July 18, 2010

I just listened to a really great, and frustrating podcast. The frustrating part was that the questions put forward by the hosts really reflected a couple of long standing problems in the hobby and got in the way of the interview they were doing. I’m not so much interested in talking about the podcast as much as the two issues I saw.

Justifying the Rules

Tabletop roleplaying is the only gaming hobby I know of, where gamers regularly demand that the rules be justified before trying them. “Oh yeah? Tell me WHY I should play by the rules you give me, huh?!? HUH?!?”

And, I know that 95% of the games in the hobby have had pretty crappy design and most people don’t trust rules to work in the first place. And I know when you don’t have an organized method to consistently people to play the same game, there’s a level of fear that anything might knock down the house of cards that forms “working play”.

But still. You kinda have to look at folks and go, “Look, do you want to play or not? If you do, let’s try it the way the rules say, if not, let’s just go play something else.”

The Personal Experience

When you listen to music, when you see a painting, when you watch a movie or play, read a book, there’s a personal experience you have with the media – it causes feelings, directs thoughts, etc. Games are the same way – they affect you as you play them.

Part of that is to experience that, to think about it, to digest it. I mean, you can just casually enjoy it and not think about it, but if your friend asks you about the subject, you’ll give an answer based on your experience of it. If you enjoy writing, speaking, making podcasts, etc. on the subject, you probably are going to do more thinking and analysis about play.

A lot of tabletop roleplayers tend to be not so good at this task.

I’m thinking there’s two things that create that- a lot of game books, advice, “common knowledge” that is both untrue and sets up a culture of divorcing oneself from one’s own personal experiences, and second, when there’s dysfunctional gaming experiences, group pressure to edit one’s understanding of one’s experiences, and again, divorce from critical thought about them.

Notice that, though the interview, they’re effectively asking him to make an interpretation on the experience of the game… after having played quite a bit themselves.

If you read some of the comments you can see the same issues reflected again. Instead of asking, “Wait, you guys played the game, why are you asking these questions?”, they’re asking, “Why is Jared dodging the questions?”

Such a long way to go.

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