A lot of times people ask me why I game.
Specifically, why I play table-top RPGs. They cite paperwork to rival a tax preparation nightmare (character sheets). They comment on endless tangents and junk food binges (I am not exactly fit-as-a-fiddle). Some they even recognize the bickering over rules, systems and sequential play (and sometimes even the most harmonic of tables do it). They attack and attack and I just still smile nodding and explain that it is all worth it. And they keep asking.
Why do I game?
To help myself and others be more.
To find the heroes within us.
There are whole sciences of psychology and religious disciplines founded in the concept of visualizing the ideal self. There are exercises to help shape empathy and found new patterns of being. My studies in martial arts have focused on the reduction between action and intention using meditations and patterns.
Kata more or less means “form” in Japanese. It is generally a series of movements and patterns one seeks to repeat again and again. These forms are practiced in Martial Arts to increase endurance, control, and build muscle memory for applied usage (though often with the idea you never have to use them).
The application of kata has penetrated into medical fields, music, dance and even software coding. The building of procedural memory through basic repetition. The mastery of forms gives swiftness to the most complex of procedure and skill with executing the most challenging of actions.
Scholars for generations, notably Joseph Campell (whose work by the way heavily inspired the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Mythic Adventures system) have referred to the pattern of the hero’s journey, a sweeping trip through adversity and ascension.
In the steps of the journey our hero is forced to travel, fight a crisis, experience victory and return home a different, evolved being. Arthur draws the blade and encounters Merlin. Beowulf struggles in the savage dark and defeats Grendel. Odysseus returns home to fall into Penelope’s arms after years of trial. Greater. Stronger. Wiser.
Kata of the Spirit
For me then it follows that gaming as a practice of the heroic journey of our essential being. A kata for the spirit. A gym for the will. A crucible for our very natures. Yes, on occasion that journey has mountain dew and Orc jokes. Yet when the table fades and the mind’s eye rises, our deeper selves engage the primal journey. For scant moments we walk the steps of champions and knaves. We topple tyrants and quell evil. In those moments we walk the form of the hero. Each fortress stormed, dragon slain and kingdom saved leaves those of us who play a little more of the heroic. More apt to rise than fall. More ready to fight wrong than flee it. More prepared to do what needs doing.
It leaves us more.
And that’s why.