Monday, September 25, 2017

Those Who Quit the Game

This is an answer to Silberman's question, too long for a comment.  It also addresses Joey Bennett's comment on another post.

Some are not going to like this post ~ but that is, in many ways, the point.  As participants, we're often blinded by the things we enjoy.  And if someone comes along and challenges that enjoyment, we're inclined to get mad.

Now, patiently, consider a noob's first encounter with an RPG.  I don't mean this as a disparagement.  I was a noob, the readers here were all noobs, there's nothing wrong with being a noob.  We have to be noobs before we can be anything else.  But think about your first encounter with the game; or your first few encounters, if it took more than one to make your head buzz just before messing with your mind.

Different, right?  A really different and positive experience, one that hit out of the blue, that you weren't expecting, that rewrote the scale on things you thought you could enjoy.  Bang, it blew your head off and since then you've still been reeling.

Yes, we've gotten more experience, we're deeper in the game now, we're a bit jaded and we're thinking about some bigger things than those first few experiences ... but the real point I want to make is this:  how many people out there are really willing to believe that this game could be a LOT better than the terrific, tremendous game they've already encountered?

I'm thinking not many.  I think people automatically jump to the conclusion that this terrific game ~ played at the rather simplistic standard of your average Reddit bulletin board ~ CAN'T possibly be any better than it is.  That would be ... unimaginable.  And so they leap to the conclusion that a change in the game, any change, must be a change that will ruin this fantastic, incomprehensible thing.

This is what blinds them.  This is what makes them dig their heels into the dirt and scream bloody-blue murder against change of every kind.  The stubborn, foolish, myopic resistance built from too much love for the game.  I don't believe it's disinterest.  I think it is fear.  The response against "improvement" is too earnest, too political and personal, too universal to be anything but fear.  Any close examination of the discussion sites (and after my melt-down last week I spent many hours forcing myself to look more closely at all that toxic shit) reveals answers to questions that graphically deviate from the subject, that rapidly break down into flame wars and threats, that reveal individual malevolence and righteousness over relatively mild issues, all in a way that reflects the way terrified people react when something they love is threatened.

We here, we casually talking about playing the game outside the comforting acronym RAW [rules as written], we're not a threat to their campaigns or their player's interest, we're a threat to the whole system ... no matter how small and impotent we are.  If we keep talking like this, we're going to ruin role-playing.

Point in fact, however, I've been describing the noobs that never move on from being noobs, as Joey Bennett put it.  There's another group: noobs who really don't like this game that much.  They play for a while, mostly with the unchanging noobs, see that the game is fairly repetitive and they quit.  By the thousands.  We know it is so because bookstores and the net are full of people trying to sell the shit they purchased, that they know they're never going to use again.  We know it is so because we can all personally list a long string of names of people we know quit the game.  We don't like to talk about it.  We like to call those people dumb or lost or just misguided.  In fact, they are the anti-thesis of us.  They're people who did not think the game changed the scale for entertainment.

They wanted more and the game wasn't good enough.

Okay.  Let that sink in.  We've grown comfortable dismissing those people but let's try to embrace their thinking for a moment.  They were able to quit, wash their hands of the game and move on.  Why?

Because, I think, they were able to clearly see the problems with the game, such as the interminable dullness of repeated role-playing conversations that appeal to a base need for personal importance and grandiosity, but in fact serve no real purpose.  The blatant and obvious fudging of dice and circumstances by DMs who were clearly yanking a party's chain from personal glee.  The fucked up and confusing nature of point-buying systems that require a sickening kind of munchkinism to care about.  The endless bugs in rules that don't make sense or can't be changed, which are myopically exploited by players and DMs alike to create a sludge of "simulative" dreck.

I think those players who quit see all the same troubles and brokenness in the system that WE see, except that they don't in turn see any way - or motivation - to fix them.  What the quitters do see, however, is that in many, many, many ways, play by the rules is a total waste of time.

Their eyesight is clear.

So is ours.  But we have hope.  We think the game could be better; we're not satisfied with what it is now and we're willing to struggle, however much we can, to find improvements.  To choose systems that definitely seem better than other systems.  To drop rules.  To reconsider the importance of role-playing and rules surrounding role-playing.  And in my case, to massively draft rule after to rule to fill holes in the old, rotten ice where people want to skate.

