Is Freeform Roleplaying the Same as Playing a Game?

One of my favorite pastimes is freeform roleplaying. It’s the kind of roleplaying where everyone describes their character, creates an impending issue and then has at it. No rules, no lengthy character creation and, in most cases, no GM. But is it gaming?

Freeform roleplaying may be the ultimate pick-up game, but is it, in fact, a game? The dictionary on my Macbook defines a “game” as:

game |gām| noun1 1 a form of play or sport, esp. a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.

According to that definition, we need rules to abide by and something to determine success (skill, strength or luck). Most RPGs use luck to determine success when they roll dice, but freeform doesn’t. Neither does it have many rules, if any.

I’ve played in quite a few freeform games that had basic rules (don’t take control of another player’s character, don’t do anything that would affect another player’s character in a negative way, etc.), but I’ve been in just as many games without any rules whatsoever. According to the definition above, we need to have rules to abide by.

Skill can play a role, but not much of one. How well you do is usually dictated by your skill as a storyteller or writer. But since you don’t “win” at storytelling (or roleplaying, unless you’re playing D&D killing games, which is all that product seems good at imitating), does your skill really matter except to increase the enjoyment around the table/forum?

And for the record, luck or strength matters not at all in freeform games. How much you can deadlift or squat doesn’t equate to storytelling (unless you’re telling the incredibly boring story of how you came to be able to deadlift so much). And since freeform “games” don’t use the traditional resolution method of rolling dice, luck isn’t a factor either.

Some freeform gaming groups have loose rules and a GM, and thus conform a little more closely to a traditional RPG, and my Macbook’s definition of “game”. But the more strict a freeform game gets, the less freeform it feels, to me.

Whether it’s a game or not, I enjoy it as both an activity to flex my storytelling muscles and a form of play (which is listed in the first part of that definition). But is it a game? Personally, I’m not sure it matters. It’s fun and I have fun doing it, that’s all I care about.

What about you diehard gamers out there? Is freeform roleplaying a game or a group storytelling activity?

1 comments On Is Freeform Roleplaying the Same as Playing a Game?

  • According to the definition on your Macbook, freeform role playing is a form of play, and therefore, a game. Everything after “esp.” is just connotation. In other words, imagine a big pool of objects that are games, these are forms of play or sport. Inside of this pool of objects is a smaller pool of objects, that takes up a majority of the larger pool, that is filled with games that have rules and/or are competitive. The smaller pool, though, takes up a majority of the larger pool, so the larger pool is associated with the smaller one. It equivalates to nested sets.

    Semantics aside, when you see a child and they ask you if you want to play a game, you know that they mean a ruleless game that has variable states of competitiveness; this reflects on cultural norms. So, I would say that it’s safe to assume that the word game only implies rules, it does not necessitate them.

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