False Machine, Good Input

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…

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3 Responses to False Machine, Good Input

  1. Tim D. says:


    Interesting premise. Let me start by stating the obvious: There are many folks in this hobby who fit the category of socially inept. I don’t think I’m going to shock anyone with this statement.

    But I will go on to say that this does not include ALL gamers. For every clearly abnormal gamer I can count on another who fits quite well into general society. So I don’t think I can buy the idea that this is why folks game. I think it answers the mail for many gamers, just not all of them.

    I like RPGs because I like the idea of an inter-active event. Almost everyone likes movies, and RPGs offer the chance to not only passive watch a story, you can jump right into it. In real life, getting shot at isn’t nearly as cool as watching an action-thriller (based off a personal event in Afghanistan), but with an RPG I can live out fantasies without the consequences. How cool is that?

    Perhaps I’m a reformed social outcast. I read the sports page every day not with any particular passion (except for my MSU Spartans, Go Green, Go White!) but rather to glean enough info to keep up a social banter with the sports obsessed. It is amazing what a couple of minutes of headline reading can do for social graces here. 99% of the time I can trick folks into thinking I really care about sports when all I care about is MSU beating Michigan. Same for entertainment news/gossip. A quick scan here and there and I can get most of the late-night jokes and keep up with trend-watchers.

    Maybe I did start out needing RPGs for a social need, but then evolved more social skills so that I don’t to game for a social outlet. But I’m still happy to return to RPGs whenever I get the chance.

  2. fictivite says:

    Tim: I would definitely suggest that Patrick is not saying all gamers are socially challenged. In fact, he is saying quite the opposite; the hobby attracts a wide spectrum of personalities. As I understand his essay, his point is the people who are at the heart of it, who have the most influence and feel the most passionately about gaming, are the ones who need it more than the others do (whether they are a good influence on the hobby or not.)

    So yeah, not everybody who games is socially challenged. What was more startling to me was the idea that my focus on the hobby would reflect worse social skills than I thought I possessed. Caused me to reevaluate myself. Not really reflecting on anyone else here.

  3. Yes, I am in much the same boat. I find “small talk” agonizingly boring. Over the years my already low interest in “making conversation” has been burned out by hours of painful boredom, repeatedly buried alive under avalanches of verbage. Gaming (and work, actually) are the places where my natural intellectual/creative abilities are sought out. There I shine. But outside of gaming and work I am remarkably un-sought-after. Why do I even have a phone, or email, or FB page? I’m never invited anywhere–except RPG gaming sessions. I suppose gaming provides just the right mix of structure and freedom to be creative, a mix not readily available anywhere else.

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