Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Roleplaying is a Skill

There was a fashionable topic in gaming about four years ago concerning the quality of gaming at the table. Some of the discussion was around the idea that there are some gamers who are better at gaming than others. It's a topic of perspective and expectation, of course, but I think it comes down to this: roleplaying is a skill.

Roleplaying games are a mixture of story making, improvisational acting and rules optimisation. As players (and by this I think I'll include GMs in that group) we're all involved in those three. Understanding the rules is important to playing the game the way the designer intended*. Those rules are set up with a reward system so that the player is encouraged to behave in particular ways. In order to get the most out of the game, therefore, the player needs to know the rules and get the most out of them. It's the law of self-interest in gaming. Most games facilitate that self-interest and as players we exploit those rules. That's a skill just like tax accountancy. Know the rules and get the best out of them.

Improvisational acting is a skill too. Many of us know how to make things up, but can we do it on the fly as a performance? That takes practice, ergo it's a skill. There are plenty of techniques we can employ to do it, and volumes written about it as well. We can learn it, and we should learn it.

Improv also has an element of story making in it, but it's not the only story making that goes on during a game. Sometimes we pause and talk at the table about the best choice for the next part of the story. Different players make suggestions about the next thing that would make the story enjoyable and it happens separate to acting. There are techniques in that and we gamers like to give them names. "Make failure interesting" or "fail forward" or whatever you like.

At the end of it I come back to my original thought that roleplaying is a skill. Each of us will learn it up to the point that makes it enjoyable for ourselves; self-interest again. I wonder, though, how many of us will learn it up to the point that makes it enjoyable for the others at the table. Musicians can either play guitar in their bedrooms and fantasise about performing in front of the crowds, or they can practise until their performance becomes enjoyable to an audience.

What will you do with your gaming skills? Will you keep them for your own enjoyment, or will you level up to bring enjoyment for others too?

* OK, so their intent is sometimes lost in the actual words of the text, but I hope you can run with me on this.

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