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Gaming for Grown-Ups

Where do we go from here?

by Tim Kirk
Sep 16,2003


Where do we go from here?

We've covered the basics of gaming from building a group and choosing a place to play, all the way to keeping it going in the face of adversity. So, the question remains:

What Next?

More of the Same

I will continue to cover topics and pieces of topics delving deeper. Most notably I'm going to cover the fine art of "gentle" theft, taking ideas, filing the edges off and making them something more than they were to begin with.

In addition, I will continue to update on FIFO games I've run across and ideas for handling game locales and particular problems. But that's not all. I will shortly also address handling problem gamers.

The revealed difference

In addition to that, starting with this column, I'm going to take a slightly different track across the wilderness of gaming and that may include hitting a few things distinctly differently that others are used to -- I'm not just going to discuss gaming trends, but going on to cover life elements of adult gamers.

I don't wanna grow up

Part 1:

I game, most notably, because it is a creative endeavor that allows me to play off of my strengths (creativity, socialization, and storytelling) to fashion entertainment, not just for myself but also for the group as a whole. Now the issue is, as a grownup, I want everyone involved to have fun, not just myself.

This has led me to creating games, and enjoying games which differ from the standard "player" and "GM" breakdowns -- in fact I've begun to explore games that give up the normal environmental power reserved for GM's and turn it over to the players. The idea with this type of gaming is that the GM no longer holds all the entertainment cards. It removes some of the burden of the work in creating a game environment and running a game from their shoulders and plants it firmly in the hands of the playgroup as a whole. One might think that this somehow makes the game less interesting because the mysteries that GM's reveal, the "wow" factor is now often gone. Yet at the same time, it simply replaces the "wow" as a revealed element from GM to players, and makes it a "wow" element for all involved but the instigator. Sometimes they too experience the mystery because they pull off a stunning trick or maneuver that they knew they could do -- but are shocked by the larger ramifications to the ongoing "play".

The play, after all, is the thing.

Another way of eliminating some of the GM burden from one's shoulders is to give up the journey to adulthood structure of some games. Rather than start the story as a journey of a young inexperienced heroine growing to fulfill her greater destiny as a woman, one can skip a step, stop telling stories about up-and-coming heroes, and start having games which focus on the established adult heroes and their lives. This usually means more work in producing the hero at the beginning, but removes from play the need to book- keep, and "advance" or "power up" the heroine in order to face greater threats. She is already ready to face those down the first day you sit down to game. This style of gaming may not be for everyone, as it actually allows more exploration of the evolution of the characters' personalities, morals, and other social concerns rather than their typical rise to martial and mystical power. Taking this style of gaming requires a bit of trust as you reach out to your players and give them the tools to make a character persona who isn't going to be shaped by the first few adventures, so much as he will be shaped by the imagination of the player. In short, give them the rules, the guidelines, and suggestions on limits to scale for the heroes, and let them fill out their characters with that, abjucating only what is necessary to give each their spotlight time.

This particular element is a doozy some GM's and players overlook -- spotlight time. But being an adult gamer is having the maturity to realize "I am not the only person here to be entertained" and actually giving up a bit of your fun so that other players get in on the same thing. This unfortunately suffers from a flaw in practice - the fact that, as nice an ideal as it is, some players don't really want spotlight time. In some game groups, there are a lack of what I call "motive" players -- players who play to the GM, using their role- playing skills to move the adventure, plot, or social play along. They often take spotlight time from others inadvertently because other players do not use this spotlight time to move the game forward. Instead, these other players wallow in it and cling to it like it's a life jacket on a sinking boat in a hurricane.

Giving Spotlight time

Make sure to create a situation, whether pre-planned or on the fly, that lets each character show off their skills. Suggest to the players before you play that they can create this moment for themselves as well. After all if a hero solves a puzzle-lock to open the way or deciphers a book in ancient Arabic written by a madman that leads to the same point, both get spotlight time, both can arrive at the same final destination, and thus both motivate the plot.

Another option is to treat your players like adults, presuming they are, even if they are making vroom vroom noises with your toy cars that you've made into heavily armed minis for an up-coming car combat game. In other words, go to him or her and explain that you want every player to get something special out of the game, a bit of shine-time. Don't just assume they'll do it; ask them explicitly to do it.

One of the biggest and most important issues gamers need to address is simply communication. We can read, write, and speak (some admittedly better than others), but we often clam up and don't approach gaming with thoughtfulness.

Being a grown up has one advantage. That we can consider, take the time to comprehend, and even approach our gaming with a bit more consideration of group goals and group needs for playing the game, rather than the selfish "I".

Asking all the players to give each other a bit of spotlight is a strong step in creating the best environment for gaming, getting back to the cooperative role-playing and away from the false competitiveness some games suggest.

An additional way of creating spotlight time is built into some games, and other games that don't have this "niche" protection should consider it. Suggest to GM's, especially beginning ones, to make sure that every role in a given group of characters has some capabilities not shared by anyone else. This is not to say that niche protection is perfect or even ideal, but rather than designing characters to have redundancy, the play groups should design their characters to be capable of producing alternate solutions for the times when a character is unavailable but whose niche-protected traits are needed.

Players, an option for you to consider is to actually go into a huddle with your fellow players -- putting your heads together to come up with specific solutions, which make use of every character's talents.

Now depending on your group, you may find it more suitable to give spotlight time on a more limited basis in a given game session, stretching it out over the campaign rather than the single session. This can work, and is even optimal if not every player is always available. Simply give that person some spotlight time prior to their missing a game if possible, then the other characters can have their own while a given player is absent.

Rather than rewarding the spotlight time and letting the character who makes the big moment happen reap all the rewards, why not offer some rewards for giving up spotlight time? For example, a band of heroes awake a dragon inadvertently. The current spotlighted hero is an archer with the mystic bow and he holds his arrow ready waiting to strike. The player chooses to wait, gives up his glory moment for another hero to point out a weakness in the dragon's armor. Seeing his moment, he fires at the dragon -- to draw the dragon's attention away, giving up his spotlight moment to another to take advantage of that flaw and slay the dragon. He traded in his time to let another take the glory; this in and of itself should be its own reward in some games.

Yet, why not encourage it? Have others take notice that this archer was so good he needn't take advantage of the flaw to aid in slaying the dragon. Or better yet, give him a legend of his own about the courage it took to distract the dragon and protect others from its attention.

So take the tool above and turn power over to the players, let them make use of the mechanics to work some magic from time to time. As players make more use of tools given to them by the game, they become more like the ideal motive player.

Using such tools one might think at first that this is more work. But ideally, you'll establish trust by giving your players this freedom to create, shape, and move the game world a little.

Sometimes being a "grown up" is realizing quite simply that we can choose to be childish at times in play, but also be mature enough to make sure that child-like wonder is where we are being childish, not with regards to the other players. Sharing both the burden and the joys of gaming in the group makes for a more enjoyable session for everyone.

Next: Borrowing Ideas, the gentle theft.

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