Monday, May 23, 2011

Thinking About Games

Neil Gaiman -- through Puck here -- is
talking about the writing of Shakespeare
and plays and fiction in general. But he
may as well have been talking about all
our RPG sessions as well.
This post on The Alexandrian and another post on Narrative games on have spurred some thought in my restless mind on the RPG hobby.

I understand and appreciate the need to establish terminology to define what the hell we're talking about, so I'm happy that there has been some effort in sort of drawing the lines between different types of game mechanics and different types of game design goals.

There's a question that's sometimes tossed around: "Does System Matter?"

My answer: of course it does. But it's the system that is actually used during gameplay that matters, not necessarily the ones set down in the rulebooks. The system can help establish the consistency, plausibility, and "fairness" of gameplay events. The system can also frame the type of gaming experience: one that may emphasize a realistic yet boring grind, or one that may favor wild and exciting unpredictability, or some other combination of traits. And there are good systems and bad systems. And there are systems that are good, but bad at realizing their stated goals and visa versa.

They also matter because every game system is someone's first -- so here's to improving them all regardless of your personal taste.

Another question that's sometimes tossed around is: "What does it matter, as long as you're all having fun?"

And my answer is: it matters if the GM and the players after something else in addition to having fun. Let me clarify that -- simple amusement is not the only fun that people can have playing games, just as watching a TV show or reading book isn't just about the thrills and chills. We can also enjoy touching moments of drama, brilliant tactical maneuvering, and that sense of wonder that reawakens memories and emotions of the sheer breadth of imagination untainted by someone else's vision -- the ones that we once had when we were young, and fearless and knew it all.

And another question that's often tossed around: "Why do you think so much about games?"

And my answer is perhaps different from all the other defenders of our hobby: because it matters to me. I could give a dozen reasons. A hundred reasons. But ultimately, they're all my reasons and they all boil down to this: RPGs matter to me. A well-crafted game system matters to me. A stunningly realized setting matters to me. A virtuoso performance of a GM and a cunning example of player meta-gaming matter to me. Heated arguments over game versions and movements and gamer poetics matter to me.

Not as important as family or principle. Not as important as righting injustice or helping the poor.

But important nonetheless.

And I thank God that I still have space and time for it in my life, no matter how small. And I'm thankful that many other people online have space and time for it in their lives as well.


  1. I've never seen someone who questioned "why does that matter so much to you?" that didn't spend a lot of time engaged in something equally "unimportant." That question is just a more dishonest way of calling something "uncool."

  2. Amen to that - we're indeed fotunate to experience this. And yes, I do this because it is important to me. Thanks for affirming this.


That's my side of things. Let me know what you think, my friend.

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