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This Gaming Life

Gaming in the Modern World

by Ian O'Rourke (editor, Drew Meger)
July 4, 2001  

At some point in your twenties, the real world grabs you by the balls, and pulls you kicking and screaming into a whirlwind of work, pressure, children, and digital assistants - somewhere in there you still hold the hope of fitting in the odd game. It never seems to work that way though. You look back on the long gaming sessions you had in your teens and early twenties, and constantly ask yourself: Why, now you have the cash, don't you have the time? The answer is: you may have the time.

The twelve-hour gaming sessions of yore are gone. You have to be honest with yourself. I believe the majority of gamers who are finding it hard to game, can game, if they make an organized approach to it, but they will be gaming in a way that's possibly quite different to the way it used to work. You might also have to get used to running games in a different way than before.

Organizing Your Life

The average human being vastly underestimates the amount of free time he has, because he does not 'organize' his life in a professional manner. You have to be ruthless with your time and take every opportunity. If you do this, and combine it with 'low prep time' methods, then you will find time for effective gaming sessions.

The key to gaming is to game regularly, but under a sensible schedule. You should try for a 3-4 hour session either every week, two weeks, or go monthly if you have to. The regularity of the session is more important than the frequency. If you have a choice between weekly, but the chances are it will be canceled a lot, or fortnightly and everyone seems pretty sure they can make it regularly, then you should go every other week. A regular session is a positive move, even if it's not as frequent as you would like, as it feels like you are achieving something.

At times people will cancel, if so, put some effort in to re-arranging the session, but if you can't then just miss a slot. Only worry about missing scheduled sessions if it becomes a regular occurrence. It will happen, and you just have to ride the storm. As long as you're gaming with people who have similar priorities it should work out.

Having Similar Priorities

An important part of your plan to game again is to work with individuals that believe gaming is as important as you do. As gamers get older some of them drift away to make room for other things that have become more important. This is fine, if only they would admit that fact and really move on.

The trouble is, many of them still try and cling to gaming and ruin your prospects of scheduling any sessions. They say they have no free time, but they actually do, they just choose to do something else with it (like Karate, Fencing, or Hill Walking). As a result, they stop you from running a game, but if you were to start a game with people more dedicated they'd get annoyed and feel left out. It's as if they don't want to let go, but deep down they don't really see themselves gaming again either. It's a form of self-denial.

This problem can be a major issue if the individual(s) are your friends; after all, if you only had gaming in common you'd have already reduced contact (as you're not gaming). The only way to solve this problem is to discuss the issue and try and get the participants involved to realize that maybe gaming us just not a facet of your friendship anymore? In reality, it's already not, but they may need some persuading. In all honesty, once your friendship is de-coupled from the 'gaming factor' all sides will probably be much happier as the issue is no longer in play.

Always keep in mind that gaming in your adult years is perfectly fine. Even though some people seem to think that it's something you grow out of (and people with this opinion can be some of the most avid teenage gamers), I don't agree with this view. It's like saying you stopped reading at 26 because you grew out of it. To be honest, this 'growing out of gaming' is often a function of the games you're playing.

I find that gamers used to lots of dungeon adventures (and playing the game as a game) tend to be more prone to growing out of the hobby. If you're playing role-playing games to get a narrative kick, the experience of telling a group story, you're less likely to grow out of it (just as you rarely grow out of reading).

GMing in the Modern World

Role-playing takes a lot of time! So, the hours you have to spend preparing material are just not compatible with the pressures of modern life? How do you expect me to fit it in? I don't, I actually challenge that a lot of the 'preparation' that makes role-playing impossible to fit into your schedule is not needed. Drop it all. Try a different approach.

I used to be a big fan of 'preparation,' and I used to think GMs that made it all up on the spot ran inferior campaigns. I still do think that not preparing does result in low quality campaigns by and large, but a lot of GMs complaining about not having the time over prepare.

As an example, I used to prepare about 20-30 pages for a 3-5 hour adventure. I'd have read out sections (even if I only paraphrased them), then I'd have notes on where I wanted scenes to go, what the point of the scene was, and then bullet points on what was supposed to be achieved in the scene. These bullet points could be what NPCs were trying to say, or what action events I wanted to fit in (if it was an action scene). The weird thing? I'd probably not consult most of it in the session or a lot of it would change as I'd think of something better during the session.

