We Are Here to Game

Next weekend is Fabricated Realities (the “I’m sorry, did you say gaming inside of artwork?” con) and the awesome folks putting it together asked me to say a few words for the zine. They’d heard tall tales of the welcome spiel from our Story Games Seattle open game nights, cunningly crafted to help people shake off the work day, get in the mood and bring their game.

I was supposed to keep it short. Oops. What can I say, some things were just too important to leave out. Take a peek.

Welcome to the Game

The time has come to game. Are you excited? Maybe a little anxious to see what the weekend will hold? Me too.

But hold on a minute. There are a few things you probably already know, but you may forget in your white-hot excitement to sit down and game. Just like I know not to lock my keys in the car, and yet there I am, standing in the parking lot, pounding on the window, screaming why god why. So let’s take a moment and chat.

Gaming With Strangers

First things first. Look around you. Probably a lot of unfamiliar faces. Guess what? You’re going to game with those people, a lot of whom are total strangers.

What we’re here to do–gaming–is actually kind of amazing. You’re going to try to make something creative, but instead of just making something you like, you’re going to collaborate with a bunch of other people and try to make something cool together. Now add in that you have no clue what those other people like and dislike, and they know as little about you.

It’s crazy. Even making conversation with someone you just met can be challenging. But forget that, you’re going to try to build and share something fascinating and exciting. You’re going to go way out on a limb, creatively, and hope–hope!–that these total strangers are on the same page as you. It’s really not a trivial thing. It’s actually insanely brave of you. Kudos, right off the bat.

There’s a flip-side too. Remember that everyone else at the table is going out on a limb just as much as you. Give them a hand. Try, really try, to understand what they’re trying to contribute. Making stuff up on the fly in a way that is clear and concise is really, really hard, so when someone is fumbling around trying to describe something and it isn’t making sense to you, or you don’t get why they’re bringing it up, don’t just shrug and move on. Stop and ask them to clarify. Help them get their idea across. Be genuinely interested in what they’re trying to do.

When other players say things, no matter how random it seems, they probably have a reason. They’re trying to get a point across or introduce some idea. Listen. Ask questions. You’re all in it together. If you understand where they’re coming from, your game will be infinitely better.

Say Hello & Name Your Games

Want to know a really simple thing that will help a ton, but you’re going to forget to do? Introduce yourself. Yep. Everyone’s going to be excited to start playing, but do yourselves a huge favor and take five minutes to introduce yourselves and (even more critically) list the games you’ve played before. Knowing what kind of games everyone’s played will make it much easier to get what they’re thinking (or not understanding) about the game you’re playing right now. And nothing will improve your game, nothing in the world, like understanding the other players better.

Oh, and if this is your very first time playing a role-playing game? Don’t hang your head in shame–that’s awesome! Every player at the table will be _stoked_ to have you there. Seriously, wait and see.

The Veil

And that brings us to that most mysterious and crucial part of hardcore gaming, The Veil. Games about real and serious things can delve into some real and serious issues. It may be more than you bargained for. You may be confronted with subject matter you just aren’t comfortable with.

Here’s the thing: no matter what the issue is, or why you aren’t comfortable, you don’t have to explain or justify. Just tell the other people that you’d like to “draw a veil” over that issue and >boom< we'll skip it. Particularly with strangers, everyone at the table should know they have the right to draw the Veil, whenever and however they want. Explain it at the start of every game, without fail. You don't have to go into specifics of what issues may come up, because frankly you never know what will come up or what will offend particular people, but make it very, very clear that the Veil is always welcome, never questioned. If you see someone else at the table making weird faces and you think they are having a bad reaction to the content but they don't feel comfortable speaking up, don't put that person on the spot. Ask the other players if the material should be Veiled, like you just thought it up. Once it's on the table you may get the weak nod that means "oh yes please for the love of god let's not do that part anymore." You may also find that the person you thought was in distress isn't bothered by what you thought at all. It costs nothing to find out this way.

Bring The Fun

Last but not least, bring the fun. Don’t wait to be entertained. Gaming is not passive media, it’s a team sport. Bringing your best game will make the game fun for you and everyone else. The other players will do the same for you. Or to put it another way, “Ask not what the game can do for you. Ask what you can do for the game…”

See you in Olympia…

    Ben Robbins | May 28th, 2011 | , | leave a comment