I’m constantly reminded of how many different ways there are to “play”, and I love getting to talk with people who game in different ways than I do. Today’s interview is with Ian Magnusson, who specializes in RPGs of all kinds, from tabletop, to video games, to LARPs.
RP: Tell me a little about yourself!
IM: My name is Ian Magnusson, I am a New Jersey transplant living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I have been gaming since the summer of 2000, unless you are counting video games which I have been playing since the mid-90s. My day job is at the up-and-coming Milwaukee Brewing company, but I am more excited for my weekends working as an actor for Renaissance Entertainment Productions at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.
RP: What got you into gaming?
IM: As far back as I can remember I have enjoyed video games, specifically adventure and RPG games deep with story, but in the summer of 2000 I was working as a camp counselor when I got my first opportunity to play in a game of D&D and that changed my focus forever. At the end of my freshman year of college, I was invited to try out a LARP and ever since I have devoted as much time and energy to the worlds we create in games as possible. I have dabbled in online gaming of several kinds, mostly MMORPG's and MOBA's.
RP: Tell me a little bit about that first D&D game you ever played. Were you excited? Nervous?
IM: My first game of D&D was very exciting. It was my first year as a camp counselor and the game was being run and played by some of the coolest older staff members and I was the youngest person allowed to join. The whole process was so exciting. It was a simple homebrew game where we were impetuous adventurers investigating strange occurrences in the sewers below a small city. I was playing a chaotic good elf cleric of the God of the Elves, Corellon Larethian. The character was little more than a bolder version of myself in a lot of ways, but it taught me so much about making choices. The game started a little after our season started and ended at the end of season unfinished, but it will always be one of my most fond memories of gaming.
RP: What are some of your favorite games to play now?
IM: There are so many different kinds of games I love, so to keep it simple I will name only a few from three major categories: electronic, tabletop, and live action.
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time will always hold a special place in my heart, and Star Wars: Knights of the old Republic showed how much story and choice can mean to a game.
For Tabletop, I thoroughly enjoy Pathfinder for all its customizability, Fate system for how open it is, and Betrayal at the House on the Hill for its replayable zaniness.
Live action I love Nocturne LARP for its rich story, Oblivion LARP for its unique rules system, and Vampire: the Masquerade for politics.
RP: Based on your game selections I can tell storytelling is huge for you. What makes a good story?
IM: A good story should make you think. Either you should question why you act, believe, or do the things you do, or they should make you feel reassured about them. Sometimes a good twist in the story can really take it up a notch, but subverting expectations solely for the purpose of subverting them is pointless. There is a reason that we tell the same few stories over and over again in new ways. Morality and virtues examined through narrative are powerful tools.
There are many aspects and directions that make for a "good" story. I often prefer stories that have strong archetypal characters, stories that examine what is important. Another hugely important part of a good story is a consistent, well-fleshed out world. Personally, I don't have a lot of need for "realism," just believability. Stories that focus on a world of grey where there is no good and evil are not nearly as interesting as stories with more stark contrast. That is not to say that heroes should not be flawed, and villains should not have redeeming qualities, but that those aspects of them should not outweigh their more core facets. Also, I like to like characters. It is hard for me to care about what is going to happen next in a story if I don't care about who it is happening to.
RP: How is storytelling different in an RPG or LARP versus a video game?
IM: For me, one of the most important differences in storytelling between tabletop RPGs, LARPs, and video games is how defined your "walls" are. When running a tabletop game, I try to leave the options for what happens next as wide open as possible. Alternatively, I find with video games when I have too many options, I don't feel drawn to do any of them. I much prefer games that have a robust set of side quests with a clear central story to true sandboxes. It's hard to get a good feeling of pace when the game does not instill any sense of urgency and just lets you wander. Ironically, the exact opposite is true of the tabletop games I enjoy most. I like the opportunity to explore a world unfettered with the mind of a person guiding the flow of the story as you go is just better. Maybe someday a computer will be able to keep up with the story, but that day is not today.
RP: Do you consider gamer an integral part of your identity?
IM: I do, I love games and they comprise a lot of who I am. I feel that escaping the doldrums of working at a job I don't love, paying taxes, and the like, to worlds where good and evil clash,and the fate of the world is decided by me, is necessary for my sanity.
RP: Doldrums is an excellent word and I am 100% going to borrow it. Do you find that working through difficult themes in a game helps you deal with difficult things in your real life?
The feelings that I get when gaming really do a lot to help me get through the hard times. The feeling of accomplishment I get when I get through a particularly hard aspect of a video game that was giving me trouble. The feeling of hope that I get when giving or hearing a rousing speech at a LARP before a big battle. The feeling of importance when the king sends the party out on an epic quest to save the world in a D&D campaign. I guess for me it is less about direct correlation between my real-life issues to what I accomplish with my gaming, and more about what gaming helps to bring out in myself to deal with daily troubles.
Then again, tools that I develop in gaming can assist with other aspects of my life. Things like developing clear, concise communication with a team, learning resource management, troubleshooting issues with out-of-the-box thinking, and what makes a good leader, are all skills I have honed through gaming.
RP: Are there any Friendly Local Game Stores you frequent?
We actually have a really cool place called Board Game Barrister that my fiancée like to frequent. They have a few locations, a nice selection of games with awide variety of play types, a knowledgeable friendly staff, and most importantly they are welcoming to all. I am much happier giving my business to them knowing that they take as good care of their customers as possible, regardless of gender, age, or experience.
RP: Do you have any advice for people looking to get started with gaming?
IM: Find communities that promote being a nerd in any fashion and you will find they harbor people who game.