Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Game's The Thing: Why We Play Rehash

The basic question for this thing is: “What do players get out of this?”
I’ve gone over this before, but I’ve both given it additional thought and read over a number of quality essays on the subject.

Players, to varying degrees, like Interacting with a setting and other players, participating in a Story (either of a character or a larger setting), and Accomplishing something.

Story is a player’s interest in playing a part in an epic story or a role. A character wants to participate in a fantastic setting and become immersed in it. It includes both simple escapism and a more complicated desire to be something instead of just being something else. Players who want to roleplay something very different from themselves, see where the storyteller’s narrative is progressing, and interact with the environment as a real person might, irrationally or no.

While I have gone on before about the digital brass ring, a sense of accomplishment is something that’s all-too-rare in the real world. Being able to do something and when it’s over feel like you’ve done something is rewarding. A player who wants accomplishment will often engineer their character to be potent within the game and to act in unambiguously effective ways. Whether that’s a typical power gamer cutting through a hack and slash game or a character fashioning unbelievable devices from existing sci-fi contraptions in a setting, some players game because they want to feel like they’ve changed something after the dice have quit rolling for the night.

The desire to interact lies somewhere between, but not quite between story and accomplishment. A player may want to play a character who knocks over set pieces of the setting with frequency and still allows a player to explore a different character and a story. A player may also want a character who is ill-fated, but talented. They perform amazing feats, but have poor decisions that lead them to ruin; the player takes the character from the heights of their ability and roleplays them down to the very bottom. These two characters combine story and accomplishment, but they aren’t necessarily about interaction.

Interaction involves poking the setting to see what it will do. It involves combining special abilities that the game designers never considered combining. A player seeking interaction may just be there to hang with friends, may incite violence and rash actions in-game, or may even want to explore the nooks and crannies of a setting. Interactive players are by far the most taxing on a storyteller, but when they’re paying attention, they’re the most involved in the setting and the system, and thusly, the most treasured.

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