Playing Wrong… Right

So Paul Czege (author of the RPG My Life with Master) has something really interesting to say about that game and how it’s viewed and interpreted by the playing public.

I blame [this misunderstanding on] what came later. When I designed My Life with Master, my play style was characterized by fluid scenes involving multiple player characters, a natural enjoyment of roleplay and dialogue without any particular hurry to use the resolution mechanics, and no particular concern for equitable apportionment of screen time. To my great frustration, it has subsequently become characterized by formalized stakes-setting, abrupt usage of resolution mechanics, and narration at the expense of roleplay.

Does that boldface thing sound like some of the less-successful Primetime Adventures play? Hmm…
So there’s this thing I always find myself apologizing for on the Story Games forums, and it boils down to something like this:

“Here’s some Actual Play that I wanted to share with everyone. It’s going to be long, although there’s only a few conflicts: we got through about five scenes in the five hours we played — we just don’t play as fast as everyone seems to.”

Why did I bother apologizing for something like that? We had a good time with our five hours — we did some cool stuff and had fun, right? However, I’d been reading so much on the ways that various folks ran their games (and I mean THEIR games — games THEY wrote) that I wanted to at least try for the kind of style envisioned by person who wrote the game.
What did that mean? Well, based on what I had interpreted to be the case, the idea was to cut into the action, drive straight for whatever the current conflict might be, get there, engage the conflict mechanics as soon as logically possible, figure out what happened, and then narrate it. Then immediately cut to the next scene.
Hmm. Damn, it doesn’t even sound viable when I describe it like that. Often it wasn’t, although using PTA’s rule of “skip anything that would bore the audience” works better.
Result? Usually, Epic Fail.
So lately, I’ve kind of let that go, a little bit at a time. De helped with this in one of her comments on this blog: “So we play slow? So what, we have fun,” and lately I’ve come to a better place for MYSELF in gaming, where I *still* focus on the next drama- or conflict-laden scene, and still try to get to a point of conflict IN that scene, but I get there with more roleplaying, less narrating, and let more of the CONFLICT be roleplay, with the system itself used to determine the final ‘what happened?’
There was a really good example of this in the second-to-last Primetime Adventures game I ran — so much so that I really started to feel like I was “getting” that game (ironically, but simply letting go and not TRYING to “get” it.)
So, is it stupid be kind of relieved and “cleared” to find out that most of my concern over playing the game wrong stems from incorrect assumptions on my part about how it’s being played by others, from the beginning? I hope not: I will feel that way, regardless.
These crazy new games, they talk a lot about the Story and how to get to it — something I already know, but was sloppy about in the past. They’ve helped with that. However, all that very specific language about the story made it seem as though the story itself, and the creation of it also had to be parsed out and diced and sliced in the same very specific way, or all the advice would be useless. USELESS!
And it’s not that way; it’s like writing advice. Yes, it’s often good and useful and helpful, but if you try to observe and follow every single bit of good advice all at once, being careful not to forget anything and to get all the words exactly right in the first draft…
… it’s going to fucking suck. I mean, it’s going to godawful unreadable shit. There will be a gem here and there, and you’ll cling to those gems and analyze the HELL out of them, because they are undeniably BETTER than what you were doing before, but the net result is worse.
You can’t do it that way. You write. You keep those other new things in mind, and let them all gradually sink in over a great deal of time, or you incorporate one thing at a time until you don’t think about it anymore, then add the next thing.
Why do you do it that way? Because if you can write at all, you already know how to write in a way that makes you happy, and that is the important thing you have to hold on to no. matter. what.
The same is true of play. I got all excited for a while about how I could be doing things better, and lost track of the fact that what I was doing already makes me pretty goddamn happy. So I let all those little guides and hints sit to the side, and I’m slowly working them in, a little at a time, and I’m not worrying about the fact that I’m doing it ‘wrong’, according to what I’d thought I’d read.
And just about the time I got completely comfortable with being wrong, I find out I was okay, all along.
Life is funny that way.


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