I’d like now to add two more core parts of the game that do not require expertise and yet ARE absolutely essential to play. The first is “role-playing.” I don’t mean “character” playing and I don’t mean acting or speaking in character. Those elements can be a part of the game but they don’t have to be a part. By “role-playing,” I mean that the player must assume a function inside the game setting that’s presented – not necessarily a “class” or a “skill-set” as we often argue about, but simply an animated force that exists inside the frame of the setting.
This means that if the player dictates that their character crosses a street in the setting, we can envision the actuality of that fabricated character changing its imaginary physical position. The essence of moment-to-moment game play consists of that character’s “physical” relationship to everything else. We cannot play without this.
This, as with character creation and combat, does not require expertise either. Anyone can state they are crossing a street, going to the next town, speaking to an NPC, waving a sword in the air or anything else we might specify our character is doing.
The other element is the player’s “world view.” We talked about this with our last class, with relation to the DM, but the player also has a world view. This view is central and absolute where it comes to the player’s perspective of the game. How the player sees the setting, and the DM’s manipulation of that setting, determines the player’s investment, immersion and enjoyment of the game. If the player’s worldview is challenged, frustrated or abused, the player will not be able to play.
That is because the role-playing game happens in the player’s head. Where a first-person shooter enacts upon the player’s senses, so that game success depends upon a reflexive response ~ fast enough to kill without being killed ~ the role-playing game can be paused at any time, for as long as we like, without any effect to game play. We might argue that a disrupted game full of dead time lacks momentum ~ which can be a problem ~ but play itself is unchanged no matter what momentum we adopt.
|This kitty can take its time figuring out which|
d20 it wants to throw.
We make this point because we want to understand why a player feels an attraction for this game. I want to argue that the attraction is inspired by, but is not specifically dependent upon adventures, dialogues, characters, enemies or any other specific element of any particular setting. The attraction is the challenge the player feels when faced with a conundrum regarding whatever might be encountered in the game setting.
This is the central facet of the player’s world view, or view of the setting. Are we intrigued? Are we compelled to investigate, inquire, organize, prepare ourselves, seek new situations and so on. In short, are we as players interested in manipulating our functional game pieces through the complexity of this game board for the sake of untangling the difficult problems or questions that arise in our minds.
If there are no problems or questions, if we are not vexed or puzzled by what’s happening, if everything is plain as day and therefore lacks any need for us to involve ourselves with a solution, then there is no game.
As a DM, I know how the world works. We spoke about this in our 21st class. But as a player, I don’t know how anything works. I know what I see, I know what I want … I can sort of figure out some predictable frameworks and I can watch the DM’s face as I interact with someone in the game world to learn information about something. But constantly I am thinking, “What does this mean? Where does this go? If I choose this option, what happens? Should I prep this, or would that be an over-reaction. Should we risk going forward or is this the time to turn back.” I am constantly in the midst of questions in my mind … and each step forward I make is accompanied with thoughts like, “Okay, I hope this works, I’m not sure, I can’t think of anything else, this should be the right answer” and so on. I am testing, being frustrated when my hypotheses fail and thrilled when my hypotheses turn up factual information that advances my movement forward in the achievement of my goals.
The easiest, simplest arrangement of this thought-process is a linear arrangement of puzzles that, if the player figures them out, creates a trail of successes that lead to an overarching singular goal ~ what narrative writing calls “an adventure tale.”
The most complex, agonizing arrangement of this thought-process is a cacophony of uncertain and discontinuous clues that suggest no definite right answer, piled against a host of unavoidable consequences deriving from nothing but poor choices all ending in some kind of painful sacrifice ~ what narrative writing calls “a tragic drama.”
Both, plus a lot of other narrative options besides, are perfectly viable for a role-playing game … but one is vastly easier to construct, run, interpret and sell than the other, particularly for any DM who has little to no experience with character creation, human motivation, life experience, dilemmas, ethical doubts, real pain and personal loss, sacrifice or triumph. Describing, naturally, every person who learned to play their first RPG at an age less than 16 … and every person still playing an RPG who believes that the first games they ever played were the “best” games.
It is unlikely we will ever encounter a game module revolving around, say, the trials and loves of Anna Karenina, for purchase, that can then be adapted by a neophyte in the facts of life, then properly run for a group of players whose world views don’t include deciding whether or not to ostracize a family member who has been deleterious in her actions as a wife and her hedonism as a degenerate wife and mother. Nevertheless, there is not one element surrounding such a set of circumstances dictating that a role-playing game based upon conversations taking place in salons between participants in that drama would not exist as legitimate player activity.
We only say that “role-playing games are about running adventures” because so many of the participants have a very narrow conception of what makes human activity interesting.
Very well. Let’s consider these four elements of game play: character creation, character function, character worldview and combat as four intrinsic elements of play that no player is ever expected to master. There is no need for a player to master them. If the player fails, the player is allowed to play again. Most players DO expect to become better at the game; and all players who consistently play in well mastered games will get better through situated learning.
The only participant expected to master the game is the DM. The notion is right there in the title. This therefore brings us back again to the process of transforming the DM from a novice to an advanced beginner and so forth. That is where we will begin our next class.