed to emotionally invest in it at all? Why do people try to look down on others for, well, caring?
I’m writing today to argue that developing emotional attachments to characters in a text game is not a bad thing (as long as it’s done in moderation, which holds true for anything). It’s normal, in fact, and it has the potential to enhance the gaming experience more than any other factor.
Think about your hobby. Why do you do it? Because, hopefully, you love it. If you’re a professional football player and someone accuses you of loving football, your reaction really should be, “Well, of course I do!”
Now picture a person who hates their job. The normal reaction to this isn’t one of being impressed with how jaded and ‘above this’ the person is. The normal reaction here is to feel empathy for that person for having to spend mass amounts of time on something that he isn’t invested in.
This is how we should look at text games; or any hobby, really. You should enjoy it and you should be emotionally invested, or else you shouldn’t be doing it. In the example from my first paragraph, I would feel more sorry for the accuser (who spends copious amounts of time on text games and claims not to care about them at all) than the person who was accused of caring too much (who can at least admit to caring about his hobby). And there is no reason why adopting text games as your hobby should be any less worthy than, say, writing or drawing or board games.
Since the dawn of time, people have been invested in fictional stories and characters; everyone has at least a friend or two who yells at the screen when the ‘wrong’ couple gets together on a television show. It’s why movies, plays and other forms of story-centric entertainment have been so popular for so long, and why people spend billions upon billions of dollars annually on entertainment. There is no shame in caring about the fate of imaginary character and their stories, as long as it brings you (primarily) happiness.
There’s nothing wrong with becoming passionate about your own characters, either. Nobody has ever taken issue with someone having a ‘favorite character’ from a movie or video game, and it would be absurdity for someone to tell an author that she shouldn’t emotionally invest in the characters in her books. Role playing a character in a text game is a hybrid of these two things, really, and to be any good at role playing in the first place requires emotionally investing in your character and the text game itself. In fact, if you do place such value upon your character and his or her fate, your successes are just that much more rewarding – and in the end, that’s what keeps you playing.
I know it might be ‘cool’ to pretend to be untouchable, but don’t let yourself be lured in by this defense mechanism. It’s much more admirable to admit that you actually care about the things you spend time on, get mad, and then move on with your life. Text games are a valid source of happiness, reward and entertainment. Don’t let anyone belittle you by saying that they’re, “just text games.”