The right way to play

For whatever reason, there is a strangely large divide between those who want to talk and write about the different tools and techniques GMs and Players can use in their games, and those who do not. Technique is slightly more acceptable as a topic than the benefit of a capacity for showmanship, meaning it is not a very popular topic at all. Tips and tricks for common problems are all well and good, but an extended conversation about ways to expand your awareness of your game and work toward making it more consistently enjoyable for your group seems to be a problem. When conversation dares to move toward actual theory concerning games, interactions, improvisation, and performance, tempers can flare and the rallying cry of “Just Game!” echoes out and shuts down productive discussion. I wonder if this full-cup response is experienced by sex therapists as often as it is by RPG bloggers…

This hobby is a pursuit of enjoyment and engagement. Like sex, there are many right ways to do it, and finding them can be a huge part of the fun. Not all the approaches are going to hoist everyone’s sail, and knowing your limits is probably a good thing, right? Some ways might not suit you at all. Some might suit very few people. Some are out for everyone, and some are so vanilla they work for pretty much everybody… for lack of something better. Of course, we each will have our favorite ways to go about it, and among the voices talking about them there may be some strident calls for one way over an other, but in the end you game in the privacy of your own group. Does their stridency reach so far?

Recently, a vlogger of my acquaintance who used to talk system and theory with a great deal of passion wrote an equally impassioned lament about people never talking about their actual games anymore then dropped out of the community. He wasn’t without a point, but his complaint did ignore all the recaps, actual plays, and specific references to games-in-progress that people were engaged in sharing. That is telling as the thing which drove him from the community would seem to be the assertion that among RPG topics talking about the details of your game is a special kind of hell for other gamers. People are glad you have a good game going, but no one wants to hear you talk about your character… or the next plot twist… or the excellent economics system you have worked out…

If we can’t talk about the events inside a game without alienating someone, or the techniques we used to make the game happen without alienating someone else, should we just go dark and stop talking all together…?


Those who do not want to delve deeper into things can segregate themselves or enjoy being offended. The rest of us have things to accomplish.

I released a video for my YouTube channel this week called Choosing Illusions which was intended to be a bit of an overview for newcomers about the topic, and spark some conversation among the rest about the technique of ‘the illusion of choice’ and how it does and does not appear in our games. Among the more divisive narrative techniques in a GM’s arsenal, offering the illusion of choice can save or break a session. Knowing how and why – and sharing them – seem worthwhile to me.  That such videos, from me or others, can be taken as threats or pronouncements on ‘the right way to game’ is a bit confusing. Does this speak to a perceived authority with which we are sharing our opinions, or does it speak to the insecurities of those who push back? Not a solvable question on the whole.

I do not believe that there is one right way to game, but I will say again that I do believe that there is a right way for each of us. This comes part and parcel with the concept that there are ways of gaming that are better in some way than others… for me. That does more than imply that there are types of gaming which are quite simply a waste of time… for me.

This sort of statement usually gets blown out of proportion by one commenter or another who will claim elitism for this opinion: “All ways to game are equally valid if you are having fun, let’s all just game and forget all this talk about improvement. Don’t tread on me!”

Neat. Love the idea. My way to game includes treating it as a hobby full of things I can explore, and recognizing that there are elements of the hobby I do not do as well as I do others… things I could improve. Does your way have room for my way?

There’s the rub.

In asking the voices who just want to play the same old game the same old way to let me enjoy broadening my own horizons, we encounter that most terrible of barriers: the cultural barrier. Our gaming cultures are so fundamentally different it is not unlike speaking different languages. My request to accept my way implies that my way is more valid and more inclusive than theirs… but really: Do I understand and accept people who refuse to learn more about gaming, explore more games, and try new techniques? Don’t I honestly think that it’s better to know more than to know less? Re-read the opening of this post if you are thinking about refuting this point right now.

The truth is, I am trying to accept this idea. I think I understand it now, particularly among older gamers who have actually found their sweet spot in gaming and lack the time and energy to push boundaries for what is likely a limited return. I don’t think I really accept it, yet. I feel a little sad for gamers who don’t want to try new things. If I feel this way, then I can accept that those strident voices out there likely take that sadness in other directions, like contempt. Who needs that?

So… is there a right way to game? I think there is something close to one for each of us, and I honestly hope you find yours and get to enjoy it with good friends for a long time. I know that others out there wish the same for me. I hope we both can accept and respect the other’s journey and lend a hand when it is requested.

If the things I share along my journey start to get too heavy for you to carry, please feel free to drop them along the wayside or pass them to someone else. I’ll try to do the same for you. We may not be going to the same place, but let’s enjoy the ride together for as long as we can.

7 Responses to “The right way to play”
  1. morrisonmp says:

    Great post. I do appreciate the distinction you are making here.

    Thinking about your opening position – I wonder if many people have the same feeling/reaction that I do… That is, I’ve been gaming for 31 years, most of it (I’d say 75%) as the GM, but I don’t really feel like anything I do at my table could be distilled down to techniques or theory in a really productive way. The flip side of that being that many of the theory/technique posts often feel as preachy as a baptist revival so I tend to stray away from them. A perfect example of this would be the blog “Hack & Slash” which I have had to actively choose to avoid (primarily because of the tone/manner in which discussion is presented).

