A Socratic View of Role Playing and Hobby Gaming

I find myself with more ideas for games than opportunity to make notes and build them. More seeds for campaigns than I have time to prepare and write them out. I’m in a position where the creative urge has to be throttled, disciplined and constrained.

With so many ideas flowing past it’s important to resist the urge to simply move onto the newest concept. I have to be strong and focus on the completion of a project. That requirement means justifying the investment and discerning which game is most deserving.

I’ve had to peer at my hobby and get to grips with what purpose it serves in my life and how to gather the best advantage from the game.

We game for the fun of it, or we’re doing it wrong.

Why do we game?

My own philosophical out look on life heavily leans on the idea that we are Pattern Matching Machines. Inside a game the strategies and tactics to success follow patterns. Whether you are placing meeples with the best of them, or interacting with the tropes and anti-tropes of heroic fiction the opportunity to pick up on familiar triggers is a strong lure.

Play is a form of training, from the rough and tumble of lion cubs learning to hunt through to the complex simulation of piloting a passenger jet – play establishes a stimuli-response relationship that prepares us for real life encounters.

Role-Play allows us to practice alternate interactions, putting on different roles and stretching our social skills into new arenas. Sat around a table with friends and peers we can face moral dilemmas from a position of safety, follow through our decisions and theorise the outcomes and consequences. We can better know ourselves by finding out how we feel about the direction our characters travel in their make believe lives. This is why we generally play roles that vary wildly from our own everyday character. We explore areas that we cannot in real life, and in so doing learn more about the way we would respond to danger, excitement, adversity etc.

On the surface of these deeper observations we game for the fun of it, or we’re doing it wrong. The challenges and scenarios should be comfortable enough not to cause distress. Keeping your players challenged but entertained is the key to a successful game. Complex puzzles will frustrate. Adult content may disturb. Childish issues will patronise. A game must prove relevant and engaging, knowledge of your players interests, distastes and maturity are key to writing a scenario that will keep them playing.

So we game for fun and for profit. We learn and grow through healthy expression and self inspection. A game is more than just a way to kill an evening with friends.

What game should I play?

The options I have piled together in my creative corner are many. And most would serve well with the above as a guideline. I am working on a fantasy campaign, with a high cinematic themes, and a narrative led resolution. The stories I have planned are mostly episodic, and I may be depending too much on Cultural Awareness for some of the plot elements I’m using.

I am working to prepare as much as I can for this campaign. The setting is more diverse than I would normally use, but that’s probably giving too much away. I want to have a good base of data from which I can improvise scenes. In the end though will I know when to stop with the prep and start to play?