As a note, I discussed my reading of Shared Fantasy on RPG Circus last night. You can catch the episode here.
One of the key elements that separates an RPG from any other kind of game is the attachment to, and simultaneous distance from, your character. Your character is not simply an extension of you (at least, among minimally sophisticated role-players), and yet you care deeply about what happens to your character. As one of the players Fine interviewed put it:
If you played enough in Dungeons & Dragons, you do identify enough with your character, you don't want him killed out of hand. If you realize it was a mistake, ... you say something. I mean, you don't sit there and just sit back, "So what, he's just a fake character." ... You're thinking, "this is me down there."There is a bit of an interesting discussion on the conflict between playing your character's abilities on the sheet, and using your abilities as a player. This most especially comes into play with intelligence. He's talked a bit about this before, and seems to be strongly of the opinion that a player would be hard-pressed to play an inferior character accurately. Personally, I'm not sure I agree with that. I don't know if it's my own arrogance with regards to my own ability, or if those of us who have now been playing for 20+ years have simply developed a sophistication that even the most hard-core gamers of 1979 couldn't match.
If the object of the game is defined as "winning" - gaining treasure and conquering monsters - then role-playing is secondary to using all one's abilities when those abilities are higher than those of one's character. ... There exists tension between the requirement to role-play and the need to succeed.Of course, Fine does go on to point out that this tension primarily exists in one-shots, such as convention or tournament games. I think that we can still that today with complaints about the various "Living" campaigns, and even the D&D Encounters program. Beating the scenario trumps faithful characterization. In a home game, where story arcs and pure enjoyment are more important concerns, role playing is more valued.
Role playing is not just a matter for players, but for referees as well. However, referees have a severe limitation where this is concerned:
There will be many times that you will develop a kind of attachment to one of your human or inhuman monsters but one cold, hard fact that every referee must face is that all your creatures will eventually die.As one interesting artifact of days of yore, Fine talks about character death with Dave Arneson. Arneson recounts the very first instance of resurrection in his D&D game:
We had one character, in fact the oldest character in the campaign, who at one time hadn't shown up for an evening and it was in the middle of an especially precarious situation. I was still planting my feet as a referee. I would never allow that to happen now. But I let someone else who was new control his character so we could finish up the situation. Well, to make a long story short he got killed. I was a little upset because the gentleman who had caused this character's death had bungled it badly. I could never conceive the real player doing that. ... There was a lot said by the other players. ... A lot of them said, "You gonna allow that?" What can I do? ... When the [player] found out about it, he felt it was somewhat unfair; he was not going to have my head on a platter or anything, but he was upset. He then had the honor of being one of the first players ever to be raised from the dead and put back together, as it were. I made up a little scenario. "Well, if you want him brought back to life, guys, you're all upset by it, then we'll make a little quest out of it." ... [That was] the first time I'd really done it, and so they went off and they did it, and he came back.I find it fascinating, and oddly comforting, to see Dave Arneson fumbling some basic GM tasks so badly, and recovering from the fumble so well. As much dislike as I have for the impact of resurrection on both the setting and the characters, I really like this story.