Monday, December 15, 2014

Time Wasted?

Throughout this year, I have been reconsidering my original stand on Extra Credits.  A large contributory factor to that has been the well-researched historical presentations they've done.  That aside, however, I keep bumping into them.  I'm digging around for a discussion about something I want to write about and there they are.  Usually, saying the most pedantic and obvious things possible; usually carrying the great PC or SJW signboard . . . but there.  So in my head I've had to back off a bit.  Despite my feelings on their politics, I have to admit - reluctantly - that some of the stuff they pull up is worth discussing.

So I confess.  This post was inspired by this Extra Credits video, which asks the question, "Have you ever finished a game and then looked back a few weeks later and thought, what the hell was I doing putting 80 hours of my life into that?"

In the video, the question is rhetorical; they're using it to support their argument that a better game uses techniques other than operant conditioning to promote interest.  I want to examine the question differently, in relation to role-playing, since I'm not sure that, for RPGs, the rhetorical answer 'yes' is one that the reader is having.

Considering the question above, do you find this happens after role-playing?

I could set the question up as a poll, but polls are limited in how much reliable information they provide.  In any case, this is a subjective issue.  Does the 'bad' you feel from having played a long, repetitive video game until you've beaten the thing compare remotely to the feeling you have playing a character in anyone's world?  If RPGs do occasionally make you feel bad, is it guilt from time wasted?  I've heard people say that they came to understand that they were getting too old for this, that they had to leave off and move on.  I've also heard the story from others that it was interferring with their career or their schooling, that they didn't have time to invest in anything, much less a role-playing game.

I have felt bad after a game, but that's a feeling that comes from letting down the players, whether I have or not.  It is hard to have any perspective on whether or not I've delivered a 'good running' in a particular night.  I wasn't playing.  I felt a bit mushy about details or that the scene on the meadow, between the party and the spirits of the dead, felt a little flat.  When I'm told it wasn't, I still have my perspective and my memories of the moment, so I don't know one way or the other.

I can recall days when getting worked up to run was a BIG effort.  And I can recall days when I just didn't make it, when we talked or gave in after an hour, playing poker instead or picking up a movie.  Sometimes, the energy it takes to make the game happen just isn't there.

But I can't ever recall thinking back a few days to a game and thinking, "Shit, I really shouldn't have blown my Saturday doing that.  What a waste of time.

Hell, as long as the audience is going to keep showing up, I'm not wasting my time performing, am I? Which is why this is a question for players.  I've had a few chances to play this past year, but not many.  That's why I have to let others answer.

There must be something that stops a long-time player from getting out to a game.  Some of these players who quit must come to feel it's time wasted.  They must walk away from some sessions, thinking, "Shit, well, that makes another one.  Why the hell do I keep going?  What's left that appeals to me?"

I've made the argument that players keep coming because the game is their social network.  This is what their friends do Saturday.  That's all the game is for those players.  I suppose they must also feel it's been a horrible waste of time, just repetitive die-rolling, another damn dungeon door and another 435 experience.

I'd like to hear from someone who can tell me if they feel they should have done something else.


James said...

I feel like anyone who hit the point where they feel like they are wasting their time wouldn't be reading your blog. This seems to line up nicely with a point you made a little while ago, that everything is a waste of time to someone.

Rolling dice, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, doing drugs, playing video games, reading books...they are all "wastes of time" in the sense that time passes while you do such activities. Of course, when people say "waste of time," what they really mean is "I should have been doing 'X' when I was doing 'Y.'"

Of course, there is no guarantee that 'X' actually would have been more fun, and there was probably a reason you chose 'Y," though people can be fickle and often will prefer the unknown quantity over the known one.

The only times I ever feel a game is a "waste of my time" is when either:
1. As a player, I show up ready to go and the DM is so ill-prepared it knocks all the wind out of my sails.
2. As a DM, when I spend several hours getting everything together, my players come over, and they call the game off in 90 minutes or less because they can be extremely fickle regarding whether they actually feel like playing.

JB said...

@ Alexis:

The only time I feel bad about time spent at the gaming table is when I feel I didn't spend enough effort (usually in prep or in reigning in the players) to give the players a good game. I feel more that I wasted my (all too seldom) opportunity for gaming. The gaming itself never feels like a waste.

Regarding James's two points:

#1 I can't say I've encountered a game where the GM was SO ill-prepared that nothing could happen. I've sat down at some games that were better than others, but I can't remember ever feeling time was wasted.

