Webcomics and role-playing games

Did you see that Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day raised $1.4 Million on Kickstarter for an Internet series called Tabletop, in which they'll introduce board gaming to various "geeky guests"? (To you kids out there: "Board gaming" is like video games, but not on a computer. I know, right?) This was apparently some sort of crowdfunding record, as no one previously had raised more than $1 million for an online series.

Some people see this as evidence that geek culture has become an economic power. I see this from another point of view: People just want to see Wil Wheaton playing games. What if I told you, dear reader, there's a webcomic out there that can deliver that very experience? It's Wheaton as Wesley Crusher playing some role-playing games with the rest of the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew in Josh Millard's LARP Trek.

LARP Trek's art is generated using the incredible technique of screenshots and copy-and-paste. Truth be told, I'm actually enamored by the look. While webcomic art in general has improved greatly over the years, it's nice to see a throwback to cruder efforts. It's charming! The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is on an early mission when the holodeck goes down. Where will the captain do his Dixon Hill roleplay? Where will Barclay reenact his embarrassing fantasies?

That's when uber-nerd Geordi LaForge comes to the rescue! He's familiar with an ancient Earth custom, something about ... role-playing games. (Incidentally, despite the title, there's not much in the way of live-action role-playing going on here.) He gathers the crew around the table and encourages them to come up with new characters for a scenario he's developed -- one set on a non-existent frontier space station orbiting a planet where the locals worship ethereal mystic beings. Captain Picard, with his vivid and bombastic imagination, throws himself wholeheartedly into the role of the dreamed-up character of Benjamin Sisko.

That's right: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is but an exercise in collective storytelling for the Enterprise crew. The comic re-contextualizes each episode according to the rules of the game ... although it sometimes drops them when Geordi realizes things are going nowhere. The DS9 two-parter pilot, incidentally, is fertile for role-playing parody, as it contains some fairly fantastical elements. (Prophets, anyone?)

Our old pal Wesley tries to form a father-son bond with Picard by role-playing as Jake Sisko. Deanna Troi takes the role of the Ferengi bartender Quark, which surprisingly plays to her strengths as a counselor. Data starts off as Odo, but decides to play against type by taking on the Kira character instead. (It's a great way to show that the highly emotional Kira actually does make the most rational decisions.) And, in a surprise twist, Keiko and Miles O'Brien -- the two characters from TNG who are regulars in the early seasons of DS9 -- decide to play each other, which leads to disastrous results. Honestly, I'm waiting for the inevitable strip where Worf enters the game as himself. (Or will he be played by another crew member as an embarrassing imitation?)

LARP Trek is but the latest iteration of the "pop culture as a role-playing game" webcomic. Before that was Darths and Droids by a team called The Comic Irregulars (which included David Morgan-Mar of Irregular Webcomic fame). The team envisions Star Wars as a collaborative storytelling effort, where the weird plots (starting with Episode One) are the results of irrational decisions made by gamers. It's notable for making Jar Jar Binks very lovable (it turns out he's being role-played by a little girl). Before that was Shamus Young's The DM of the Rings (which as of this writing seems to be inaccessible), envisioning the Tolkien classic as a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Other popular webcomics, like Order of the Stick, also seem to operate in a universe coded by the rules of a role-playing game.

Who knew the role-playing game webcomic could become its own genre?

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