The Blog

Role Playing Can Make You Happy

Anybody who thinks this is about sex, keep reading. It's not, but keep reading anyway - it might just make you happy. We're right in the middle of Happiness Week on BBC Radio 5 live...
  1. Anybody who thinks this is about sex, keep reading. It's not, but keep reading anyway - it might just make you happy.
  2. We're right in the middle of Happiness Week on BBC Radio 5 live.
Live laughter yoga aside, it's been mercifully free of enforced jollity, more a keen look at what blows our hair back in Britain. Heck the "happiness tsar", (if that's not an oxymoron I don't know what is) Lord Richard Layard, will be in tomorrow doing a phone in.

It follows the results of this year's global happiness survey, where once again the Nordic nations (sorry Iceland but y'know) dominate the top ten. Why? Gender and economic equality, high productivity, good wages and education, high levels of trust, social cohesion, life-work balance etc. Oh and nice jumpers. So far so good, makes you wonder if the locals believe The Killing was actually made there. Canada's in the top ten too, as is NZ. I'm not going to debunk any of this having neither the exhaustive research nor the hysterical xenophobia to do so. I'll just park it by quoting an American friend who says "Canada's great - but not for a whole weekend".

Britain is at number 21 in the happiness stakes. Cue handwringing and navel gazing. It's possible if you are a co-ordinated person to do these at the same time. This is not my manifesto for "Making Britain Happy" although it's a better election slogan than most. This is what works for me. Let me take you somewhere.

You get in from a long day, complete all the 'have to' blah, get on the sofa and discover there's absolutely nothing on TV, and everybody on social media is tedious. What if I told you that with the touch of a button in 5 minutes you could be somewhere else, someone else? And it's beautiful.

Right now I'm walking through a shimmering meadow on a hillside at dusk. Dragonflies dart in my path and flowers of every hue angle their heads for the last rays of warm sun. A harp is playing somewhere in the distance, and as I round bluff carpeted in heather I see a sleepy stone cottage in a copse of silver birch. Smoke rises straight from the chimney. There is not a breath of air. A single candle invites me from a window. A deer starts in the trees as I approach.

At this point one of about a hundred things can happen. The three most likely are,

1/ You enter the cottage and meet a bizarre looking individual who will offer you something spectacular if you complete a quest that may involve certain death.

2/ The idyllic scene is cast into shadow as a BLOOMIN' DRAGON (!!!) flies over your head.

3/ You keep walking. In my case reaching the sea, diving a ship wreck, finding some treasure, eating a couple of scallops, and sleeping on the beach.

Welcome to the world of the Role Playing Game.

A battered last generation console, a half decent pc, even a lap top with a good graphics card is all you need to get you there. After that, what unfolds is completely UP TO YOU. How many times does that happen in your average day? If you're Dragoned right out (GOT owes a tonne load to RPGS) then how about exploring stupendously rendered far flung galaxies as the maverick hero of your own star ship? Or be an outlaw anti hero in the wild west where you can shoot the bejeebers out of slavers or just roast a chipmunk and watch the shooting stars over the prairie?

The thing about RPG's is that you never start out as a God. You invariably start in a pretty crappy situation from which you build your character. That's the hook - you overcome adversity, improve your situation and often that of those around you and have a huge amount of fun and diversion along the way. Sure as eggs is eggs there is an evil overlord ready to cut you back down to size but between you and your motley band of muckers you'll soon be equal to the task.

More people than ever are playing video games in the UK. Most of them are women. Most of them are over 44. You are not going to be a freak.

I've seriously just looked out my window and seen a kingfisher. That's me in the really real world, the Peak District if you must know. Right now. I've never seen one before. It's made me really happy. Reality in this neck of the woods isn't so bad either.

BBC Radio 5 live Happiness Week runs until Friday 21 August.

Sarah Brett presents Afternoon Edition with Dan Walker from 1-4pm weekdays on BBC Radio 5 live