I went looking about for an example of this. I had several to choose from. I chose the below article because, in fact, the writer has a reasonable point to make about players spoiling games. However, he starts from a position as inflexible as granite.
"Let me tell you what a harda$& I am. I make my players give me completed characters before the game starts so I can read over them and approve them or reject them. Then, I reject PCs out of hand and don’t tell the players which one of my crazy-a$&, byzantine, secret rules they violated. Their only recourse is to start over and make a completely new character."
The Angry GM, The Mad Adventurers Society
Now, personally I don't mind typing the word 'ass.' It's what George Carlin - in 1972 - called a 'two-way' word. For example, it's okay to make an ass of yourself but you can't get some ass.
This isn't 1972, however . . . and it remains a pretty silly thing that some segment of the population still gets worked up by the use of these words. In fact, the real issue is that the position the Angry GM takes is far, far more offensive than the actual word he obscured. But perhaps "The Mad Adventure's Society" - whatever the fuck organization that is - has problems with using rude, blue, crass, gutter language. Perhaps the author actually felt very bad when Carlin died, that one of the greatest comedians of all time was gone.
Sigh. None of that is the point, so let me shelve it. I'm in a wrestling match with myself: I want to delete the last two paragraphs and I don't want to . . . what the hell, I'm just going to leave that shit up and move on.
Now, it isn't that a DM shouldn't have standards. We're playing in a social situation, there are plenty of details to be managed and understood, investment may be quite high, naturally we want everyone on the same page. It is reasonable to desire players who don't answer 'whatever' when presenting the game and functional decision making is a must.
However, the above (and generally, the article) isn't the way to go about this.
Many times, on this blog, I have railed at a particular individual, discussing what I will politely call a complete and utter failed candidacy as a human presence ever likely to appear at my gaming table. [See? That's how a euphemism works]. There are absolutely people who fit into the "why am I hanging out with you people" category. I do contest the participle, however - it presumes that I've already been hanging out when in fact there isn't a hope in hang-gliding Christ that I am ever, ever, going to hang out with these people. Even at 17 I had learned to see these people coming long, long before the present participle could be enacted. The correct participle is, "why would I hang out with you people." Tense is everything.
When a DM hits the point where they have to start making inflexible, dictatorial decisions about what players must do before starting a game, it shows desperation. I feel I should point out that in the linked article there, I did describe six behaviours that I found troubling. I also need to point out, however, that I never did ask new players what they felt about any of those six points, and at any rate I only said I might be interested in their opinion. In fact, that post did start a lot of discussions around my tables (including the online campaign) which proved to be useful in exactly the sort of compromise on the point that I'm slowly, slug-like, moving this post towards.
Unfortunately, the more inflexible the DM becomes, the less wiggle room there is in the campaign for those things that most enrich the game experience. While forcing players to come up with acceptable back-stories sounds like a reasonable demand, it fails utterly to examine the value in having a back-story at all. Backstories themselves are an attempt to give depth and meaning to characters that are typically devoid of player concern - that is, the players don't care about their characters, they go through them like cordwood, and the backstory theory is that giving the character a 'personality' will make them more valuable to the player.
Unfortunately, most players aren't writers, aren't psychoanalysts and don't have the training or the experience to propose (or run) a proper backstory that isn't de facto stolen from some other pre-existing source. As such, players compelled to invent "less crappy" backstories must dig them up from a graveyard of television, film and literature, mashing them together Frankenstein's monster-like, only to have them turn on their master as a weird self-induced railroading massacre of player agency and satisfaction. In fact, the backstory becomes a tool the DM is then free to use (it's true, I've done it) to screw the player into choking down a lot of bile or into pissing on said backstory because it has suddenly taken on a life the player never meant it to have. Backstories are a horrible method for breathing life into a character - but they are embraced through much of the gaming world because no other means of immersion can be found.
That is, supposedly. Backstories are a corporation answer to a human problem. I'm quite certain that a group of individuals associated with the sale of the game, hearing that players were quitting the game because they found it repetitive (make a character, die, make a character, die) sat around and decided to expect ordinary individuals to feel more deeply about role-playing by insisting that all of them - every single one - should immediately and decidedly become an expert dramatist. After all, role-playing is just like acting! And everyone can act, right? I mean, it's not like acting, writing characters or inventing stories is hard. Pfft. My four-year old son can invent pretend people!
Players then bought into this because . . . reasons. I don't know, actually. Sheeple, my daughter would say.
