The Gaming Experience and Virginity

I want to expand on an idea I just tweeted.
The desire for Old Skool gaming is the quixotic quest to re-experience gaming for the first time. http://bit.ly/dbopYY - From @gelconf
The video shows a talk from 2009's Gel Conference given by a sleight-of-hand magician named Jamy Ian Swiss.  He talks about user experience and how marketing is about empathy, about connecting with people, about getting inside your audience's head and telling a story that resonates with the person going through the experience you're providing.  At the end, he does a magic trick with a volunteer to illustrate his point.  Trick is, the volunteer is the only one who can't see how the trick works - then he apologizes to the audience for spoiling the experience of that trick for them forever.


He talks about magicians losing their "visual virginity" and how they can't see anything with innocent eyes any more since they know the trick and their job is to fool the audience.


How does this tie to gaming?  Many of the laments I've heard over the past few years are tied to re-experiencing the sense of magic in games.  "Today's games aren't as good/exciting/mysterious/wonderful as the games in the old days."


The games haven't changed.  We have.  We've lost our gaming virginity.  We've played and discovered and learned, and now our minds have categorized and been limited by our experiences with the games we've played.  We know not to try things because they don't work well.  We know that D&D isn't great for non-combat encounters since the point of the game as written is to meet interesting monsters, beat them up, and loot the bodies.  We know the Monster Manual entries.  We memorized THACO tables.  Fill in your own examples, you've got plenty to choose from.


Point is, we'll never have that experience of newness ever again because of our past experience with the game.  We've lost our innocence, and that means we've learned to limit ourselves.  The glory of children comes from their fearlessness, their lack of knowledge of what's possible, and their ability to throw their entire selves into what they do.  How many 40 year olds do you see balancing on one foot on the back of the sofa in an attempt to do a flip?  Not too many.

In our quest to discover what the game's all about, we paint more details onto our mental model of the game, and we eventually make that mental model solid, unchanging, brittle, and much less fun.


We have ways around this to re-inject a sense of wonder into the game:
1) Become a GM.  Game Masters perform magic by bringing a world to life.  They can take their knowledge and relive their innocence vicariously through their players.  Nothing is more satisfying to me as a GM than watching a player's face light up because they've had a breakthrough in the context of the game.


2) Have experiences in new contexts.  Whether you play a new game system every month, or shake it up and do a game at a con instead of at the dining room table, changing the context can change the game.  I remember my first LARP experience - at one point I was huddled in a bathroom in a friend's apartment ready to cast a teleport spell because the lynch mobs ran the streets.  It felt real because I let myself get into my character and I had no expectations about what was possible.


3) Remove the system.  Much of the shared experience comes from the shared rule set.  A player may know more about how the rules work than the GM does.  In the past I have removed the rules from the game with success.  Players create their characters and then I gathered all the character sheets during play.  The players focus more on the world of the game since they don't have a list of pre-fab rule options on a sheet in front of them.  The extreme result of this is to play without rules at all, but that requires absolute trust between every person in the entire group.


I may focus some of these ideas into another post, but I just wanted to get my ideas down before life washed them away.

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