Thursday, January 17, 2019

Freeing Yourself

The second half of the last post ought to be about the infinite game as it applies to D&D, which is not politics and therefore more comfortable for an afternoon read. Here’s what happens when you get all sense of competition out of your head.

See, a lot of the readers here will be in a headspace where they are thinking, am I a good DM? Am I running a good campaign? What am I doing wrong? What could I be doing right? And you see, all these questions make an assumption that most of you will never consider or even recognize. These questions all assume that there are better DMs out there; that better campaigns exist; that whatever it is you’re doing wrong, someone isn’t doing that, and whatever it is that you’re not doing, someone is.

You’re obsessed with the competition. And begin obsessed with other people, you’re obsessed with your ability and your value. These are bad things to be obsessed with, when you should be obsessed with how much you love your game, how much you want to run your game and how much you miss your game.

Most of your thoughts about the quality of your game are based on misinformation. You pull together players who get bored with what you’re doing; or one of your players stops showing up; or the game doesn’t seem to go as well as you expected. And you think, “What is wrong with me? What I am doing wrong?”

Here’s what’s wrong: you’re giving too much credit to the whims of other people. You’re trying too hard to please other people. You’re measuring yourself when you ought to be pleasing yourself.

D&D isn’t a competition. It’s a passion. And when you get rid of your worries that someone else is doing this better than you are, and realize that what matters is that you’re exploring, developing and enriching your personal experience with a game that you love more than anything, all that other shit will just go away. There is no such thing as good or bad; there is only what you do today, and what you’ll do better tomorrow.

Better, because you’re teaching yourself the way we talked about Situated Learning in the 14th Class. The reality of playing an infinite game, where you’ve settled into the idea that you’re going to create, run and play with the fabric of your campaign for the next ten, twenty, thirty years, is that you are that campaign's only measure. And here’s the thing with that:  if you keep working and designing your world, it is impossible not to get better.

Of course, if you slack, if you refuse to read the books, or ever change your mind, or ever build an adventure of your own, and run the adventures you buy as is, and keep changing up your game so you never get truly familiar with any rules system or genre, then yes, you’re going to keep face-planting for the rest of your life. You will have to commit if you’re going to teach yourself anything. You’ll have to settle on the one system that works for you, defined as the one you care about, as the one YOU love, as the one you’re ready to marry. Because it doesn’t matter what your players like, or what they love, or how they think the game should be run, or what game you ought to play. Players, sorry to break this news, come and go. You’re the one that’s going to be running this game long after your best players today fade away in favor of other players, who will be better because you will be better.

Your daily objective is to create the best game for YOU, not for them. At the end of the day, you’re going to be the one that is always here, always set up, always ready to play.

When your fears about your value as a DM go away, when you embrace the game for its own sake, life gets easier. Rather than pleasing many masters ~ your players, your doubts, the books you read, the voices you hear, the pundits that you read online (like me) ~ you please yourself and the feel of slavery goes away. The answers to the questions of what is your world and what does your campaign do become simpler. The goals become simpler. The design becomes simpler. The message that you send to those whom you allow to sit at your table becomes simpler.

You don’t have to be cold-hearted, or absolutist; but you can feel assured that the decisions you’re making day to day are the right decisions … because they’re right for YOU. You’re the designer. You can choose to adjust the design to please others, IF that adjustment fits with your motives, your agenda, your willingness to change.  But you never have to change for anyone.

Find that place. Push all the fears of good/bad right out of your head. You’re not trying to win the game design award today. You don’t ever have to win the game design award, because that’s what other people think you should be. And what other people think just doesn’t matter.

You’re the one in the saddle. Take the horse where you want to go.


JB said...

Ah, yes...the Great Work. It's been a while since I've thought about gaming in those terms.

This is a beautiful post, man. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

BTW: it's funny you brought up the Gillette commercial, seeing as how I've ended up watching it twice recently and"lively" discussion with the wife about it. Your take on it (that it's aimed at a younger generation as much if not more than current consumers) is incredibly astute.

But THIS post...well, it's just what I needed this evening. Thank you.
: )

Alexis Smolensk said...

Thank you!

Fuzzy Skinner said...

"Here’s what’s wrong: you’re giving too much credit to the whims of other people. You’re trying too hard to please other people. You’re measuring yourself when you ought to be pleasing yourself."

I'm definitely guilty of this in particular. Though I don't generally consider myself a highly competitive person (hence the layoff from my sales job), it hadn't crossed my mind to think of this in terms of trying to compete with other, hypothetical referees.

JB's right - this is a very good post.

Drain said...

I used to get this a lot with blogging, undecided soul that I am.

The thing is this: if one's concern comes down to how fast you can pump the same brand of output as the dog the next track over then you've already lost.

If going for something different or that's only meant to conform to your needs and expectations, you'll find the joy of having the whole racetrack all to yourself.

Ozymandias said...

I don't know what you're talking about. I'm already perfect. ;)

Discord said...

Excellent post Alexis! It puts the current struggles I'm having with creating my own campaign in perspective.