I was listening to my usual lineup of podcasts this week and came across something that made me perk up and start thinking. On Episode 45 of Narrative Control, Sean Nittner was talking with his co-host about an article that Rob Donoghue had recently written on his blog about what to do when another player “freezes up” in a roleplaying session.
Okay, little tangent here, but if you care about roleplaying, you really need to be reading Rob’s blog, Some Space to Think. It’s incredibly deep and thought-provoking, and he is amazingly prolific in his updates. I don’t necessarily agree with his point of view or his conclusions all the time, but I’m always able to understand where he’s coming from and feel like my assumptions have been challenged. So after you’re done reading all of my dreck over here, go check him out.
Now back to my point here. So anyway, one of the big points that Sean was pointing out was about how, whether you’re helping someone that’s just frozen up or just as a regular part of play, you need to be validating and building onto what the other players are introducing into the story. And in the midst of it all, he made this statement about what happens when you block, deny, or otherwise invalidate something that another player said or did:
This is not a story where the production value is the final cut. This isn’t a movie where a director can say, ‘Let’s take this five times and figure out the best one and then use that’. The production is the play. So if you spend 10 minutes shutting somebody down, you’ve just spent 10 minutes of lame. You have 10 minutes of lame in your movie now!
Now, this doesn’t exactly seem like a terribly original or complex idea. I mean, obviously, the point of an RPG session is for the people at the table to have fun. There is no other audience that you’re performing for or anything. But at the same time, so many of us (i.e. big old fat sausage finger pointing right back at me here) have this high-minded idea of what a “good story” would be, and try to make our play sessions fit into that.
It’s just so easy to fall into the trap of spending the bulk of your time talking about what you want to do in play, rather than in just playing it out. In the episode, they even mentioned “planning sessions” and how ridiculous they really are, because you usually spend hours going over what you want to do, all the time slamming doors in each other’s faces with the idea of trying to plan the “perfect” attack or caper or whatever.
It sort of all goes back to the idea that we have to “be awesome” when we play. We get so caught up in the desire to be cool or impress each other with our brilliant contributions that it can often lead us into performance anxiety (which may be one of the reasond we “freeze up” sometimes during play). In a lot of ways, it’s why I’ve grown so disillusioned with the traditional GM role, who’s “job” it is to come up with some freaking awesome story and then “entertain” the rest of the group with it. Because in reality, planning like this is a waste of time. Time that could be spent actually playing a game is instead spent talking about how you will be playing the game. And in my life right now, I just don’t have the time to waste.
I’d rather get on with it, realizing that the only measure of “success” is how much fun I and the other players are having, and stop freaking out about how awesome or cool it will all be. And interestingly enough, when you sit back and relax, listen to each other, and acknowledge and build on each other’s contributions, that’s when the awesome actually comes.