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Giving them what they want

July 19, 2008

Roleplaying games have a unique property that no other media shares- it can become the game that you want, as you’re playing it. This unique factor actually has been a Big Fucking Deal for rpgs, though few folks have really sat down and thought about how it gets handled in play.

Traditional games have left this task solely in the hands of the GM, usually without explicit guidelines or rules to help them figure this out. The GM usually has to try to guess or elicit or read the players’ desires, utilize the power of setting up scenes, controlling the spotlight, and creating interactions with characters and challenges to meet the players’ and adapt to their desires. In recent years, this has become easier (though, really, still not easy) through things like Flag mechanics or explicit understanding of Scene Framing and other techniques.

More innovative games have played around with stuff like giving camera control or narration rights to the players. I had been thinking about this for over a year unable to articulate exactly what it was about narration trading I found so fascinating, and it’s this: it’s a simple and efficient way for the players to directly input into the game and change the game into what they want. Though it’s somewhat of a clubbing tool for this, it’s important because it’s far more effective than what we’ve BEEN doing for the last 30 years in the traditional realm. More subtle games play with the ability to change elements or load the odds or other things that aren’t as hamfisted to adapting play to meet the players.

This self-guiding/correcting element is often what makes some games resilient in their fun factor: like I’m surprised EVERY time I play Inspectres how much fun I have with it. And that’s because it adapts to meet the players quickly and easily.

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