August 16, 2008

Since I’ve been a kid, competitive games just have never been the big thing I’m into.

Like, I dig a few, but for the most part, I prefer co-op games. Not because of “ZOMG! I FEARS THE COMPETITION”, as much as, most of my life the experience has been that competitive games tended to be blow-outs one way or the other. Either I’m whomping someone, or someone’s whomping me. Which doesn’t really do much to fulfill my challenge kick. (Hell, even when I took judo at 14, I was either up against 7 year old kids or full grown adults with brown and black belts.)

I know, that this isn’t a problem of competitive games. But that’s basically been my experience of most of them.

Whereas, with, co-op games, I get to enjoy hanging out with my friends and doing things to mesh our strengths together, instead of trying to apply our strong points to each others’ weak points. If they’re better than me, I get to learn how to play better, if they’re worse than me, I can teach them.

This is a major reason I fell into RPGs- a bunch of us get together as friends, hang out and have adventures in the face of adversity, working together. (Ok, yes, one of my ideal RPG experiences is Avatar, the Last Airbender.)

Though I have to say, through all the game groups, and folks I’ve played with, this is still pretty rare. I’ve seen tons of adventuring parties, tons of Vampire clans, etc. etc., but not so many where the characters are actually friends- just allies, at best.

It’s as if the unspoken rule amongst most traditional gaming is that it’s “bad roleplaying” to let your characters mirror your real world friendships too much, too “Mary Sue”. Games where I have done that, we’ve had more fun, been more effective in the fiction, and had much more memorable times.

Meanwhile, I read game advice like “the rules exist to prevent bitterness amongst the players” or hear first hand about folks getting into fist fights at the gametable and I have to wonder if this “good roleplaying” that people keep talking about is all that good.

We use fiction all the time to mirror real life- we do it through stories, songs, poetry, video, anything. It’s how we feel about real life that provides the context to make anything moving or powerful, or just a neat splotch of color on a piece of canvas. If anything has moved me, it’s always been because of what it touches that is real.

The emotional brain is stupid. It can’t tell the real from the false- you cry at the movies, you jump when there’s a monster on screen, your heart swells at a tender song, you get angry reading a fictional book. It’s the reason we do high stress simulations for paramedics, firemen, and the military- fool the brain until it’s close enough to real that it reacts the same way under pressure.*

Is it more dangerous to reference that we’re really friends, or is it more dangerous to pretend that we’re not?

No, flip that.

Is it more fun to remind ourselves why we’re friends, or is it more fun to pretend that we’re not?

* Footnote for stupid:

“I don’t want to be Elfstar anymore!” is not what I’m saying. You’re not -really- doing the fictional stuff, but you are REALLY sitting at a table interacting with your friends. That’s really happening. What your brain emotionally takes from that, well…



  1. This reminds me: I really want to play Breaking the Ice with my girlfriend.

    I’ve actually flirted (hah!) with using Breaking the Ice as a system-agnostic way of generating explicit and believable friendships between characters that are expected to adventure together. Kinda a buddy-cop-generator. There’s some reason that forces you to be/work together for three of what the game calls “dates,” but are just really three pivotal sequences of events in the course of your friendship, but you chalk up things that you have in common, and overcome obstacles to your friendship (in the movies it’s often ethnicity and social background, or else just “by-the-book” vs “the renegade”), and eventually you like and respect one another and want to continue having adventures in the sequels (read as: campaign). From what you’ve said, it seems that, even though my character admires your character for different reasons than I admire you, the feelings may feel very alike? I’d be very happy if that was so: it would be a delightful unintended consequence from work intended to provide a believable excuse for adventurers to adventure peaceably while still having a life outside of shared adventuring..

  2. Funny enough, the idea of BtI as the friendship game also crossed my mind, or a modified version of John Wick’s Thirty. I know some of this idea is also behind Ben Lehman’s Thousand Kings, and him talking about it (and me playing Co-op Gears of War) got me thinking about this topic.

    Though, instead of just thinking about folks becoming friends, I’ve had a lot of good times with characters who already -are- friends, and playing off real world friendships to play with, and build the fictional friendships.

    I find a significant portion of players are uncomfortable and unskilled at starting characters as friends, which is really interesting to me, since, you know, people get all up about immersing into characters who are tripedal psychic aliens but can’t connect or work with basic friendships…

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