We've all heard the phrase "different strokes for different folks". Not only do people enjoy different activities, they also pursue similar activities for radically different goals.
Back in my early 20s I was still an off and on gamer. My friends and I had graduated from the more "juvenile" (as judged by the gaming zeitgeist) Dungeons and Dragons to the more "adult" World of Darkness (WOD) games published by White Wolf. These games focused on modern urban environments and featured characters like Vampires, Werewolves and other spooks. The TV series True Blood, and the Underworld film franchise, are blatant rip-offs of the WOD, as most fantasy in the 80s was inspired by D&D. Strangely, while the subject matter covered in the game books was far more "adult" in the WOD, the actual games themselves seemed less satisfying than my old high fantasy stomping grounds.
Most of my friends, in the gaming world, were die hard loyalists to one gaming system or another. They knew, at most, one to three games. I, on the other hand, enjoyed playing different games with different people. I found that each game had a unique flavor and some games, which seemed simply and silly, would result in dynamic and interesting gaming experiences, while other games, all gloss and shine, would result in lack-luster stories and frustrating encounters with the social contract as disputes over game rules, "realism" and "fairness" broke out around the gaming table.
I found myself, one day, in the "Last Grenadier" game shop, which used to be located on Reseda Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley. Next door was a sewing machine shop with a black sign styled like an old iron sewing machine. Next to that was a Psychic's office with dusty maroon curtains. It was perpetually closed. The Grenadier itself was a haphazard array of display cases and boxes. In the back of the store was a large war gaming table. There were always guys hanging around the store, and the counter was always manned by that_guy
. I liked to browse through the stacks of games from miscellaneous independent publishers, hunting for gems. I found a slim volume called "Swords and Sorcery" by Ron Edwards of Adept Press. This led me to Ron's website and the old rpg Forge site, which was a regular haunt of mine several years ago. Ron was interested in what really went on around the gaming table and, through his articles, I was introduced to "Creative Agenda" (CA) in gaming.
Gamers, and game designers, expect different things out of games. And the games themselves are geared toward facilitating different types of play. Ron outlined three primary CAs: Gamist, Simulationist and Narrativist. None are better or worse in themselves, but often the CA goes unexamined and games which purport to deliver one kind of experience are actually built in such a way to make that delivery impossible (or at least very, very, difficult). The WOD games are a great example. They pretend to be "storytelling" games, more concerned with producing a quality narrative than overcoming difficult challenges or immersing the participants in a dream-world, but the game system is a kind of sim-gamist hybrid so it simply won't do what it promises to do. The only way you can "make it work" (deliver the narrativist goods) is by breaking it, which usually means falling back on the social contract to arbitrate disputes. More often than not, WOD game sessions either fizzle and die as people burn out and move on to greener pastures (the next WOD game product), or morph into bizarre astral fantasy sessions built around the idiosyncratic quirks of the geeks and goths drawn to the gaming table.
If you sit down to play a game, with the assumption that it is going to give you experience A, and it, in fact, gives you experience B, you're not going to be happy. However, you might not realize WHY you're unhappy. You might blame the other people at the table. You might blame yourself, but you're unlikely to blame the rules of the game. Why? Because most gamers have only played a few games - almost all of which were designed by people who grew up playing D&D, which evolved from war-gaming. They assume things MUST be a certain way because that's just "how things are". Here's an example of what I mean:The bitterest role-player in the world... This person prefers a role-playing game that combines Gamist potential with Simulationist hybrid support, such that a highly Explorative Situation can evolve, in-game and without effort, into a Challenge Situation...
He probably developed his role-playing preferences in highly-Drifted AD&D2 or in an easily-Drifted version of early Champions, both of which he probably describes as playing "correctly" relative to other groups committed to these games.
This man (I've met no women who fit this description) is cursed. He's cursed because the only people who can enjoy playing with him, and vice versa, are those who share precisely his goals, and these goals are very easily upset by just about any others.
His heavy Sim focus keeps away the "lite" Gamists who like Exploration but not Simulationism.
The lack of metagame reward system keeps away most Gamists in general.
Hard Core Gamists will kick him in the nuts every time, just as they do to Simulationist play.
Most Simulationist-oriented players won't Step Up - they get no gleam in their eye when the Challenge hits, and some are even happy just to piddle about and "be."
Just about anyone who's not Gamist-inclined lumps him with "those Gamists" and writes him off.
I've known several of these guys. They are bitter, I say. Imagine years of just knowing that your "perfect game" is possible, seeing it in your mind, knowing that if only a few other people could just play their characters exactly according to the values that you yourself would play, that your GM-preparation would pay off beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Now imagine years of encountering all the bulleted points above, over and over.
At present, I have no suggestions to help them, just as I cannot help those who expect to see "story" consistently emerge from play that does not prioritize it.
- From Here
I hope that wasn't too "jargony" for you and I don't want to pick on those who prefer gamist play (I often enjoy it myself). The point I'm trying to make here is that if a game isn't giving you the experience you thought it would, you have to consider the system itself. Sometimes it just won't do what you think it should do. Sometimes it's a hybrid, with a functional core CA, but it's loaded down with a lot of dead weight, imported from other systems, built around other CAs, that the author just assumed would fit. The proof of the gaming is in the playing.