Sunday, 11 April 2010

Why People Game

At yesterday's Call of Cthulu game we had a new player, and what's more a complete newcomer to gaming, in the form of the fiance of one of the other members of the group. It's always nice to see how somebody reacts when they encounter something you really like for the first time, and this was no exception.

Anyway, there was a moment yesterday which I think sums up what's so fun about role playing games. We'd tied up some loose ends from the previous session, and some of us were in search of a doctor - who was going to be the new player's character. The player, who we'll call Helen, was thus thrust into the limelight with her first role playing experience, which went something like this:

DM: It's five o'clock in the morning and you're waken up by the sound of the doorbell. Going to the window you see a huge, red headed man in a trench-coat at the door. There's a car parked outside, and you think you can see three other men inside it. They look the worse for wear and you think one of them may be carrying a shotgun.

Helen: ...

DM: What do you do?

I think this, in a nutshell, is what role playing games are all about and what makes them great. If you could bottle up that feeling - what do you do, and the limits are anything you can imagine - and spread it around, you wouldn't have to worry about the state of the hobby ever again. Unfortunately for some reason the powers that be have become obsessed with aping computer games, the exact opposite of what they should be doing.


  1. I think you've got something there. I've seen people you are avid player's of other types of games be a little perplexed by the very openness of possibilities that your talking about, but really take to it once the implications sink in.

  2. What did she do?

    (and word verification was "alimness" which sounds a bit Lovecraftian to me...)

  3. I definitely agree! :) This is what I like mostabout RPGs.

  4. Sod all that "cowboys and indians" or "collaborative storytelling" bumf we normally get in the "what is roleplaying?" bits of books. This is all you need. An evocative situation, then that brilliant, brilliant question. What do you do?

  5. Wow, great intro for a new player. Kudos! Playing with completely new to the hobby people is always energizing and fun, especially if the GM and experienced players let them really try things out. No preconceptions, no baggage.

  6. Why people game? Well, I game for the women and money, but that's just me.

    I hear you, though. In the current era it seems the emphasis on design is to make things more and more complicated. It's as if games are no longer designed for the casual or new gamer. I think that's pretty awful.

  7. Beautiful. I love the first time a brand new player gets her turn to act. They either go tharn, or they take charge and surprise everyone. And if it's the former, it becomes the latter by the second time.

  8. I always thought Palladium had the best "what is roleplaying" sections because they utilized an example of play format very similar to what you're writing about here. Typically, it would be a dialogue between a GM and player ending with "what do you do?" Like you say, it's a perfect way to summarize the appeal of RPGs.

    It's also interesting to me how that very open-endedness can freak out a lot of first-time players; we're simply not used to having to actively engage with our entertainment media.

  9. I'll be the dissenting voice...

    I think you may be confusing "why people game" with "why you game". I actually feel that open-ended ultimatums such as the one you presented are part of the reason more new people, especially women, do not game.

    Had I presented my group of gamer newbies - mostly female, all youngish - with such an open-ended situation as the one presented in your example: two would have looked at me blankly and with a touch of fear; one would have said "well, what are my choices?"; and probably all three of those would have not come back next week.

    With my own group, I invited a number of non-gamers to play (yes, we play 4E). Since they have not gamed previously, and since no one has ever asked them to use their imaginations so freely, they tend to be bewildered when presented with "what do you do?" situations. At first, I totally had to railroad them through encounters, showing them what they could do. It was slow going, but the mechanics are simple enough that I can do most of the work. After just three encounters, they're realizing they can try things I haven't told them about (and I am slowly adding in elements that I left out of the first encounter, like opportunity attacks). Eventually, they might grow to enjoy "what do you do?" situations, but as newbs, they like it this way and clamor for more.

    I don't think the way to teach a 2-year-old to swim is by throwing them into the deep end.

  10. eabod: Well, the person in question was new to gaming, young, and a woman, so I'd have to suggest you're wrong about open-endedness turning people off.

    I also think you may have the wrong end of the stick when you use the word "ultimatum". It's not as if somebody shone a spotlight in her face while the others pounded on the desk and demanded a response. It was put to her as a simple question, and she ran with it fine.

    Finally, even if it's true that newcomers feel daunted by "What do you do?" and have to be brought in gently, that doesn't mean that "What do you do?" is not the reason why people game and why it's fun.