The in-game story of the board game Monopoly is that a group of investors are all competing with one another to purchase and monetize as many properties as possible. At the end of the game, all of these investors total up their money and someone finishes the game with the most – A clear winner. The game is over. The story ends.
Role-playing games aren’t like board games. When our characters finish a story, defeating the villain and achieving the reward, the game doesn’t end. No one “wins” in that traditional fashion. The game continues, the characters move on, the story turns into a new beginning for a different tale.
This unique element of role-playing led me to my gaming philosophy: The only way to win an RPG is to have fun.
Looking at LARP through a lens of having fun helps me to keep my investment in check, maintain a healthy attitude about game, play for the right reasons and, perhaps most importantly, it helps me to quickly recognize and avoid the jerk-faces and stupidity that the out-of-character drama of LARPing is so easily consumed with. I paint everything I do in our hobby with that statement. I believe it so fully, I even wrote an entire book on game theory centered upon that ideal.
At it’s most basic, watered-down level, having fun happens by playing a game while in character, and acting like mature adults who are part of a friendly community when not in-character.
If that sounds familiar, it is because this philosophy has become embraced by many of the people in Underground Theater. It has even become part of our Mission Statement and part of how we run our organization. We do our best to be a new kind of LARP organization where friendship and community matters more than XP and special snowflakes.
Recently, Underground Theater has seen an uptick in out-of-character issues – Issues that gamers should know will be issues before they even get involved in them. Worse, many of these involve people who should know better than to be engaged in those kinds of activities.
In a simple world, we would just tell gamers to quite being jerk-faces and to stop the stupidness. We would suggest people go to their LSTs before escalating questions or issues to Facebook or to Board Members or even to the Ombudsman. We would note to gamers that if you think what you’re doing is shifty, it probably is. We would point out that if you keep finding yourself in the middle of problematic OOC drama, you’re probably doing something that’s bringing it about and you need to figure out what that is and change it, instead of solely blaming those around you.
In a simple world, we would encourage everyone to consider whether or not they would be okay with others doing what they are doing before taking part in questionable activities. We would remind people this is just a game, and that we’re a group of friends who are part of a community of gamers and that kindness and understanding are more important than our characters getting experience points or successfully stomping another character.
But let’s be honest with ourselves: In a game based on character versus character politics, sometimes it’s difficult to keep our heads above water. So instead, let’s view this as an opportunity to help one another and our gaming community.
If the goal is to win, and winning is having fun, then even the most simple of actions have considerations that are greater than just the action itself. Every action affects an aspect of the game, and those aspects all affect whether or not players are having fun in our community. We should consider these aspects when facing out-of-character decisions and actions. I believe that the four most important aspects of a game that must be considered when making decisions are: People, The Game, Characters and finally, Story.
The most important aspect is People. The real life people who play in your game, their feelings and their happiness are the most important thing to consider when making decisions or taking actions. A player having fun is dependent on that player feeling safe, welcomed and happy. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what happens to our characters as long as our players are having fun.
The second most important aspect is The Game. By this, I mean the game as a whole, in its entirety – From the rules to the organization to your local troupe. You must consider the overall “everything” that makes up the game. Consider what is best for the players, and then consider what’s best for the game itself.
Thirdly, consider the Characters in the game. How will your decision affect the characters that exist in the game you are running? Remember, players are not their characters, and what is best for the player may not be the best for the character, or vice versa.
Finally, consider how your decision will affect the story you are telling in your game.
All four of these things are important, but the people must come first, then the game as a whole, then the characters, and finally the story. Prioritizing these considerations in this way will help you make better decisions as you lead your gaming community towards better gaming. And a better game is more fun.
Drama is dumb, especially amongst our friends.
We should be playing to win, and the only way to win an RPG is to have fun.
Director of Communications