Friday, June 10, 2016

My Life as a Gamer: The Tells That They Aren't Engaged

Sounds like a reasonable, sensible thing, right?

Malone!
WRONG!

For some God-awful reason, getting players to focus on the situation at-hand and be ready for when their turn comes around might as well be herding cats. Over 30 years, and I can count the people who are ready to go when their turn comes up on one fucking hand, and I'll have digits left over.

It is a known issue that most players tune out of a tabletop RPG's goings-on when they are not immediately and directly involved or concerned, and getting them to do so without a full-scale breakdown and rebuild of their psychology (as is done in Boot Camp, or worse) is a Pyrrhic deed at best.

It's a matter of engagement. Quite simply, they have to be involved from start to finish on things of direct and immediate relevance to them and their characters. Game Masters who don't lay on and keep up that pressure get this disengagement problem, compounded by the idea that this is more of a social time than a focused group activity because we do it for entertainment (and, because it's not a sport, doesn't get the same respect for task focus and group responsibility that sports do despite requiring the same).

There is something about tabletop RPGs that gets folks to forget that they require the same focused attention that tabletop wargames and boardgames do, and I notice that individual campaigns that look like wargames on the table don't have this problem as often. That, in the short term, is the real solution: less bullshit, more proper game procedure and obvious tools thereof at hand. Break out the maps, the miniatures, and the charts. Take the play-acting, plot-anxiety, and other frustrated actor/writer bullshit out behind the shed and beat it to death with a rusty lead pipe.

Remember the Feedback Loop. That's how you bring and keep the pressure on the players. "What do you do?" should be coming out of your mouth hundreds of times per hour, and it should because it forces players back into focusing on what's going on at the table. Fuck the storytelling nonsense; you're running a GAME. The game is a test of the players' skill, a challenge to overcome the obstacles before them and achieve their objectives. If they aren't engaged, then they aren't challenged- and that, buddy-boy, is entirely on you. They came to play a fucking game. GIVE THEM A FUCKING GAME!

The solution is to keep the pressure on them by playing your part of the game properly. DO THE WORK.

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