Building your own house of cards

August 1, 2007

Gamers bump their heads against a lot of problems. Many self inflicted. At first, I thought this was simply the nature of the beast. But then I looked again and again, and found, no, things don’t have to be like this. There’s a set of beliefs and practices, that generally make gaming harder, not easier.

Here’s the pitfalls to avoid:

1. “The only ‘real’ roleplaying is at least 6 hour sessions, with the same group, for months on end”

This is the default basically pitched by a lot of games, and gamer culture in general. What’s wrong with it? Well, let’s see what it spawns as a result:

2. “Gamers are hard to find.”

Well, if your expectation is folks who are going to commit to 6 hour sessions once a week for months on end, maybe you will have a hard time finding folks.

3. “We got to keep the group together (or else it’s not ‘real’ roleplaying)”

Huh? That seems weird, right? But check out the number of folks who are playing a game they don’t like because “it’s what everyone else (in my small group) likes”. Or, “We can’t just kick him out (who would we play with)?” etc. You see a lot of peacemaking and compensation efforts to hold a group together often at the expense of basic fun.

4. “We don’t talk about that.”

What’s “that”? Could be rules, could be theory, could be the canon of Lord of the Rings, whatever. Here’s the secret of why we don’t talk about “that”. It’s because it points to differences in the group, and differences mean division and division means we’re not the happy go lucky game group we need to be to justify staying together to play our 6 hour sessions every week for 2 years straight.

Instead, half the group will salivate at the combat, the other half will roll their eyes. Half the group will spend an hour bartering over a ship, the other half will read comic books. But no one will say that it’s boring or talk about how they don’t like those parts (at least not to the other half’s face) and we’ll be a happy group. That’s bored at least half of the time.

5. “Saying what you want to happen is meta. Meta is cheating.”

Along with the previous practice, this basically turns all of your gaming into a verbal version of charades. Instead of acting things out, now you’re describing acting things out in order to communicate something you can’t directly talk about.

You want your hero to get romantic with the Princess but the GM misread your actions and thinks you’re trying to kidnap her and you try to go with it thinking it will really be a fun misunderstanding and now your hero is on the gallows waiting to be hung.

Wow, that’s fun. And it only took four hours, right?

Of course, you could have said, “I really want to have a romance with the Princess”, and you and the GM could have worked together to make that happen and the other players at the table could have had their characters chip in and provide extra support or rivalries and all the cool things that make a good romance.

But that’s cheating. And that’s bad. So instead we fumble around for four hours, and do it the dumb, clumsy way instead of the fun, easy way.

(next: Where does this get us?)

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