I am on rare occasion given cause to wonder if I should be doing this blogging, if the damage I cause in a reckless moment outweighs anything positive I contribute when I write something well. But I’m not just doing this for self-aggrandizement. My whole life has been balanced on the edge of a knife – financial ruin, which can drag down the people around me, the people I love. And there’s at least a slight possibility this blog will be a launching point for doing something that brings financial success. It’s good to be adjacent to people who get clicks. So here I am.
I’m in the middle of my work week. Got two more days of unpleasant labors before I can rest. I have irons in fires, gonna spend my mid-week weekend doing tests and arranging interviews for (hopefully) better things. It’s getting late. My next shift starts in like eight hours and I still have some chores to do. But I haven’t been blogging enough lately. Gotta keep up my FtB points. What to write about?
Role-playing, sure. Been thinking about that lately.
RPGs are one of the most emotionally fraught and difficult hobbies you can have. There are a million ways for games to go wrong and not as many ways for them to go right, and a bad game can cost a friendship. A bad player can violate consent, abuse people. Why do people play these games?
I forget, honestly. I used to be more of a player, decades ago, but in recent years I’ve game mastered so much I don’t remember what it’s like to want to play a singular character all the way. And maybe as a result, I have a different perspective on what RPGs are – what their purpose is. I think RPGs are collaborative writing projects. Most players probably don’t feel that way, though I admit I’ve lost touch with their motivations & could be wrong.
The collaborative writing projects model explains a lot of what goes wrong in games. The GM spins a tale, but needs their co-writers – the players – to help keep the narrative strong from their side, with the characters they control. But in order to feel surprise, a sense of interest, information is withheld from the players that would not be withheld in a more conventional writing collaboration. If your players aren’t understanding your sense of the drama in a scene, don’t have a sense of what’s possible in the universe you’re controlling as GM, then their writing can suffer. And from that, the whole work suffers.
Back in the day, RPGs usually didn’t leave a comprehensive paper trail. It was like improv acting where you could forget everything tomorrow and it wouldn’t be a big deal. Now that so much RP happens on the internet, it’s nice to be able to look at the record and see something fun, interesting. If you look at the record and it shows a bunch of dead ends, bad humor, anticharismatic characters with no goals slouching from one ugly situation to another, to me that represents failure. You collectively told a bad story and odds are no one had as much fun as they could have with a more sensible narrative.
But I’m a bit of an oddball this way. I know my players never read their old posts, but I do. I read the old stories to remember fun times, or have a dark laugh at times things were sucking in an interesting way. I see lines I’d forgotten, words written by myself and my collaborators, which can entertain me again. Because some of my old games are recorded – and were pretty good – I have stories I can return to for fun. I don’t understand why other people choose not to avail themselves of that, and why they don’t put more effort into treating their characters as part of a narrative, so that in the final showing they’ll be more fun to read, be less embarrassing.
To me a campaign is a long-form work of written entertainment. To most players, it’s something much more ephemeral. A moment to drink like a can of beer, smash the can on their head, and walk off leaving the work behind like blackout memories. I guess that’s fine. To each their own.