Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Why bother playing games, when you can just read them instead?

Illustration for article titled Why bother playing games, when you can just read them instead?
Photo: Esther Moreno Martinez (Getty Images)

Every Friday, several A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?


Among my many dopey and esoteric habits—writing amateur text adventures, Minecraft farming, that time I spent literally years responding to every Facebook post from a friend of a friend with a comment saying “Great job, Mark!”, even though his name was Matt—there are a few I truly cherish, but am generally unable to indulge in because they require the participation of other people that I haven’t already annoyed to tears. Laser tag and escape rooms both fall into that category—suggesting that my general passions and interests line up roughly with those of an overly precocious sixth grader—but the end-all-be-all in “Damn, why does this need people?” collaboration is tabletop gaming.

Having recently had a 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign abruptly wrap up in a burst of incompatible schedules—although my DM was kind enough to gratify my gnome warlock with the sort of ignoble death he’d been pursuing with vigor and terrible choices for months—I find myself forced to resort to the lonely child’s last resort: Reading tabletop gaming source books by myself. (This is the hard drug for which “skimming the TV Tropes page for old White Wolf games” is the gateway intoxicant.) The nice thing about reading through my copy of Unknown Armies or Don’t Rest Your Head again is that it takes a huge amount of burden off of the game designer; after all, if you’re only reading for lore and the occasional nasty implication of a monster’s powers, you don’t have to worry about whether your mechanics actually make for a balanced play experience for a group of people sitting around a table somewhere. Tabletop gaming is already, essentially, “let’s pretend” with dice; this just takes those pesky cubes and icosahedrons out of the equation.

Speaking of White Wolf: My most recent purchase was a book I’ve been circling for years: Vampire The Masquerade: Gehenna, a.k.a. “How to blow up your angsty, emotionally nuanced vampire game once and for all.” I’ve long been fascinated with White Wolf’s Old World Of Darkness line, less for the “Darkness” part, and more for the “Old.” The idea of a company dropping the curtain on a multi-year, incredibly popular line of games—complete with a bevy of long-foreshadowed, personally customizable apocalypses—is one I’ve always been fascinated by, and it’s been a delight imagining how different gaming groups I’ve played with over the years might handle each of these vastly different ends of the worlds. The scenarios on offer range from the religious solitude of a vampire Rapture, to the emergence of unknowable ancient blood-sucking gods showing up to fuck the whole planet up, to a good old “all vampires fight all humans” hoedown, and they all carry a fine bevy of hyper-specific world-ending details.

The chances that I’ll ever play VtM again are functionally nil. (Although I’ll be sure to get my fix once its digital cousin, Bloodlines 2, finally comes out.) But I don’t have to play the game to experience so much of what it made it a touchstone for so many players over so many years, building characters who represented different facets of themselves (or someone else, or no one at all) and running them through these nocturnal gauntlets of mad Malkavians and disfigured Nosferatu. (Also a whole bunch of sparkly Toreadors or “super-badass” Brujah; no judgment here.) Thumbing through these sourcebooks invokes those memories, while also speaking to the pure potential a tabletop game brings to the, uh, table; there are worse substitutes for a group of friends and a giant stack of dice.