Proactive gaming

Thoughts on taking ownership of games, and talking to your group.

For a hobby that prides itself on interactivity, RPGs can sometimes throw up some odd habits. One I’ve noticed is that all too often the players don’t really take ownership of the game.

It’s a weird kind of mindset amongst players that the GM has to control everthing, that their word must be final and that the players job is to sit there and take it. No matter how poor the plot, no matter how uninterested the players are in the events that are thrown arbitarily at them, the GM is god. This attitude kills games.

It seems to stem from many RPG books, where the advice given to players is to shut up and listen to the GM. I really hate those pieces of advice. They seem to be written by people who’ve never actually played an RPG. See – to me at least – part of the fun of playing an RPG is knowing that your choices and contributions matter (otherwise, why not just read a book?). If the GM is overruling everything then play gets dull very quickly.

Often GMs just have to be this way though, because the players haven’t given them anything to work with. They haven’t contributed anything to the game beyond their presence. They expect to be fed everything and just take it. Both sides are as guilty as each other.

So the cycle continues.

There is a very simple solution. Both sides of the GM/Player split need to be more proactive. The key is for both sides to actively take ownership of the game. Not the rulebooks that you’re using, not the characters your playing, but the game as a whole. The event of the real people getting together and playing.

Both sides need a solid stake in what’s going on, otherwise they’re going to start wondering why they’re present. Talk about the game and where it is going. It’s a simple thing, but it amazes me how often people don’t do it. What do you want out of it? Where do you want your character to head? What’s actually fun for you, as a player or GM?

Being proactive starts before the game. It starts right at the moment when a GM says “Hey guys, I want to run game X”. What often seems to happen is that the GM comes up with some background and a plot and just forces the players into it. This is the first mistake. Roleplaying is a group exercise, so bring your players in at the earliest opportunity. What would be cool for them? What works with their characters? How could that work with your ideas? If the players have this input, then they are more likely to enjoy themselves, they have a stake in the game.

Now at this point it’s often the case that the GM will go “But it’s my game, I want to run it this way!” We’re back at that Group Activity thing again, by coming to the table with a group of people you’re saying “I want you guys involved too”. You have to admit that, or you’ll end up with unhappy players. Or no game at all. That said, each player should equally not expect everything to focus solely on their ideas. Everybody’s contributions are useful. It’s a group thing.

During a game a bit of self analysis, and changing based on it, can help boost the amount of fun you have. What worked for you? Did your character get too little (or too much) &quo;screentime”. Did you feel like you were being led by the nose? Did you feel like every idea you contributed got shot down by other players or the GM? Knowing that these things are going on is the first step to improving your situation. The second step is to raise the issue with the other people at the table. Talking about how you can improve the game, and whether what you think will work will work for everybody else. You might even find that the reason you’re not having fun is that what you want out of the game is completely different to the other players, but at least you know.

In the end, roleplaying is a social activity. If you don’t talk about game dynamic outside of play, the actual play will be less fun.

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