Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why I Game Versus Doing Anything Else

So Kjatar on Twitter asked "Why DO you guys game? What is it you look for that makes a game memorable?" And I realized that there are three primary reasons why I game: Iconic moments, wish/power fulfillment fantasies, and hard choices.

Iconic Moments

Iconic moments are those moments in the game that just stand out months or years later. They are the ones that we tells stories about. Frequently, they are when things went wrong for the PCs and yet they pulled out a victory, and other times they are just high drama. But these moments are what I crave, I'm not huge on slice of life gaming, I want to be out interacting actively in the world.

My favorite moment is from my Exalted game, where one of the players set up a long game over several months, and until the last moment I wasn't sure whether his character was going to betray the party for his former incarnation's now-undead lover plans of world domination. He sold it so well, because apparently the player didn't know whether he was going to betray the party or not until his character couldn't convince the BBEG (Big Bad Evil Gal) to give up her vengeance and run away together.

And it was just beautifully sold, with the dramatic stabbing through the back in front of the rest of the party who had arrived to confront them, in what would probably have been a doomed attempt. The collective silence was amazing to behold.

There were a few moments like that as well in my Adventure! game, generally involving the same player, which probably means I should invite him more often.

Iconic moments can't be created intentionally, but I believe the circumstances can be set-up so that they are more often, the players have to have agency, they have to be allowed to try things. Limiting their options, limits their sense of agency and how badass and dramatic they are feeling. Yes, there's something to be said for accomplishing over adversity, but if every victory feels by the skin of their teeth, you get a different game where seeing the sun rise is the victory.

Power & Wish Fulfillment

I've said it before, I'm a systems guy. I like playing with the toys within a gaming system, and generally those "toys" are the cool gadgets and gewgaws that the game gives the players. I want to feel powerful and competent, not goofy and barely functional in the world.

And some of this is shallow. Plots plots that leave me stripped of my abilities, or don't give me shiny new toys, well, eventually leave me with a  "grass is greener". I occasionally wonder if this is a result of playing something close to "Zero to Hero" even in point buy games, I'd love to play a thought experiment of "Create the character you want to play" with no real guidelines on "balancing". No clue how that would affect my play style because so far I've generally only seen a single game that really allows for it, and that was Cortex Plus Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. I occasionally get tired of not playing the character that I want to play, but the character that might grow into the character I want to play.

Perhaps a touch shallow and not proper form for someone who loves telling the story, perhaps, but hey, I didn't ever say I was all about the story.

Hard Choices

I love the idea of having decisions to make - whether or not it is between two good things or two bad things. I love exploring what these ideas say about the characters we are playing at the table. I see that there are 3 general choices:
  1. Good vs. Good - Good vs. Good is all about opportunity costs. You can't have both good things, so which one does your character (and you in that role) feel is the best good. A great way to cause drama and decisions that don't leave the table hating the GM.
  2. Good vs. Bad - This set is generally harder to make interesting. Generally, it has to take the flavor of "Good For Others and Bad For Me" vs. "Bad for Others and Good for Me"; otherwise, the decision isn't hard to make. And even then, most players will optimize for the "Good for others", because I feel choosing the latter will get them unduly punished for selfishness.
  3. Bad vs. Bad - The classic "Do you rescue your girlfriend or the school bus full of children?" And this choice is the easiest to create in the game, but over done it creates the greatest irritation because it is such an obvious heartstring ploy.

Secondary Reasons

In the same conversation, a friend raised two more points - being with friends, and having a good time.

For me, being with friends is secondary only because there are so many other ways that I can have fun and be with friends. Gaming with friends is definitely an enhancement for my gaming, and can generally make up for the some of the major reasons why I game not happening. However, ultimately, gaming is an easily substituted activity for being with friends - I can have dinner, gatherings, board gaming, play cards, bowl, shared chores/work, and have a great time with them.

As far as having a good time, this is a catch-all - that sort of falls into the other categories. There are so many different ways that I can have a good time, and that hitting my big three are why I have a good time with gaming.