#2 While I've been disappointed in the past about not being able to use things I developed in prep, I've never felt it was "wasted" effort. I think this goes a little bit along with your [Alexis] discussion of "work" in How to Run. The practice of creation can be stimulating and fun in and of itself.

Tim said...

I'm with JB and James on this point as well. I haven't yet had an experience of "time wasted," no matter how many hiccups the game suffered: it still didn't feel like a waste. I've had plenty of post-game comedowns, where I feel like it could have run better or I should have been more prepared, but oddly it's never felt like a waste.

A parallel I can think of would be being in a play. You spend so much time getting ready to perform, and then after a few shows it's all gone for good. It's almost worse, as you can't pick it up again like D&D, as the performances just stop.

When that happens, there's a big comedown (I suspect these sorts of comedowns may have had a part in Hoffman and Williams' suicides this past year) but it never feels like a waste (again, as far as I've experienced).

It's a bit strange from a rational perspective: all the work is gone, so it was a waste, no? But I think there's a personal growth which naturally occurs with each successful performance or game. Video games are mostly just puzzles, and I've had times where I've wasted time on a game - or a literal jigsaw puzzle - when I could have been doing other stuff, but I've never personally grown from playing a video game. But D&D is not really a puzzle at all: it's something much more complex, and I think it can present a lot more value in that sense.

Jomo Rising said...

I do feel that I have, at one time, had my time wasted. My DM was completely prepared. The players were jazzed to play. We played 9 hours investigating ways to get our characters out of a hole. Yet this hole had no exit. Nine hours but nearly from the start there was nothing we could do to go on. We chose the wrong path at the beginning and the DM was willing to let us play out our failure for the rest of the day. No redemption. No game.

Alexis Smolensk said...

That sounds like a crap sidequest to me, Jomo.

James said...


I cannot for the life of me fathom spending 9 hours on getting out of a hole. I feel like after the first hour I would have asked the DM " there a way out of said hole?" and at the end of my second hour gone "okay, I lay down to sleep and reroll a new character whose job is to get me out of this f'ing hole."

James said...


I should note the following:

#1 was about a specific game of NWoD I was in, where we probably played for 40 or so hours, and I cannot recall more than 5% of it because nothing happened. Nothing happened because the DM had nothing prepped, did everything on the fly, and we spent the entire game wandering around going "where are we supposed to go so we can move forward with anything relevant?" Truthfully, I learned a fair bit about playing and DMing from that (it was my second game ever), but the irritation of having both no guidance and no consistency grated me greatly.

#2 is not about any wasting of prep materials; I can always reuse and recycle, and I learn a lot through the prep. It is more getting myself emotionally up to run, keeping that day clear (since we run on a weekend day once every 1.5 weeks, on average), and then the session ends quickly for whatever reason.

Jomo Rising said...

Oh don't get me wrong. It was a beautiful hole. Neat stuff to look at, but in the end we found that we were doomed. We were essentially beetles searching out the bottom of this shining new jar we had fallen into. Having a chance to go on was more important than any fun social time we had during the 9 hours. The game is more important than fun.

Yarivandel said...

I very rarely get the feeling of time wasted in whatever I do. At least a feeling strong enough to remember it afterwards. I do however recall the overwhelming sensation of hopelessness and life lost after watching 'King Arthur' the movie. Aside from the anecdote, to me the feeling of time wasted comes when the activity you invest your time in fails to meet your expectations. Or to put it simple 'when you don't get what you came for'.
So to me the more interesting question would be 'what do you come for when joining an rpg session'. And I am asking about the emotional motives casue only those have the power to make you feel bad about what you do.
I know what I come for when I sit at the table. And even if my prep work is lost, the game goes awry I just treat it as another piece of experience that will help me to run a better game next time.
I must confess that I don't get as much satisfaction from the game as I expect. I am still looking for that sweetspot of 'the way I want to run the game from now on'. But each session is a small step towards that goal as I have my expectations clearly set.
I returned to the game after a break of 10 years. I am the only one playing out of my old gamign group so I know people who 'lost it' for this or other reason. And looking at them I clearly see that they're all a case of life ambitions invested in rpgs. They hoped that playing would give them an advantage in life the game could never deliver. Also in part they found that there were other time-consuming activities that were more rewarding for them (music playing, programming, historical re-enactment etc.) It all comes down to expectations you set. If you know what you're doing and why you will keep on playing.