Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Playing Around

This is a question not an assertion.  I wonder if the type of play that happens with experienced players, especially DMs as players, is goofier and more about the impression it leaves on each other than it was back in the day when we were learning the game.

Granted, meta-goofiness has always been there in my experience.  Even the most dire of dungeon situations could be put on hold for joking around. 

Also, with adult players brand new to the game I've seen a goofiness-used-as-defence appear.  Where they aren't really sure what to make of this game and so pick funny names for their character and ask about doing silly things.  They don't really understand the boundaries of the world or what their choices are and they don't want to look foolish in front of their friends.

But aside from that there has always been a kind serious desire to survive, desire to explore and find what is behind the next heavy oaken door.

The type of play I'm talking about is related to carousing tables.  It is a kind of play that says "I want to put my character in a pickle because that will be funny.  I will make choices I know to be bad for my character because that will make things interesting."  The character that drinks from every pool in a world that has magical pools.  The player that releases the demon from the iron bottle when they know it is a demon in the bottle. 

I'm wondering if this comes about because the games being played are more one-offs (although Flailsnails allows people on G+ to use the same character again and again) so there is less concern for keeping your character alive to see the next session and also a sense of "We need to pack as much fun into these hours as possible.  I may never see these guys again"

I'm wondering if it has to do with playing with folks you don't know as well personally and so the meta-joking is harder.  When playing with people you've only known as a name on the internet maybe the easiest joking to do is within the game.

Maybe it is just a matter of jadedness; more experienced players have already survived the hardest dungeons, have achieved name level, have run their own domain.  There is little fun left in to trying and eke those earning out yet again. 

As I type this I'm also wondering if this is related to one of the trickiest parts of our game; how it tells you to survive on one hand and calls you a coward if you don't try to open doors or chests.  It is the whole courage versus caution problem- why even go into this dread place if we know a vampire is there.  A kind of nonchalance seems to be a very sophisticated way to handle this problem by sidestepping it and placing on the character's shoulders: "Of course we might die, but Rutherford of the Top Hat is too dumb to realize it."

Of course this is all assuming that what I'm asking about is actually a phenomenon.  And there seems to have always been a thread of pretty cornball things going on in the game since the beginning (I'm thinking now of Arneson's turnstile in front of his dungeon).  Maybe I personally like a more serious take on things, want to survive, want to climb in level and am just seeing a different style of play.

I don't know.  How serious do you take your play?  How does that change depending on context?  What is the limit of too serious or too goofy for you?


  1. In my experience, a given game is as serious as the least serious person participating.

  2. All those reasons sound good. It might also be that adults don't have as much trouble with managing the duality of playing both for and against yourself.

    If you play hippy games you have to kind of move your brain back and forth between scales at high speed. You ahve to genually care about your little guy, play them well and keep them alive or the game has no meaning. But you are also continually zooming out and doing things in the larger story for a bunch of aesthetic and other reasons.

    Sometimes these reasons are in conflict, and the conflict is often a pleasurable one to resolve or deal with. If you are in your 30's or late 20's. But maybe when you are younger its more difficult and less pleasurable to move your brain around like a mad camera and deal with all these different scales.

  3. One of the things that has always kept me away from really engaging with the OSR on its own terms is the insistence by some of its members, yourself obviously excepted, that games with a serious tone are badwrongfun.

    The games I run and the games I most enjoy playing are serious in tone, but with lots of in-character laughs. (That is, we're laughing about two characters giving each other grief, or similar things, in keeping with the tone of the game.) I do take some flak for not having a sense of humor at times, though.

    I find that social pressure can turn silly gamers more serious just as well as serious gamers more silly. It all depends on who speaks loudest and/or most persuasively in the group, and that can vary from night to night.

  4. for me it's a conscious effort of will not to place my character's survival as the single top and final goal. So every time I do something goofy, risky and potentially self-destructive it's a conscious break from mental habit, and it's kinda liberating, like its own little endorphin rush. But to get that rush I have to care about the character enough that letting go matters. So like Reynaldo Madrinan, I value gaming that's serious and not serious at the same time.

    Understanding that has taken years of experience and the kind of perspective that comes from walking away from gaming and coming back after a long break.

  5. Thanks for the wonderful comments.

    @Brendan: Personality certainly play a role but what I'm talking about here is more systematic . . . unless maybe as a type DM's tend to be more goofy and showboaty. Hadn't thought of that as a possibility.

    @Patrick: That's an interesting possibility. I wonder if that is why indie games seem to be more streamlined "about" only one thing, because it is enough work to do that zooming in and out you are talking about without having to worry about exploration, advancement, etc.

    @Brandes: That's a bummer. I got a little grief early on for thinking so much about games instead of just playing, but that seemed to die down when that thinking led to interesting monsters and treasures. That might be related to what you experienced.

    Don't get me wrong, though, I have embraced a lot more easy going game play since coming back to gaming. On realizing D&D is a parlour game with rotating, inexperienced adults, I find some goofiness a perfect fit. I think what I was wondering at in this post is where that goes so far as to become the point. And it is worrisome in the same way as railroading is to me. The railroading DM says "I know better than the dice what will be interesting for everyone," the player I was wondering about seems to be saying "I know better than the my character what will be interesting for them to do."

    @richard: Yeah, that makes sense and I think I do that too. It makes me wonder if, only thinking back closely, those goofy decisions were very carefully not suicidal, selfish or game wrecking. That these experienced player have learned just where to inject a little freewheeling fun without tipping over the cart (nice mixed metaphor for ya).

    The pool-drinker, for example was a player of mine who knew my magical effects table was not deadly, we were in a convention one-off, and he knew the only way everyone would get to experience some of the funny effects I had prepared was if he showed them. So a very calculated goofiness.

    Certainly some stuff to think on. Thanks again.

    1. my son loves totally uncalculated, self-indulgent goofiness and it always comes off as being obnoxious - the social rules for joking are complex and difficult. My guess is, if the goofing isn't obnoxious then it's skilfull.

  6. "I want to put my character in a pickle because that will be funny. I will make choices I know to be bad for my character because that will make things interesting."

    I've certainly found myself playing this way from time to time. I think it has to do with... my priority as a referee is to make decisions that maximize everyone's fun, so that priority sometimes takes over when I play too.

    And maximizing fun for everyone (including the referee) doesn't always mean outright silliness. Sometimes it's a matter of doing some greedy, short-sighted adventurer thing when you know that's just what the referee is waiting for (and doing because it's just what the referee is waiting for).

  7. Generally, I think my players have a good balance of cautiousness to foolishness. It's a fun dichotomy.