Saturday, June 24, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: TRPGs Aren't For Drama Addicts

There is an accordance between what makes for good Pulp storytelling and what makes for good tabletop RPG design. The big one, the point of connection, is the focus on external conflict: the action. Tabletop RPGs that fail, both specific products and entire genres, are those that try to make internal character processes into gameable mechanics. It's like Shadowrun's problem with Deckers; you're taking something that happens entirely in one character's head, often not operating on the same time frame as the others, and spending precious limited playtime at the table dealing with one character's thing while everyone else twiddles their thumbs being bored. This does not work.

It's bad enough when this involves something that others players actually care about (hacking into a system to find specific information or suborn specific systems). Put it into something others don't care about at all? Grumbling, and eventually revolt; that player is wasting everyone else's time on shit that does not matter. Why? You're boring them to death.

This is why tabletop RPGs that deal with "acting" and "frustrated novelist" stuff fail- you are BORING THE FUCK OUT OF THEM! Gamers are not there to get all weepy over shit they can't control. They are not the Lifetime Victim of the Week Movie Audience. They are not the chick-lit, rom-com, soap opera audience. They want to get shit done, and that means telling the feels crowd to go fuck themselves and get out of the way.

This has consequences. Tabletop RPGs that attempt to adapt properties or genres where those feels-based drama llamas are the point tend to do poorly, very poorly, because there's no "there" there to build a proper game around. So the intended audience drops it like it's got AIDS and ebola and goes back to writing their terrible fanfics to get their 'shipping itches scratched. (Visual Novel takes tend to do better.)

And where those feels-factories are present, but not dominant, you get stuff like Palladium's Robotech adaptations. Lots of tech porn, and gameplay talks more about the doings of soldiers and partisans than mapping out relationships and paying your feels tax to keep the girlfriend happy. You see this also in actual play of R. Talsorian's Mekton Zeta, and countless Star Wars stories. Gamers ain't there for the feels train.

What's the consistent theme running through all of this? They're contending for the prize. That's competition, folks. Be it the fat sack of cash in Fast Eddie's vault, the pile of platinum pieces at the bottom of the dungeon where the dragon's lair, the data core containing the designs for the new superweapon, or even something so humble as getting your best girl back from the cartel scum what snatched her, it's about direct competition for an objective without which the greater goal is lost.

Motherfucker, that's a wargame. Stop trying to make TRPGs what they are not. Go write your fanfic and leave gamers, and gaming, alone- or we'll break your jaw and remove your hands.

3 comments:

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  2. "gameplay talks more about the doings of soldiers and partisans than mapping out relationships and paying your feels tax to keep the girlfriend happy. You see this also in actual play of R. Talsorian's Mekton Zeta, and countless Star Wars stories. Gamers ain't there for the feels train."

    Part of it though is that tabletop is an exceptionally poor medium for 'the feelz'. When I've run a text-chat, pbp or pbem Dungeons & Dragons type RPG I see plenty of 'feelz' play often emerge naturally, because the text medium is superior for eg PC-NPC romance. Single player videogames likewise can handle 'feelz' stuff better.

    I don't think it's necessarily about embarrassment either; I just don't think the sit-round-table setup is good for play that isn't directed to group external goals. I found when we wanted to do a bit of romance to add depth to the characters in one long running game, we took it off-table, to Facebook posts in that case. BTW I think Live Action is a much better medium for Feelz play too, so it's not just about embarrassment about RPGing romance etc at the table with the other players.

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