I’ve spent quite a bit of time lately listening to “let’s play” RPG podcasts and one of them has a serious love of so-called “narrative” games, games that actually accomplishing something isn’t as important as telling a good story.
I hate that.
I mean, I don’t hate telling a good story, but when it comes at the cost of having a good time, forget it. Now I’m a storyteller, but that doesn’t mean that telling stories is something that you have to do all the time. And if I’m going to be roleplaying, I want to play a role, I don’t want to be doing a bunch of random scenes, I want to be accomplishing something. I am a simulationist, not a narrativist.
And that reminds me of my time back in the old days on various MUCKs and MUDs, with people who didn’t want to be in character, they wanted to negotiate scenes. They wanted to plot out exactly what would happen before it happened because they didn’t want to be disappointed with the outcome. They wanted to write a script and read it back “on the record” so they’d have this perfect experience to remember. I can’t imagine anything more boring.
Life isn’t scripted. Life doesn’t pick the best parts to keep and pretend the rest didn’t happen. You get the good with the bad. You get the exciting with the boring. You get the successes with the failures. Not every decision will be a good one, not every move will be the best available, why should we pretend that in a roleplaying setting, that would be the case? I mean sure, we edit out things like going to the bathroom most of the time, but to think that spending time in-character just talking about the adventure ought to be left on the sidelines because it doesn’t progress your grand narrative vision, that seems boring to me. I don’t want to play a book, I want it to be spontaneous and in-character, even if it isn’t always exciting or even useful. How many conversations have I had in character that really meant nothing? Plenty. Did I enjoy them? Absolutely!
Getting back to what spurred this article, I am genuinely not enjoying these “let’s play” segments on the podcast because they don’t actually go anywhere. You get games that specify scenes to play, but these scenes don’t really get them to any conclusion of the mystery or storyline. It assumes a conclusion because it’s part of the narrative, but it doesn’t actually get them to that conclusion through gameplay. It doesn’t feel organic because it isn’t. It’s wholly artificial. There is a solution that you will get to because it’s part of the story. Your players aren’t roleplaying characters, they are simply taking the parts of characters within the story, just like sitting around a table and taking turns reading a popular fiction book with silly voices. How is this fun again? Because I just don’t see it.