That’s a lot of hats
People are clever. We can do two, three, four things at once. We can wear a lot of hats and take care of a lot of different things all at the same time.
But there’s a price. It is pretty much guaranteed that the more you try to do at once, the harder each of those things becomes. And sometimes we don’t even realize all the different things we’re doing at once. We forget to look up and count just how many hats we’re wearing. And then we wonder why we’re so worn out.
First things first: when you sit down at the table to game, you’re wearing your player hat. If it’s a game with a GM, maybe you’re the GM instead, but either way you’re trying to play the game in some capacity. Ideally that’s all you’d be doing: playing the game. Done!
Because we’re talking about gaming, you’re pretty much always wearing your player hat. But sometimes you’ve got more on your plate beyond just playing the game. Or on your head, to stick to my metaphor.
If the other people at the table don’t know how to play this particular game, someone’s got to explain the rules. Guess who? So now in addition to playing, you’re the facilitator. Even after you’ve finished describing all the rules and the game is in motion, you’re still on duty, because you’re watching to make sure the other players got it. You’re ready to clear up confusion or point out when the game has unintentionally drifted away from the rules.
Maybe this isn’t even a finished game. Maybe you’re wearing your playtester hat and keeping an eye out for glitches, rough spots or anything you should give feedback about. You may even be the game designer, in which case some part of your brain is _always_ watching and analyzing how your creation works, even if it’s supposedly finished.
If your single game is part of a larger gathering, whether that’s a con, a mini-con, or even just a (ahem) weekly public meetup, and you’re responsible for the whole thing coming together, then you’re also wearing your organizer hat. Not only are you paying attention to what’s happening in your game, you’ve probably got one ear cocked to make sure the rest of the event is going smoothly as well. Even if it’s just a simple gathering of friends in a living room, if you’re the host you are probably spending a little thought to make sure everyone is comfortable and taken care of.
Yep, that’s a lot of different hats. And yes, you can wear them all at once. You can sit down at a table as a player + facilitator + playtester + designer + organizer. You can do all those things simultaneously (trust me, I know). But recognize that when you’re wearing multiple hats, it’s going to be harder. You’re doing more work.
So if you are stretched thin, what gives first? Play. Every time. Sure, you could be a terrible organizer and get so wrapped up in your game that you don’t notice the south wing of the hall is on fire, but I’m guessing it’s more likely you’ll be distracted by the demands of the event and pay less attention to the game you’re in.
Why does playing take the hit? I guess it’s because playing is a creative process that works best when you can immerse yourself in the moment, sans distractions. All the others are logistical or logical demands that can easily butt in and grab your attention, yanking you out of the deep game space. Interrupts trump zen, particularly when you’re actually trying to attend to those interrupts.
This explains some things we already knew, like that playtesting is never quite the same as just playing a game. You’re doing two things at once, being creative but also sitting back and analyzing (yes, criticizing) the experience so you can give useful feedback. Actually, if you’re the one explaining a playtest game to your group, they’re doing two things (play + playtest) and you’re doing at least three (play + playtest + facilitate).
Likewise when you’re organizing a game event, there’s a natural inclination to step up and run games for folks, which is awesome. But again, recognize all the different things you’re trying to do at once, particularly if you’re considering running that new game you’ve been working on all weekend (play + organize + facilitate + design + playtest). It may go great, but if you want to recharge your batteries, consider just sitting down and playing in a game someone else is putting together. That’s only two hats (organize + play) instead of five.
Bottom line: I’m not saying don’t do it. I’m saying know what you’re doing. If you’re aware of all the things you’re trying to do at once, it will be easier for you to keep it all under control. Recognize when you’re biting off a lot for yourself.
And while we’re at it, this should make it crystal clear that we should tip our hats to players everywhere who take on the duty of sitting down and teaching everyone else the rules. They’re working harder at the table so you can have fun and play.
Oh you facilitators, you are the gaming angels of mercy. No joke: most people don’t learn to play games from reading the rules. They learn by having someone else at the table explain to them how to play.
Facilitators, we love you.