Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What Makes a Good Player? Reflections

On October 1, I announced the What Makes a Good Player? series. It's been pretty great, and I wanted to give a brief review of some of what I think has come through as important in the interviews. For sure, none of these are strict guidelines, and they might not work for everyone, but they're good ideas to keep in mind. My little analysis is below! Thank you so much for reading.

I asked the interviewees:
What do you try to do most often while playing games to enhance your experience and the experience of others?
The biggest trends I saw here were group character development (banter, relationship development) and creative involvement (drawing character portraits, helping others with their characters), and sharing the spotlight. When we think about good players, I wonder how many people think of clever or snarky people who are entertaining, but might not share the spotlight much? I know I used to fall into this trap, where I thought that the person with the most laughs or the coolest moves was the best player, but now I'm seeing that I (personally) enjoy players who know how to tell their own story while letting others tell their own, too.
Do you use any specific play techniques (narrative tools, improv tools, etc.) in your play sessions?
This was interesting because almost everyone uses the improv tool of "yes, and..." I'm familiar with the technique from before I played games much, and before I used it in games. Improv tools can be very useful, but I honestly sometimes feel locked down by them in games. Being open to suggestions and not blocking people can be valuable, yes. However, I created Script Change in response to the ever-present expectation of saying "yes, and..." without any means of taking respectful control of the narrative. It interests me to know that so many players put huge value on accepting the suggestions of their peers, while I personally prefer to be able to say "No, but..." some of the time, too. Does that make me a bad player?
How often do you like to game, and what is most comfortable for you to maintain good energy in games?
This response went everywhere from "whenever I can" to "have to game at least once a week," which is a fascinating turn of events. I was expecting a lot of people to fall into the range of weekly, or biweekly. Instead there is a lot of flexibility in the responses, factoring in adult life and health considerations, as well as general energy. As someone who has too busy a schedule to game recently, it gave me a little comfort to see that even good players have a need for down time.
What kind of games do you feel you are most comfortable with and enjoy the most?
I enjoyed reading these responses, because while there were some trends (Powered by the Apocalypse games, for one), there was a fair amount of diversity in game preferences. Some people liked parlor larps, others liked D&D 3.5 (my favorite of D&D). There were PbtA fans, but others liked Fate. Some players expressed a preference for mechanics - some crunchy, some not. As someone whose taste ranges widely in games for different types of games and different settings, I thought that was really cool to see - being a good player isn't restricted to a type of game or mechanical structure. Some of the players expressed genre preferences, while others just cared about experience - enthusiasm, enjoyment, and so on.
Can you share a special experience in a game where you felt like you did a good job playing your part in the overall story and game?
This was a fun section to read! I really recommend checking out everyone's stories about games where they felt like they did a good job. While I know it can be hard to recognize our abilities and skills, especially when it comes to things like influencing other people's enjoyment, it's always nice to see someone talk about their positive actions. Some players talked about ways they changed up standard expectations of play, while others talked about how they perceived characters or gameplay differently than others. I really loved where people talked about influencing even the themes of the entire game, because it really shows how much one player can do. 


There are a lot of takeaways from this for me, but I'll try to bullet list them:
  • There is no restriction on who can be a good player, regardless of their background or their familiarity with the game or type of interaction with the game.
  • Any type of RPG can have good roleplayers.
  • There are intersections between playing games and our health and wellbeing, including our energy levels and interest.
  • There are things you can learn that help you understand roleplaying better and that make it easier for you to participate, but you can get along just fine without them. No "skills" are required.
  • There is no one way to be a good roleplayer.

During the time I was working on the series, there were a number of discussions about good player habits and behaviors on Google+ that I wanted to talk about a little. The first I read was from Paul Beakley discussing "Talky-Talky Games" and as a followup, Christian Griffen continued the discussion and they both had really good points, some of which match up with or expand upon my notes above and those of my interviewees.

Christian mentions Play Unsafe by Graham Walmsley, which is a great resource for new players and legacy players alike. I enjoyed reading it, and I will note that those with history of improv will recognize some tips and concepts within it. 

I really hope that you all enjoyed reading this series, and that you'll revisit them after this post. I know that it was a really great experience for me to do all of these interviews and learn about these players and their experiences. Share your good player stories in the comments and shares of this post, and tag me in to see!

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