One of my weekly without-fail podcast listens is BBC Five Live's World Football Phone-In. This week somebody called in and asked Tim Vickery, the "football in South America" correspondent, the simple question: why he loved football. He gave a lot of reasons, but one which struck a chord with me was that he said, in the modern age, there is so much interaction with gizmos and gadgets that sometimes it is nice to just go home after a day's work and touch something that is made out of wood.
To him, football is like wood. It is something from an age before computers, before iPads, before mobile phones, and before the internet. To play or watch football is to connect with the past, but also to the world of physicality and physical objects. It is to feel something natural, tangible, ancient. Something that was around before you were born and will be around long afterwards.
I think role playing games have a similar attraction. There is something about the simplicity of the implements - dice, pencils, paper - that has an actual touchable, holdable charm. They are not the ephemeral, non-corporeal, soul-less products of the computerised age. They are something older and weightier and nicer. There is a trusty, prosaic feel that you get from rolling the dice and scrawling things in pencil that a computer interface can't emulate.
This is why, for me, there is always going to be something unsatisfactory about online gaming, something missing. (Even though it has its obvious advantages.) It's not just the face-to-face interaction: Skype or Google+ hangouts give you that. It's being able to pick up the dice and roll them and let everybody else see the result. It's being able to pick up a piece of scrap paper and pencil out a map. It's being able to decorate your character sheet with doodles of your character. It's being simple in an age of increasingly complex things. I don't know what goes on inside my computer, and I'm fundamentally alienated from it as a result. Dice and pencils are understandable.