04 December 2016

Collapsed Games

Remember a few months ago, when I mentioned that I was going to be streaming a Changeling campaign over Twitch?

That didn't last very long. We had a total of two actual game sessions. And it became apparent to me during that time that I was the only one actually invested in the game.

I could sit here and wax poetic about the reasons why the other players weren't into it. I could gaze at my navel and ponder whether they really were invested, and I just couldn't tell. But the fact is that gaming is my creative outlet. Especially when I'm GMing. It's not just a hobby for me. It's how I express myself.

I've said it before, but it's very true. Some people paint. Others write. Some compose, perform, and record music. I even know people who express their creative urges through creating board games and card games.

I run game sessions.
Just this past week, I spent some time planning for the next session of my Friday Night game, the 'Fae Team.' I lovingly crafted the encounters through which I expect to run the players. I put time and thought into the NPCs they'll meet along the way. I created props to help bring the story to life. I found, edited, and created images to help them visualise who and what they see.

And this coming Friday, when I actually run the game, the effort I put into designing the current story will pay off when I see the players react. The last session involved the PCs climbing into separate starfighters and discovering the bizarre features with which each one was equipped. Just as a couple of examples, one had a bakery and the entire catalogue of music from Projekt Records, another had a sushi bar and a pair of holographic dancing knights, whilst a third had a cinema concession stand and access to PornHub.

The players loved it. We got some video footage of it because we were having such a good time.

That's what I live for. Finding enjoyable stories to tell, and having people enjoy hearing them (or better yet, being part of them).

Part of what makes a good story, for me at least, is the characters. I can't enjoy a story if the characters aren't dynamic, robust, plausible, and relatable. Like the characters from Sense8, which I've been watching recently. They're interesting people. They have quirks and foibles and weaknesses and flaws and strengths and desires and fears and shortcomings. But they are all believable.

The same is true of the characters from The Order of the Stick. Even the villains can be compelling. Redcloak, who (depending on your point of view) is either the secondary villain or the primary villain, can be the subject of empathy at some level (though he is, unarguably, a villain, and evil, has motives that are, to an extent at least, somewhat compassionate). This is even more true of the villain Tsukiko. Even though she is unrepentantly immoral, you can see that she has been so badly hurt, so many times, over the course of her life, that her immorality is, on some level at least, understandable. This leads to me feeling some level of sadness when she meets her final fate.

If a story doesn't have this level of character development, I'm not likely to be interested. Which is why, when I'm designing a campaign, or a story within a campaign, I always try to develop specific story hooks for each character. Like when the character of Fee ran into her family in a recent session (which, as the player probably already knows, is setting the stage for further character development later on). The ongoing saga of self-discovery of the character known as Officer Daly is also of great interest to me.

To do this, I need the players to work up full personalities and back stories. I have a questionnaire that I ask my players to fill out, which helps them to give the necessary level of development to their characters.

Sadly, not all players are able to do this. The game that I was going to stream (which I was calling the Hobo group) fell apart in large part because the players could not (or possibly just would not) fill out the questionnaire. Even after two game sessions, only one of the six players had filled it out, despite repeated requests and reminders from me.

There were other indications that they weren't invested. But after two sessions, and the character creation process, when it became apparent that they weren't going to give me the same level of dedication that I was pouring into my game, that there was no point in my trying to continue. I can't put that much energy into a creative endeavour if I'm the only one that's willing to work at it.

This is one reason that I've spent so much time in the past talking about assembling the right group. People who are going to work just as hard as you are to make the game the amazing story that you want. Because if not getting to game sucks, it doesn't suck half as much as getting started in a game, only to have it fall apart after a few weeks because the players and the GM aren't all on the same page.

Anyway, that's what I was thinking about. I'll see you back here next week. Until then,

Game on!

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