Here, let's look at this issue from the above author:
"The problem with a PC who has goal like 'find my father’s killer' is that any adventure that doesn’t lead toward that goal is a distraction and ultimately the PC has no reason to take on that job. And when you have five PCs who all have their own single goal, the DM has to make sure that each PC’s goal is intertwined so that every adventure promises some of those stories will advance every single time."
The author then goes on to explain why 'motivations' are much better than 'goals' and he does have a point. I agree with his assessment regarding the difference between each.
My principle issue, however, is that he seems to presume that - as people - we are limited to one or the other. Or that we're limited to only one goal or one motivation. His premise that adventures not specifically about the player's predetermined goal is a distraction makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Tonight, I went to a hockey game. I am also preparing for my campaign tomorrow. Was the hockey game a distraction? Yes. Did I therefore have no reason to go to it because it was a distraction? That's crazy. We distract ourselves all the time. We love distraction. That's because, as human beings, we don't just have a single 'goal' or a single 'motivation' - we have hundreds. And they are changing all the time. We discard old motivations and goals and we start new ones. Sometimes we just get bored with things. Sometimes a distraction changes our lives and we begin to pursue a totally different courses of action.
Our 'backstory' is not our master. We grow up, we change our tastes, we imagine that we'd like to get the man who killed our father but then we realize that's pretty silly and in fact against the law. Or we learn that he was killed in a bar fight in Kitzamaringo, Mexico. Or we're told by our mother that, in fact, our father was never killed, he just left us as a kid and she was trying to soften the blow. We get older and we learn things . . . and we set aside our childish ideals and motivations and we let the world teach us something new.
The more the DM tries to insist that our 'motivations' make sense, the less real or purposeful we become. Trapped in the two-dimensional concept of the backstory (or any other rigid, insisting demands on how we run our characters or how we interact with the world), we're sooner or later reduced to going through the motions - running the character becomes a job, not a recreation. The solution to this is NOT a better backstory. It's the elimination of inflexible concepts on how to control behaviour where it comes to an open, imaginative world.
This is the reason why I've left the George Carlin stuff up at the top. See, Carlin went right to the heart of the matter. Those words - and the restriction of those words - represent a push-and-pull relationship that most people have with the way the world works. Each word associates with an action and a feeling about that action that differs from the feeling we ought to have. It is okay to make love to your wife but it isn't okay to fuck her. It is okay to poop in the toilet but it isn't okay to shit in it. And the very idea of making love to your mother - no matter what word you're using to describe that - is just plain wrong.
Because a substantial portion of the world feels that speaking about things in a certain way cheapens those things. There are people who will feel this is a good post except that it was cheapened by the use of slang. These people have made an assessment about how the world ought to work (and how our backstories ought to have been prepared by our parents) and in banning certain words - and other things - they hope to impose an inflexible framework on thought.
Except it doesn't work. It never works. We think as we think, we don't have any control over that. I think shit when I see it in the toilet, another person thinks feces, another sees poop. It isn't planned, it just is. And chances are, as we get older, we will begin to see shit turn into poop or poop turn into feces - because this is what happens. We either move towards a certain feeling when we see the world or we move away from it. I happen to have moved towards a starker, colder, less sympathetic view of my bowel movements. Others will age and crave a warmer, friendlier, less threatening perception.
Our only chance of mitigating between multiple persons at a gaming table is to discuss, seek places where flexibility can obtain and then compromise. This can only happen when change is possible and embraced by everyone - in which case, ideals like a backstory must inevitably have a shelf-life. After all, not only should the characters in the campaign have room to change, the players themselves, moving through their lives and learning as a result of actually living, need room to change also.
It amazes me that a player who invents a backstory at 17 is still expected to play that backstory in exactly the same way when the player is 21. Do we not see how incomprehensible that is? Do we not see that players who have started a campaign in their early 20s will probably be looking for something profoundly different from that campaign in their late 20s? Is there any chance that a DM who acts inflexibly against this reality will almost certainly be stuck with players who are unable to live their own lives, much less participate meaningfully in a campaign.
I know that I'm the only one in the world, in this game, thinking on these things - but that is because, I'm sure, that I am changing all the time. I think that is a good thing. Moreover, I anticipate change in everyone else, even if they themselves haven't considered it. I encourage the reader to recognize that - if you want to play this game with people your own age, all your life and all their lives, then you have to address who they are NOW. You must live in the present. You must adapt and coordinate your game thusly. That means talking. A lot of talking.
Otherwise, you'll find yourself endlessly introducing new people to your endlessly stale campaign, only to watch them go away when they change themselves out of it.