Anyway, the Metro has a weekly sex advice column, which I always read. (Don't pretend you wouldn't.) The letters people write run the entire gamut from the boring ("I'm 26 and my girlfriend is 34, and I'm worried she's more experienced than me") to the stupid ("I can't figure out which hole to put it in") to the amusing ("I'm in love with my boyfriend's grandfather"), so you get quite a smorgasbard of advice being given by the collection of Agony Aunts on the payroll, but one thing I've noticed them say quite often is "You are responsible for your own orgasm". This seems to be a Sex Counsellor AphorismTM of sorts.
I think, as advice/aphorism goes, the statement is pretty idiotic stuff. But it works for role playing games, if you replace the word "orgasm" with the word "role within the game".
I'll explain further.
This morning I was moseying about on my feed reader and found a link to this blog. I've never read it before, but it appears to deal, in part, with role playing games. The title of the post in question is "How to Run a Successful RPG: Some Tips", which naturally caught my attention, given my recent spate of posts related to this topic. Anyway, it's all very well-intentioned stuff, but in my view it is fundamentally wrong - but wrong in that interesting way that things can be wrong, when they reveal something that is taken for granted but is horrendously damaging if you think about it for even a second.
The wrong bits are:
Make Sure Each Player Will Have Something To Do.Now, maybe you can see where I'm going with the post title. Why is it that we, as a hobby, seem to think that it is the GM who is responsible for making sure each player will have something to do? Why is it that, if we assume that the players at the table are relatively reasonable adults, the players don't bear any sort of responsibility for making sure they themselves have something to do? In other words: Why do we think the GM is the one who has to give the players orgasms?
Some of the most frustrating games I’ve been in were where I told the GM, “I want to play a sniper,” and all of the combat turned out to be in hallways, leaving all my skills to atrophy.
As a GM, I’d be loathe to let someone play a sniper – it’s the kind of role that invariably involves splitting the party, and it’s hard (not impossible, just hard) to come up with consistently interesting combat challenges for someone who works best from half a mile off. But if you’re going to tell someone, “Okay, put all of your points into ranged attacks and a weapon with a slow reload skill,” then you owe it to them to put them in a situation where they’re often going to be useful.
It’s way better to veto a player’s choice than to get them all jazzed up for playing a ninja, only to discover this isn’t really a stealth game. If you give someone a skill, make sure they have regular opportunities to use it.
My response to the "make sure each player will have something to do" advice is as follows: "Make sure the players understand that they are free to choose whatever character type they like, and that they have the freedom to go with it, and from there on they're on their own."
If you have a player who insists on playing a sniper, then it's his responsibility to be a sniper. It's his character's special skillset, so he should be playing with that in mind. If all combat is turning out to be in hallways, what the fuck is he doing? Why isn't he engineering it so that all his combats turn out to be in the middle of a huge meadow, except he's the one who's in a tree? Why is the GM the engine of his fun/success, and why isn't he thinking creatively and gaming in such a way that he can use his special snowflake character to do what he does best?
It's the same with playing a ninja "only to discover it isn't really a stealth game". Who says it isn't a stealth game? If one of the players is being a ninja, he should be making it a stealth game. He should be making his part of the game, his role within it, about being a ninja. He shouldn't be sitting around with his thumb up his arse whining because the GM hasn't designed an entire game to service his every little whim. Unless he's 8 years old, in which case he's forgiven.
You are an adult. You are responsible for your own orgasm. Not the GM.
What this piece of advice reveals about the hobby, of course, is that too many people still persist in seeing RPG play as linear. The GM thinks of a scenario that he believes will be fun, with a beginning, middle and end, and the players follow it through to its conclusion. If the players don't have fun, it's the GM's fault, because it's the GM's job to be on his knees under the table giving them orgasms.
All of this falls away if you pursue nonlinearity. This is the USP of RPGs: the GM creating a setting, with hooks to get the players involved, and the players going about their business in a way they deem best. Computers can't emulate this well. It's one of the huge advantages that pen-and-paper has over the computer game. And yet for some reason the vast majority of players still don't seem to have got the message yet.
Now, this isn't to say the GM doesn't have a role in this. If the player wants to be a ninja and is doing ninja-ish things, the GM needs to support him in that. When he makes ninja plans to ninja stuff the fuck up, the GM needs to interpret his ideas favourably, and certainly shouldn't be saying "Nah, you can't do that". The GM's job is to be the catalyst for, to encourage, creativity. But there's a world of difference between that and the GM engineering things to suit specific players.
To close with an example from the game I'm running at the moment: one of the players in the campaign has a "Rockerboy" character (it's Cyberpunk 2020). He's a superstar East German DJ who wears silver pantaloons. This isn't somebody who naturally fits with the other characters, who are more traditional noir-ish cloak-and-dagger corporate assassin/fixer types. But the player in question has become a huge part of the game by manipulating situations to his advantage (with the cooperation of the others). Almost every session he's at the centre of things, whether doing impromptu performances, arranging gigs, networking through his club contacts, or doing sham concerts as fronts for other activities. He's a massive piece of the group's armoury, and it's because he and the other players have been willing to think creatively. At no stage have I ever sat down to think to myself, "How can I make sure [x] will have something to do this week?" Because I know that he'll think of something.
You are responsible for your own orgasm, people. And don't you forget it.