    So, we have a combination of imposter syndrome with wading through the crap and one-true wayism which all inevitably leads to theory/technique posts being marginalized or only creating frustration and/or trolling.

    Actual Play/Session Reports are another interesting case. When done well, I find them fascinating but they are so often done poorly that I’ll tend to stop reading them fairly quickly and examining my own tendencies – I have to be honest and say that I’m more likely to just skip them because I don’t think I’d ever have enough free time to wade through the bad ones looking for the few that are actually interesting.

    I find that talking about the games you run and the characters you play works pretty well in a small group or a setting that has that intention already as an expectation (which maybe some blogs do) and these are interesting as much because you are interested in what the person speaking as you are in the topic they are speaking on.

    As for your closing point (after “There’s the rub”) I think, strictly speaking for myself, that what you are describing is the reason that I avoid any sort of forum or “gamer community.” Acceptance is a terribly lacking quality in those places and the echo chamber philosophy tends to rule in them. (Not all, I’m sure, but most in my experience – and again – there is a time invested searching/payoff for that time dilemma.)

    That said, I think that we do our best, share what small wisdom or knowledge we have obtained from our experience as best we can and simply acknowledge that in the great wilds of the internet we are stuck with the fact that we might only reach one or two people with the message we hoped to send. For me, right now, that’s enough.

    • Runeslinger says:

      It is indeed enough. The urge to quest for like-minds persists, but like you, I have limited the range of travel to minimize attacks by highwaymen~

  2. frankfrey says:

    One of the best essays I’ve read. I re-blogged it on mine. You have written an most excellent piece.

  3. sameoldji says:

    Well, well, well…Seems like the same old topic of my game is better than yours and we shall all game around a campfire singing Coombaya is back again! Honestly man, I admire your patience. You keep on fighting this common behavior (disease?) on social network you Keep calm and still vlogging. All these issues got me tired of the activity and the social networking. It seems to me like it’s too hard to bypass or deal with. So many common rational mistakes are made and by noticing them like you do in this post, is one thing but making people understand is another thing. For example, the good old all style of gaming are equivalent argument, is the same as all opinions are valid/equivalent. Thats pure relativism and everytime someone state it, it makes a performative contradiction wich is a common rational mistake most people make everyday. It’s simple: when you say all opinions are valid/equivalent, you’re ALSO saying the opposite, that the opinion that all opinions are not necessary valid IS valid….so do the maths…you contradict yourself. Also, if all style of gaming(opinions) we’re valid we would not discuss stuff of that nature because it would be natural to understand thats its pointless and the story tells otherwise. Again my friend it’s a super good blog but I feel sad for you sometimes watching you deal with that on the daily/weekly/monthly basis…you’re a Pro!

    Now concerning the topic of finding your own way to game. I will share with you that one thing I realized by leaving the community and the vlogging at large is that my gaming is better and for many reasons. First I found a niche wich is somewhere between STG and RPG. The collaborative aspect of these designs and mechanics wich come with these games is perfect for me, it rubs me the right way as a GM and as a player. I play games now that are 75% GMless and super fluid narratively and providing a lot of agency, at least for me..;) Now that being said it comes down to the need for catharsis that comes with vlogging. When I was looking for infos, games and knowledge I needed the activity and it’s that same activity that brought me where I am today but once I found my niche, the problems disapeared as the need for catharsis and answers did. So the only thing left was the people and their tireless and relentless need to disagree and tell you to talk to your players and that all gaming is the same or even that STG and RPG is a false dichotomy…I mean once I found my niche that became a burden more than anything else. So by then less vlogging, more gaming and more fun…To answer you question, I think that it’s possible to find a niche and be comfortable with it. Is it gonna last forever?…probably not…is it perfect? certainly not…Is it the best so far? Yes, so I guess thats the whole point right? Finding what you need to have fun and by accepting it and embrassing it you get to enjoy the hobby. But i’m like you man, I like theory and RPG discussion but more as a hobby now and less as a necessity.

    See you around.


    • Runeslinger says:

      I am glad to see that you started a blog for your Burning Wheel campaign. That should give me good reading during my commute~

      I understand what you are saying about feeling better after exiting from the interaction of the RPG social networks. I think you and I are looking for different things in the same topic areas. We have good overlap and interaction, but there are a lot of people who can be encountered that prefer to defend their preferred style rather than discuss options and ideas. I am still getting as much back from these interactions as I give, I think. When that shifts to it feeling like work, I am sure I will cut back. 😉

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] carnival and #RPGaDay questions before, I have touched on a number of experiences which changed how I perceive roleplaying games, and so changed how I play. I have talked about a significant rocket-cycle leap over the […]

Speak your piece~

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Revelations of Glaaki

  • Invocation

    Do not summon up that which you cannot also put down:

    runescastshadows at the intersection of Google and Mail.

    Find us on Google+

  • Role-Playing Stack Exchange

%d bloggers like this: