Saturday, 8 June 2013

Players Are Like Lucifer

I've plugged it often, and I'll do it again, but The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy is always worth listening to. I've been catching up on recent episodes at the gym, and this one in particular, while video game-specific, has much of interest to say about the nature of games in general.

Austin Grossman, the interviewee in the episode, makes the excellent observation that players of video games are a bit like Lucifer in Paradise Lost; it seems like it is in their very nature to rebel against the pre-ordained state of things. As a video-game designer, you simply have to accept that players will not do what they are "supposed to", and will constantly find ways to pervert what the game is for. And the stricter you make the narrative, of course - i.e., the more you define what the player is "supposed to do" - the more this perverse streak will emerge, and the more it will work against the game.

We've all experienced this. Even within the strict narrative confines of a text adventure, our impulse to type HIT MAN, PULL DOWN PANTS, BITE DOG, FUCK OFF etc. is irresistible.

Grossman puts it down, if I recall correctly (I don't have the transcript), to human players asserting control over their environment and personal narrative in an almost instinctive way. It's not in our nature to restrain ourselves from exercising our autonomy once we have it.

The application of this line of thinking to tabletop RPGs is obvious. While the RPG equivalent of typing "FUCK OFF" into a text adventure interface is not to be recommended, as any DM knows, nothing you plan ever survives contact with the players. Console yourself with this thought next time your brilliant idea is horribly scuppered by the reaction of the players: they are just exercising their autonomy instinctively and are, essentially, acting like Lucifer. It's in their nature.

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