I recommend the novel The Diceman by Luke Rhinehart and videogames such as Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Fallout 3. In videogame terms, it’s a combo. In normal terms, it’s a combination.
After ten years KotOR2 finally got an update a few months ago, adding Mac support, native widescreen mode, and, among other things, achievements. These are all incredibly welcome to a still-thriving community who continue to treasure the game. Achievements add a challenge to gameplay which will appeal to completionists, (as if they don’t already have enough to do in these multi-linear behemoths of RPGs), but they don’t offer a whole new way to play the game. Sure, these RPGs give you a lot of choices, and moral greyness is actually something KotOR2 does particularly well, but I often find myself in a rut. I’m either a Light Side Paragon hero who, although faced with some tough decisions, ultimately does what is clearly The Right Thing, or, on the second play through of the game, I’m a Renegade Sith Bad Ass who takes sadistic pleasure in being a murderous bastard.
Obviously there’s a lot to be gained from replaying games in a more nuanced manner. There are many subplots to be explored and character relationships which can be developed depending on your gender and conversational approach. It can, however, be difficult to stop yourself following The Hero’s Journey or treating Fallout like Grand Theft Apocalypse. But what would happen if you played a truly random play-through? A play-through in which, even though you know the game’s storyline inside out, you haven’t got a clue what your character’s going to do next? What if it was all left to the roll of the dice and you’re reduced to being a Sim, not knowing whether the omnipresent power governing your life is about to buy you a new fridge or put you in the swimming pool and remove the stairs?
This is what you start thinking when you play KotOR2 at the same time as reading The Diceman (literally at the same time, you need a good book handy to see you through some of the loading screens when you’re playing on XBOX.) The Diceman is about a man who decides to let the roll of a dice make his decisions for him. This is all part of his new psychological theory about the multiplicity of human personality, and it quickly becomes a cult that spreads across America. The book makes you reach for the dice, only to put them down again as you see how the dicelife effects the protagonist. Dice-gaming, on the other hand, has all the excitement and unpredictability of the dicelife without ending up on the FBI’s most wanted list.
You can start simple, RPGs like Mass Effect and KotOR are easy to dice-game: you simply roll the dice to decide which conversation option to pick. Then you can follow in Luke Rhinehart’s footsteps and make it a bit more advanced. Use the dice to decide which of the six people you have listed you will play the game as for the next ten minutes. Before long you’ll find yourself running through a Star Destroyer asking yourself whether Margret Thatcher would use a lightsaber, an assault rifle, or just good old fashioned force lightning (force lightning being the answer, obviously.)
I know it’s heresy to claim that repeatedly defeating all the gyms and beating the Elite Four can get a bit dull, so I won’t claim it, I’ll just insinuate it. Dice-gaming can even add an extra thrill to all-time favourites. If Twitch can play Pokémon, why can’t Chance? Imagine the tension and the drama as you cycle through Kanto, unsure whether you’re about to miraculously defeat Team Rocket with a Blastoise who only knows ‘splash’, or whether you’re about to waste your Master Ball on a Pidgey.
And what about Grand Theft Auto? The endless potential for chaos can get a bit wearing when you’ve finished the story, there’s only some many times you can steal an aeroplane, crash it into a mountain and then evade the cops on a pedal bike, before it gets repetitive. What if the dice told you to only kill people wearing hats, only using your fists and that you have to pretend that all police officers are stray dogs who you must capture but not injure?
Perhaps this will give you five minutes of fun. Perhaps it will give you an entertaining, if surreal, evening playing an old classic. That’s fine, I haven’t got delusions that I’m about to revolutionize videogaming. But if you do like it, and if it does spread, I want to become the enigmatic cult leader at the top of it all.