So, why spend all that time writing the adventure, just leave it in my head? To be honest, the writing of the adventure did often have productive benefits (such consolidating it in my mind, and new ideas coming out during the process), but the time it took was no longer something I could afford.

I now plan adventures on a compressed timescale. First, I'll take every spare moment I have to think about the game: the adventures, the directions I want to take, player character and NPC motivations, and so on. I can do this while driving to work, in a spare moment at work, or between tasks at home. You can then schedule a 2-3 hour slot before the actual session to put any notes down for the session you need and draw any maps that are needed.

When it comes to maps, really question whether you need to have them - quite often you don't. You don't have to have maps for every location they visit, or floorplans for every battle, just describe it all verbally.

Try it, and rely on your ability to make things up as the session progresses. After all, unless everyone involved is pretty unimaginative, you're going to change things during the session anyway because you or your players have thought of something better.

Use Your Players

If you can accommodate this method of working, don't forget that you have a number of players who only have to turn up to the game. Is it entirely out of the question that some of their time and brainpower could be acquired to make your life slightly easier? If one of the players mentions that his character comes from that relatively blank area on the map, then get him to detail the culture he comes from - if you have four players that could be four countries sorted out. If you have players from different races, get them to try and bring new twists to accepted formulas (assuming they are playing familiar races such as Elves, etc).

As an example, while I was writing this, I received an email from the GM of our D&D campaign asking for some notes on my character's homeland as we were going there in the next session. I provided about a page and a half of notes about the people, the way the country was ruled, and the current problems the country was facing (along with at least one adventure seed that could last 2-3 sessions if he wanted). It took me about an hour, including thinking time, and it probably saved him much more.

Even if you can't rely on the players to take on some GM roles, they should be able to help you out just by doing one job well: playing their characters. If the players put in 100% during the session, and also think about directions they want to go in between sessions (even if its just when on the bus to work or something) they should be able to keep a dynamic campaign fueled. If you can change their philosophy from them merely playing to experience your story, to them creating the story via the drives of their characters, they'll write 50% of the game.

Out of Game Discussion

The majority of us spend a portion of our free time answering e-mails and/or posting to various newsgroups; would it really ruin your schedule to answer/write one or two more e-mails a week? If not, then e-mail can be used as a tool to briefly discuss the game, to make sure the time you have for actual sessions is used to the max. Why waste time during the game session discussing issues that can be resolved outside of the game? As an example, if you have questions about the game world, the story so far or you have a direction you want to explore with your character, then do it with a quick e-mail.

A Few Final Thoughts

Role-playing is a group hobby, and this should be extend beyond the fact that you need more than one person to indulge. Everyone should have similar goals both in terms of wanting to play the game and what games they want to play. If possible everyone should contribute so that the game becomes a group investment. The story, the world and the responsibility for the game does rest on the GMs shoulders to some degree but it should not be something he delivers as a magnum opus - as he no longer has the time. The players should develop cultures for the world, and should be actively submitting plots (and even the characters that might feature) that they want their character to experience.

Gaming is possible in the hectic modern world; you just have to change your approach, and how you schedule it. The best thing about it is, this new way of doing things often results in better games than the eight-hour marathons you used to play. After all, how many of those sprawling mini-series on TV are actually better than a tightly plotted TV episode? Not many.

It worked for my group, whether it will be work for you depends on a myriad of circumstances, but I do believe many people can game, they just have to find the right package to deliver it in.

Ian O'Rourke
www.fandomlife.net, The e-zine of SciFi media, and Fandom Culture TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

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All This Gaming Life columns by Ian O'Rourke

  • Reality TV by Ian O'Rourke, 18jul02
  • The Rise and Fall of 3E February 14, 2002
  • Defence System August 10, 2001, guest column by Steve Darlington
  • Gaming in the Modern World July 4, 2001
  • And It Involves Rubber Swords June 6, 2001
  • A Wasted Youth? May 9, 2001

    Other columns at RPGnet

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