Want perspective?  Stop looking at why people love the game and start seeing why people quit.  I think this comes with time, IF you're the sort who doesn't embrace the game like a faith, but like a game.  The time spent playing isn't enough in itself; you've got to push yourself.  Cooks don't become better cooks by finding one restaurant and working at the same menu all their lives.  They quit and go work somewhere else, where they learn new things, experience new kinds of management and tools, find different co-workers and push themselves to be different now that they're in a different place.


Silberman said...

I do like the move of turning the question on its head like this as a diagnostic tool. One technique I learned from a Feldenkrais practitioner is that, if you're walking funny with your left leg, for instance, instead of trying to force that leg to imitate the right one, try to mimic the bad leg with the good one and you'll likely have an "aha" moment of realization about what you're doing wrong.

Samuel Kernan said...

I've had my share of interminably dull role-playing conversations. I'd be interested to hear how you work towards less hot air and more playing. My players seem content enough to let the dice decide whether or not they hit, but really want to be able to convince any NPC they come across to give them money/aid/friendship.

Alexis Smolensk said...

You're probably presenting the NPCs as people who have no idea what the party is doing. Imagine instead that your NPCs have met dozens and dozens of people like this; that the moment the players get about four sentences into a "con," the NPC shuts them down, like a real person would shut someone down on the bus or at a football game. Then give the NPC friends who can be called over and you'll find the players stop thinking everyone is a mark.

"Sorry? No, I have no interest in that. Why are you still talking to me? Fine, all right - Barry, go tell the guardsman at the corner that I'm being harrassed by some foriegner elf and his multi-racial buddies. I bet they don't even live in this town."

Then, if the party is stupid enough to kill a citizen, start producing random citizens and guards at a rate of 1d4 individuals per round until the party dies or figures a way out of sight.

They'll learn.

Tim said...

I like the point you make on faith: "rules as written" seems remarkably similar to Biblical or Qur'anic literalism, which always felt to me like a rather hand-wavy, lackadaisical approach to trying to achieve spiritual understanding. Enlightenment doesn't come straight out of the book: you have to do some hard pondering first.

Michael Julius said...

I know this sounds vague, but you've been really on point lately. Especially this.

Fuzzy Skinner said...

I haven't been running or playing RPGs long enough to see a lot of people leave; in the few cases where people flat-out declined to continue in the hobby, they just said it wasn't for them. And that's understandable, as there have been certain hobbies that just aren't for me.

What I have seen is that different people want to do different things, even when playing what is essentially the same game with almost identical rules. Some of them want to focus more on the kind of amateur drama/improv that the popular imagination thinks is the entirety of "role-playing games", and get upset when their characters - shock and terror - are actually in danger. Others (including me) want to skip as much of the "storytelling" as possible, and get down to actually doing things; some of my longtime friends actually find the former uncomfortable for various reasons.

As much as I'd like to have a wide pool of players for a single campaign, I've realized that some players have very different goals from others, and pushing people towards one style of play might get them to give up on the hobby altogether. Of course, the bigger problem at the moment is people refusing to respond when I try asking what kind of game they want to play, but that's neither here nor there.

Fuzzy Skinner said...

Also, responding to Tim's comment: I've seen people in my alma mater's gaming club who feel the necessity to tweet one of the developers of a particular game, to get an "official" solution to a poorly-written rule. I brought up the fact that the DM can set the rules for their own table (and the club can set rules for its big interconnected games), but all I got was a repetition that they were waiting on the "official" answer.

As I've spent a few years studying a particular religious group, this attitude is not unique to gaming, but it does worry me that there seems to be (in the eyes of the club) only one Source for the "true" rules.

Ozymandias said...

I can relate to the "appeal to authority" element of the game. Especially in circles where there's less than a healthy level of trust between player and DM.

"Hey, my buddy is running the game but he's only been playing as long as I have and we both run the game so why should I take his word on how a rule is supposed to work?"

I've also noticed that it's a common attitude among younger players. As people grow older ~ hopefully ~ they grow wiser. If you don't trust the DM to rule fairly or to know what she's doing, at least have the courtesy of not undercutting her authority at the table. Discuss the issue outside the session. Recognize that what happened before is important but it's in the past, and it's more important that we figure out how we're going to run the game in the future so we can avoid misruling (or otherwise screwing the game up for the players).

All of this, however, presumes that people are going to grow in a positive way. Some people leave the game because they can't or won't grow beyond their starting level.