I have been thinking a bit about situations and Situations of later as well as trying to determine the Stress point for players and perhaps for the game runners too. I had the opportunity to sit down with my 6yo and play through some make-believe of her devising and it brought to light some perspective on these questions. I would not say answered them, but definitely gave perspective.
Disclosure: It may seem since I am talking about play that happened with an actual child, that I am equating some styles of play as “childish”. I hope I don’t, but I might. That is not the case at all and in fact, I feel I better understand some POV better.
As my child is want to do she asked me to play with her, some basic make believe. Highly cureated make-believe. Our tools & roles were
- Tny multi-colored pincess toy (her)
- Pink Play-doh Monster, Blob, Sand, and water. (The play-doh had many roles to play) (her)
- Daddy or Dad Ax – a literal plastic toy ax (pretty cool looking) (me)
Without too many gorey details, the basic gist of the play was the play-doh would be engulfing the princess OR the Ax and there other had to dig them out or save them. As we played out various scenarios I would ask her why this or that happened. Her answers were mostly “I want to” and “Because that is how it is supposed to work.”
(Also, a fair amount of “you’re doing it wrong!”)
But despite me “doing it wrong” I was able to negotiate changes to the ongoing narrative at points. And I was able to derive some fun from it. Mostly from watching her imagination work, but also from the play itself.
My dottir wanted to play out certain situations. Specifically, the monster and rescue scenario she has seen in some movies or (ugh) youtube videos. While she did not do it this time, she will occasionally mention these plays as being like “Dungeons & Dragons”. At least in her almost zero experience outside of hearing me or seeing me play RPGs.
And this gets back to some of what I talked about in the video with Ron: that players are looking for a speciic experience. Maybe very specific. I want to be Joan of Arc. I want to be Thor or Loki. I want to be Legolas’ brother Legolot. I want to be an Apollo astronaut.
Perhaps only a general idea or situation. I want to be an elf. I want to be a teenage werewolf. I want to be a dude in space. I want to be a costume crime fighter.
And there is a certain amount of control a player wants over how these situations play out. Some want no control or to cede control to the dice/setting/GM/best story*. Some want none of that and would like (almost)total control of these situations. I will admit to a deep bias against the latter; I am a firm believer that without players (including those in the GM role) surrendering to the unexpected or the idea of failing, there is not much point in playing an RPG.
BUT, watching my daughter play and engaging with her play, and then negotiating changes in play that made it satisfying for me has changed my perspective a bit. I felt my own tension over a player wanting a narrow window of consent over what happens to their character ease. I would still say it is not my preferred mode of play, but on the other hand the ideas no longer frustrate me.
Stress or Stress Point
Let me start by defining how I am using Stress here. Stress or Stress point is the area of uncertainty, excitement, or even anxiety a player is seeking out by engaging in play.
Once upon a time I wrote a thing on a blog or forum titled Why We Fight. I cannot find it and it may have been swallowed by the internet, but as I remember I tried to define why people play RPGs. Some of it is situations and some of it, I think, is that feeling of stress or excitement. The anticipation of a die roll, but not any die roll, but a specific die roll. This die roll, this one right here. In a game like Hero Quest, this might be very dramatic as the entire night might hinge on a signle roll of the die.
For others it might be the continual minor tension of looking for traps at every door. Instead of one big anxious moment, a series of uncertain events that provide small climaxes.
I think understanding why people play is important in both running games and designing them. Game design is a highly personal thing, as is any creative endeavor. Look at my art. Read my book, Play my game. But if do not get why people play, it creates incoherent design. Perhaps that is a fancy way of saying, not everyone is going to play or play in THIS GAME.