We live in a world bound by rules. And even though we try to push the limits, they are there. But while we are here, we are simultaneously in another, greater world, in which this world is just like a shared dream: Small, limited, not quite real. And the rules that apply to our world are different from those that apply to the greater world, the Real World to which we all return when we log off.
It was around 1964 that I got the basic inspiration for what we today call “role playing games”, or RPGs. Â In its basic form it consisted of a hero, a sword, potions, trolls to be defeated, and leveling up. The levels were counted by the number of heads on the trolls. Admittedly a rather rudimentary design, but then again I was about six years old. Â The world’s first official RPG was released in Sweden approximately ten years later,Â unbeknown to me. At that time I was already a teenager, but I did not play RPGs. Â I only learned about these later, and was surprised.
The people who were young when the first wave or RPGs spread around the western world? They are now ruling that world. They are the politicians, the businessmen, the preachers, and the women who bring all of these low when the time comes. Today we live in the first society where RPGs are widespread, a natural part of culture.
Regular playing of RPGs are likely to accustom people to the thought that there are different levels of reality at which a world can exist. Clearly the worlds of City of Heroes or The Sims are much less real than our world, and yet they are quite fleshed out with so many different possibilities that all humans now alive, if they spent as much of their lives as biologically possible just playing these games, would not in a lifetime exhaust all possible combinations, even if there was no new content added (which there is several times a year).
As these virtual worlds become ever more lifelike, there is bound to sneak in a suspicion that our world may not be the most real one. Thus, The Matrix. But Buddhists have claimed for 2500 years or so that this world is illusionary, except perhaps for the mind itself. Other religions also chime in that the Real World is “up there”, not here on Earth.
Clearly spirituality came first, by thousands of years, before roleplaying games. But do these games influence our openness to spiritual beliefs? Or is it the other way around, that people with an earlier, more concrete mindset would not have wanted to play RPGs even if they existed? Â Have children throughout history discovered the basics of RPGs, only to lay them aside when they grew into the more earthbound spirit of their times?