Asking the Wrong Question – Getting a Right Answer

So my last post was all about a fishing analogy… and as it turns out I feel as if I was definitely asking the wrong question. In that post I was asking the question – what do we really mean by Gaming in an RPG and what do we actually need in a game. As it turns out, Kevin from KORPG had a really good answer waiting for me – and an article I read gave me a better handle on the question I really wanted to ask than my ruminations on the act of fishing.

My wife sent me this article about the new E-book by Mark Z. Danielewski because she knows how much I enjoyed “House of Leaves” a few years ago. I won’t go into all my feelings about the article or the forthcoming e-book other than to say that it really doesn’t seem like my cup of tea. Now, there might be some folks out there who will love this kind of thing – and more power to them – I’m not saying it doesn’t have it’s own merits… but it’s definitely not for me. As a friend of mine likes to say, “some folks like 3D movies… some folks like movies.” Okay, that second one is a little more judge-y than I mean to be. I just realized, as I was reading the article that the reading experience was – for me – more about interacting with the words through my imagination rather than having the author manipulate those words with special effects – no matter how slick those effects might be from a technology standpoint. And so what he plans to do with “The Fifty Year Sword” seems very, very gimmicky and silly to me and would probably not “enhance” my reading experience. I’m actually almost certain that when words start falling off the page I might actually just be more annoyed than anything else.

But in terms of gaming – I tried to ask a similar question, “What does a game really need to be a game – or – what does a gaming experience really need to be a gaming experience?” I think now this was the wrong question. I think what I was really trying to ask was, “How can a game be created to give everyone involved – players and GMs – what they need to feel that they have gotten a good gaming experience?” I’m probably still not expressing that as well as I’d like to because I realize that it’s nigh impossible for game to be all things to all people. I get that. But I have found over the years that quite often, games can provide a wide range of players a great experience even if the core of the game doesn’t immediately fit their preferred play style.

I want to strip this question bare and really dig my teeth into it a little bit. I have two games I’m actively working on right now in my free time and I find myself stumped, vexed you might even say, by this problem.

For example – I often find myself wondering how you can empower players without creating a corresponding sense of entitlement. I’ve often wondered how you can empower GMs without creating a corresponding sense of competition. I’ve found myself wondering many different things (those are just two of the more extreme examples) about how I approach the experience of gaming and how to share it without also demanding it. It’s a delicate line to walk and one I feel very comfortable with in “other people’s games” but one I struggle with when trying to give others my words.

I envy those who are capable of just putting their own vision of gaming forward and staking a case with it. Whether I agree with them or not, I envy that.

But Kevin, as I mentioned above, said something really enlightening (at least to me) that helped me shift my thinking a little…

Seek to understand how your system helps players commune and interface with “the game” and you’re on the right path.

This resonated with me because of the specific word choice. That word, “interface” is a really good word. I really like this idea. I think it’s an important idea. Interface. I’ve been thinking for a day about this idea of how thinking about how players interface with the game and use the game to interface with the GM (and the world/story) and it is something that we all (I think) do already – but rarely look at so directly.

I’m a think out loud kinda guy. I ruminate. I wonder. But I appreciate very much the insight of those around me because it’s often a little thing that can spark a better line of thinking. ANd sometimes you have to ask the wrong question to get the right answer.

Thanks for reading.

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