(Note: I’m not back for realsies yet. This just happened to be a quick thought I had this afternoon.)
I’ve long known how competitive I am, which is to say very competitive. It’s no secret where it comes from; My parents are also both highly competitive, exacting people. As a teenager, I realized that my attitude wasn’t earning me any friends – in fact, it was making me look like a jerk. I learned to make the distinction between games I play to win and games I play for fun.
Today, I was reading and saw an article about this video:
In case it isn’t clear, this is two dads fighting over a little league game.
The article also mentioned this article about students cheating on tests, partially because of the pressure to succeed.
I want you to think for a moment about how we value winning in our society and consider how some of the allure of certain hobbies is that we get to win. This is the core concept behind most video games: find the sweet spot where the game is challenging enough that the player feels that they have accomplished something meaningful, but not so challenging that the player can actually lose.
The dirty little secret of roleplaying is that, for a large segment of the population, winning is a consideration.
If you take out the social gamers, who are satisfied just being around other people, and the storytellers, who mostly only care that rules not get in the way of story, you’re pretty much left with the gamists. Those are the people who, consciously or subconsciously, want the rules to have meaning and structure. Roleplaying just isn’t satisfying to them otherwise. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that these people are all rules-lawyer assholes, either. In my experience, the digital age has made it easier for groups to kick people out, leading to a reduction in the number of overt jerkwads.
It has been interesting listening to my players talk about the Fate system, because it says something about what they want from the hobby. For most of them, it’s something like this: “Well, if we were to play, I think I want to go with [character concept and backstory], which I would represent by taking [powers and abilities], which would make me the [role, not necessarily combat-oriented].” Even in a very “rules lite” system like Fate, they’re looking for core mechanical competency.
I think that the greatest strength of 4e was that its design choices were deliberate. In Next, we’re being told that we get to make those design choices for ourselves, which has the potential to be the next big advancement in roleplaying theory, but only so long as we’re teaching players and GMs to think honestly about how they approach the hobby. For right now, I think there’s a little too much “Look, we have stuff!” and not enough “here’s our thinking on why you might like this stuff.”