Players as audience, and why we shouldn't forgive

We have learned to be a forgiving audience. This is not necessarily a good thing.

I used to be a huge fan of CSI. None of the spin-offs, just the original Gil Grissom CSI in Las Vegas. They used all sorts of fancy technologies to solve crimes, they provided twists and turns, and they showed a genuine nerdish excitement for technology. Gadgets: for justice! But the show wasn’t real to life: in the end it was a drama, and it took certain liberties: The speed in which evidence could be processed, the expenditure on resources in order to solve cases. These were never things that bothered me so they never really impinged.

Then there’s the movie Hackers. Lot’s of people love that movie: I can’t stand it. ignoring all the rest of my reasons (the ridiculous poserness of it all, the “You should like us because we’re cool and against the man” crap) my real problem comes down to technology: that hacking involves flying around in some weird cityscape? What was all that typing they were doing? if it was inputting commands, then should they be seeing those commands to proofread? if it’s just flying around, what kind of idiot interface demands full speed typing in order to navigate a city block? Couldn’t deal with it, and there wasn’t enough reason for me to want to suspend disbelief.

I didn’t have to forgive CSI: it never bothered me in the first place. I would have to forgive Hackers too much for it to be enjoyable. Let’s look at one more example, Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Great show. Incredible fun to watch, sex and violence with complicated character desires and motivations. But a lot to forgive: Stupid over the top posing montage’s, grossly over-the-top gore that really can be pandering to the very same “bread and circus” thing that the show means to portray. I choose to overlook these things, I put up with them so that I can get the things I want out of the show: The politics, the interpersonal drama, Lucy Lawless in flagrante delicto. Totally worth it.

So, the reason I bring all this up: I’m of the opinion that being a forgiving audience in an RPG is a bad idea. Not the CSI variety, but definitely the Hackers variety and probably the Spartacus variety. We are not the once-removed consumer that other media has: The act of creating the story is not removed in time from us taking it in, creation and consumption are not so divided. But as players, we often have this “well, I

don’t want to step on his/her/it’s fun, so I’ll just let that pass.” I know there’s a number of times in my gaming where someone will say a thing, I won’t be convinced that it makes sense, but I’ll let it pass because I don’t want to be a dick. Make no mistake, that is also a possibility, but I think games succeed better if you are willing to step up and demand from the game those things that you want from it.

In “Dogs in the Vineyard” Baker says the following about making up a fallout trait: “All of these many choices you get to make, whatever you choose, you have to justify it out of the events of the conflict. If any of your fellow players can’t see it, you have to explain better, say more, and win that person over.” It’s a variation of a thing that is often said in most games, even if the only person you need to convince is the DM. While I think the relationship with central authority is much more fraught, making that decision the provenance of all the players at the table means that everybody can be as exacting as they want to be. When I watch Spartacus on TV, I take some pretty unappetizing stuff in so that I can get the good stuff. If I play an Agon game based on the same, I don’t need to do that: I can pipe up and say “Your COMPLETELY covered in blood, which then fountains up from his head stump to spatter the nearby crowd? Erm…” If we as players are honestly being open and accepting, are working together to facilitate each others fun, then that shouldn’t be a problem, it should be a meeting point, a negotiation where we find the answer that is palatable to everyone. Unless something is a must-have, me seeking out my own fun shouldn’t be a threat to another player.

I wonder if there is a weird friction here with the immersive play, with the edict to “trust that others will respect your vision of the character.” But I don’t think this is really a problem: I can respect your vision while still not being able to swallow some particular element, as long as I’m doing so because “I don’t buy that happening” is not just code for “That’s not what I would have happen.”

4 thoughts on “Players as audience, and why we shouldn't forgive

  1. Cool article. In relation to your most recent episode, do you think the dynamic to be more or less forgiving changes between longer and shorter games?

  2. I don’t think it matters. For long or short games, the matter is all in the moment: can you work with what is right in front of you? Just be critical about what you’re doing right here right now.

    Though, honestly? I’d probably be more demanding in a long term game, because whatever is created now is possibly part of the session not only next week, but 3 months down the line. If something is going to bother me every time it comes up, better to nip it in the bud earlier rather than later.

  3. There is actually already a term for what you’ve just written about. It’s called “suspension of disbelief” and is the key element in bringing an audience along on whatever journey you happen to be taking onstage, on camera or on the page. It has been studied and debated and re-defined oodles of times over the years. Here’s more info, in case you’d like to see how Samuel Coleridge and his contemporaries put their ideas together.

  4. oh yeah, I know the term. Just didn’t use it for some reason. I could have said “we shouldn’t be forgiving of things that challenge our suspension of disbelief.” Though that is not the entirety of what I’m saying.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *