Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Golden Rule

Thinking about a portion of the comment Blaine H. made on the last post:

"... it can be just as frustrating to put all that information out there... to feed them all the names, keep track of where all the major NPCs are running and what agendas they are working on... and have the players just not pay attention."

This is true, but it is frustration resulting from a particular kind of blindness, common to artists of every stripe.  Sometimes it is called narcissism.  Mostly, it derives from a passion for something that fascinates the creator so much that they cease to care if anyone else is interested.

Now and then I am driven to write something which I know will appeal to few people, if indeed anyone at all.  It's usually philosophical in nature; for me, it always revolves around a series of dialectic discussions, esoteric and self-referential ... and always deathly dull for someone who hasn't read various things that I know quite well.  I don't wave these writings around - what would be the point?  They do me good because I'm apt to cut my teeth on new techniques or tries at difficult emotional states ... but they'll never make a case for me as a storyteller.

The tendency to go up one's own ass is a common practice for an artist.  A dancer works for weeks on some tricky, nearly impossible move that actually looks grotesque to the viewer; a musician explores an atonal cacophony that no sane person would ever record; an historical novelist piles up tens of thousands of words of family histories, genealogies and letters that the proposed novel will never actually contain; and artists paint pictures which they carefully hide away where no one will see.

Occasionally, however, one of these artists will stupidly fall in love with their work, believe it to be the most brilliant thing they've ever accomplished, and try to display it.  The result is hideous, and the reaction from the artist is usually ... sad.

D&D is no less an art.  It is an interactive art, and more than most creative exercises it is subject to an extreme level of criticism.  A viewer sees a bad picture, shrugs and moves on.  A player in a game encounters a bad sequence of events and very vocally denounces them, the DM, the campaign and so on, often explicitly and without much remorse.

Part of this level of criticism arises from the players rarely thinking that D&D - and the DM's efforts - is an art.  A player will be more truthful than the cruelest reviewer, even though the criticism is often blasted at the player's friend.  Honesty is a cold, unavoidable companion in the game because the player, unlike an ordinary critic, is compelled to participate in the bad production.

If you were watching a really crappy production, and someone handed you a script, dragged you onto the stage and then forced you to read the crappy lines personally, you'd be pissed too.  More so if you had something personally invested in the play ... which we have in D&D.

You, the gentle reader, CARE about your character.  He, she, it matters to you.  So does the time and the venue, but particularly your own involvement.  If the DM is nothing less than a harbinger of their own emotional masturbation, you're NOT going to feel very appreciative.  Even if you don't shout and throw things, at the very least you're going to portray the height of passive aggressiveness.  Stolidly you watch the DM go through his or her trip, and stolidly you wait for something to happen that doesn't make you personally sick to your stomach.

O DMs, if you find yourself facing a table full of blank, unsatisfied stares, take a close look around you.  If you notice your own kidneys on the left and right of you, you've take a bad direction.  It's time to back out, get some air and try to remember that interactive gaming demands that you pay attention to that old golden rule - try to run a game that you'd want to run in, yes ... but try, too, to run a game that someone else would as well.


Lukas said...

Gaming has this fun situation as well that can be a problem for many. Video games, books, dance routines can all be put past a sample of the target audience. Your personal adventure is not so easily presented to a neutral party in it's gruesome glory.

Keith S said...

I think it's possible to have invested effort in a quality campaign setting, and still have unappreciative (or, more likely, inattentive) players.

I run two groups in the same campaign, but in different portions of the world. One group is very casual, and needs railroading, handholding, and other guidance. The other is very dialed-in and attentive. They're participatory in a way that is both creative and challenging. If my head was tucked firmly between my cheeks they'd call me on it.

Alexis said...

Obviously, I haven't had a success with ALL the people I've played with online. Offline, it has been a better percentage, but naturally I have had players who didn't care as much.

I feel I try for them, but of course there's always the disconnect. I did not mean to suggest a disconnect didn't occur. But I have seen too many game masters with their 'head up their ass' and I feel it needed to be pointed out.

Keith S,

What I can't understand - and perhaps this needs a post sometime - is why you as a DM would play with any group of people so inattentive that you need to hold their hand. Are you a masochist by nature? Yes, I know, friends, associates, all that ... but are they giving you what YOU need?

Keith S said...

Great question, Alexis. The short answer is no, which is why I started the second group devoted to more focused players. The first group now mostly helps me playtest my homebrew rules. Although, they probably just consider it "playing".

The first group does mostly consist of family and close friends, so It's as much a social gathering as anything, as you've noted. That said, it doesn't satisfy my aspirations for an epic campaign.