Things I Hate In RPGs (And Sometimes Gamers)

Here goes my break from blogging, because I found something I have to write about.

I’ve had a couple conversations recently that have been a bit frustrating in the relative pig-headedness of the other person. One of those was a bizarre PM conversation with someone on RPG.Net. It went kind of like this:

Them: “Fate can’t do Blue Planet well. Fate is genre emulation and Blue Planet has no genre.”
Me: “You can do it by doing this and this.”
Them: “But that’s cheating because you’d have to put a subsystem in place that wasn’t there before.”
Me: “…”

As a result, I’m putting this up as my (likely incomplete) list of Things I Hate in RPGs.

Nothing else needs to be said

Genre Emulation As A Goal: Genre emulation is a crock of shit. That might be a strong term – at the very least its use in the conversation above is. People use “genre emulation” to justify why their favorite game is better, or another game sucks. It falls under the same asshattery that demands paladins do certain things because they’re Lawful Good or accuses games that dare to have meta game mechanics of  “not being roleplaying games”.

Good games don’t enforce genre. They enable it. Typically this is by including elements that help the feel of the game – it could be the writing, or the artwork, or the way that a particular rule or rules work. But they don’t force the game to be played a certain way. Mekton Zeta – considered an “anime” genre game – has nothing in it that forces things to be “anime-like”. Once you get rid of the hair color chart, and artwork, and strip down the construction system and remove any giveaway terms like “Beam Saber” or Transformation, it’s just a good, fun game. That’s because Mike Pondsmith is a good game designer and knows games aren’t a straitjacket.

To address the paraphrased conversation above, by definition Fate Core has no genre. It has a built-in set of assumptions about game play – notably that the player characters are competent, or that fiction takes precedence over physics – but otherwise it provides a set of tools to help the table mold the rules to the game they want to play, and for everyone to provide narrative input. Does that mean Fate Core is a good fit for any kind of game? Of course not, but that’s a taste and style preference more than anything. Just setting boundaries and defining aspects in a certain direction is going to help enable particular genre tropes. The game itself doesn’t have super-specific genre rules. Spirit of the Century may have, but Fate Core is not Spirit of the Century.

Realism  As A Goal: This one is going to be a landmine topic. I don’t give a damn if a game’s rules are “realistic”. Just like I don’t want to play a genre simulator, I don’t want to play a physics simulator either. For one, “realism” is another one of those things that gets trotted out as the reason why “Game X sucks”, when truly what the critic means is “Game X isn’t to my taste.” But even when I’m playing a game that is supposed to be gritty, or low powered, or whatever term you want to use, there are a whole lot of things I don’t care about. I don’t care about the rules encapsulating things like, “An unladen European can jump exactly 1.875 meters.” I do care about whether the results of applying the rules meet my expectations – how they get there is unimportant, at least in terms of the rule itself operating in a particular way. I’d use verisimilitude to describe what I look for in games, but that’s kind of crap too. A few years ago I was using the term like it was going out of style. Now I realize it’s a farce. If the rule or the results are reasonable, not boring, and I can reasonably say, “that could happen”, then I’m good. It doesn’t need to go any further than that.

Please, let’s not go there

Immersion As A Goal: Wait, this one might be the one that blows up in my face. “Hate” might – again – be a strong word. Immersion should never be the goal of a roleplaying game any more than genre or reality emulation. That doesn’t mean it’s not important or doesn’t exist. It’s just that the game should enable immersion and not enforce it – provided it’s even possible for a game to do either one in the first place. You can create a game whose goal is to enforce genre (which I think would kind of suck), you can create a game whose goal is to be “realistic” (which I know for me would suck). But you can’t in reality create a game with the goal of enforcing or preventing immersion because immersion just happens. If there’s a magic combination for making it work with genre or realism, there isn’t one for immersion because it’s entirely too personal.

Mostly I see people touting immersion over games. They say they things of the, “Game X sucks/isn’t a roleplaying game because it yanks me out of immersion” sort. Personally, I think finding games that enable immersion is a snipe hunt that people get sent on to earn their “ROLE playing not ROLL playing” merit badge. Now I know someone is going to say, “Well Game X makes immersion impossible because of the meta game rules, but Game Y doesn’t because the rules get out of the way.” Do they actually? For that person I can buy it, but not the whole game for everybody..

Unfortunately, my experience with people complaining about immersion has been colored by a few bad eggs. They were the most likely to complain that their character would never do something, justify some fucktard thing their character did, or generally be inflexible and unwilling to cooperate with anything. The excuse was always something “breaks their immersion” or “I can’t help it, that’s the way my character is.” The last person in one of my games that tried to murder the entire party because he was “in character” got bounced following that session (it wasn’t the first offense).

Now if I don’t like those things in my games or gamers, than what do I like? The first thing is balance – and not in terms of character balance. I’ll play a game that is “realistic” as long as it is enjoyable. That doesn’t mean, “I always get my way” or “I have to have a special snowflake character.” I have plenty of love for realistic systems – but they have to written to be playable and allow for meaningful choices. While I place genre embellishments (and narrative control) higher on my list of likes than re
alism, again there needs to be a balance. My favorite genre games are the ones that have nods toward their chosen genre. They don’t grab you by the throat and say, “There is only one way to play this game!” (and, as an aside, I avoid any game that says that regardless). Immersion is completely off the table when I decide if I like a game system, because I find immersion when and where I will. Most immersive roleplayers would disagree with me over what I find to be immersive anyway.

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