Wednesday, December 28, 2011

True Hearing

A non-gamer hesitating on his first turn in a simple filler game with me recently made the following comment: I don't like not knowing what to play.

The very act of calculation against the unknown possibilities was not fun for him. I wanted to explain that decision-making was the definition of fun; I had to fight myself to listen to what he was actually saying: I don't find this fun. It was a difficult, but important, struggle. I think of decision making as the heart of a game and the heart of the fun. This is not the case for everyone.

Some people don't enjoy games, period. Some enjoy the company. Some like to watch what happens, and may even be excited about the game as it happens; they just don't want to guess. Let them pick a card or tell them to roll the dice. Give them a skill to perform or all the information they need for a quick calculation, but don't force them do math or memory or decide whether or not to buy something with a hidden value.

We need to listen to our gamers, just like we need to listen to our children or our parents when they tell us something. We can't just think that they're not seeing it the right way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I suspect he was NOT complaining that he doesn't like making decisions -- he was instead complaining that he doesn't like feeling helplessly unfamiliar with the paradigm of options available in the particular game system.

Genuine decision-making (as opposed to reckless chaos) is always dependent upon a given system's particular options or vocabulary (paradigm) and particular actions or syntax (synatagm). A major component of learning a system involves acquiring the ability to discern meaningful possibilities from meaningless or non sequitur possibilities. From your description, the young man seemed to feel frustrated because he saw no way to make that determination.

For example, in a D&D game, for a player to declare that his PC is attacking a monster with his sword (followed by the appropriate dice rolling) is a meaningful choice. However, for a player to instead declare someone else's PC is committing suicide or to instead kiss the game master (both of which are appropriate choices in certain other situations) is not a meaningful choice within the contexts of the game. Perhaps that seems obvious to anyone familiar with gaming, but that doesn't mean it is obvious to someone genuinely unfamiliar with gaming.

Anyone who has ever learned chess from a good person who is a poor teacher knows what this feels like. Until we know what pieces move in what fashions, including turn-taking etc., we can make no meaningful choices, and we feel the same helpless frustration as the young man in your example.