So Patrick at False Machine has put out a free book collecting some of his blog posts. As I have started digging into this book, I have found him to be very insightful, rocking me back on my heels several times with spot-on insights and ideas.
Consider the essay “Monsters of Incompetence and Atomic Bread” starting on page 13.
Patrick suggests that RPGs draw people who like the idea of a simulation containing life’s complexities with rules. These people are least socially-capable, but they are more directed and focused on the game because they have “no where else to go” socially. They are more invested in the game because they lack other social options; it is not one choice among many for recreation.
So, RPGs may attract many personality types, but they will be dominated by those who need the organization the most, even if those people are not the ones the organization needs most.
I never thought about my gaming in those terms. It is true that my game can attract a broad spectrum of personality types. I think that most if not all of the people who come to my table for gaming have other equally interesting social options. Except me.
Do I need the organization RPGs represent, rendering the complexities of life down into simple game systems? If not, why do I choose to sink ridiculous amounts of free time into modeling fictional systems?
I don’t think one other person at my game table needs role playing games. Sure, they are a pleasant diversion. But if they vanished, life would go on and the biggest consequence might be the occasional itch to play something.
For me, the loss would be greater. I would re-channel my creative energies back into writing, but I would be diminished. There is something about the interplay of chance and design, the energy of push and pull, the moment of breathlessness when a secret is revealed or a tragedy unfolds…
I can write stories and novels. Writing a story is a lonely series of closings; of all the things that could have happened, these are the events I chose. When I game, my design focus is on creating openings. I outline intersections. When my players come to the table, then it is a collective process to go through a series of closings as the many possibilities fall and the one event replaces them. That is then an experience we shared together. It is not superior to writing–but it is less lonely.
I have lots of reasons role playing has been central to my social life. Relative to other hobbies, it is inexpensive fun. People actively participate instead of passively receiving their entertainment (compare to going to movies or watching tv.) These are good justifications.
Another layer down is more honest. Stuart’s article talks about the least capable people socially, and while I can be high-functioning, I am not intuitively social. I prefer a few strong friendships to many weak ones. People exhaust me. I have little patience for the social niceties, hand in hand with little skill in them. I feel vulnerable at social events, even simple family events.
I am mostly disinterested in job anecdotes, sagas of health issues, enthusiasm over politics, gushing about sports, and endless references to entertainment I have not consumed. I would like to be more curious than I am; disinterest is an intellectual and social weakness. When you are interested in people, they become interesting.
It is fair to say I am not sought out socially. So ever since high school, I have used RPGs as a social lure. Come play my game. You will get an experience unlike what you can experience any other way. Because I offer you this experience, you will keep coming back, and you will admire me.
I have no other way to keep you coming back and admiring me.
So we get together, and I assume dozens of personas, and they assume personas, and we interact. Sure, there’s chatter before and after, and jokes and good times at the table. But I am in a role, and so are they, and it is structured play. I am insulated from personal rejection. I can give people what they want–something I am unable to do as a human being outside a fictional construction.
Anyway, these were some deeper reflections sparked by reading through False Machine, a useful reformatted blog summary. There is a lot of great stuff in there! When I am reading things from blogs, I am less interested in whether they are polished and tidy, and more interested in whether they inspire me. Whether they haunt me and I find myself thinking about them when I’m not thinking about anything in particular. False Machine has just the kind of madness and perspective that stays with you. Go check it out!
I’m already mulling over a response to his wonderful perspective on what game art should do…