It's important (I think) to point out that none of the examples in my last post have any kind of conflict of creative agenda (in the gamist/narrativist/simulationist sense). While I have encountered CA conflicts in the past (notably with AD&D, Over the Edge, and various White Wolf games), in the examples listed all the players were on the same page with regard to what we were "playing for." The "disconnection" I'm writing about is one in which PC objectives get supplanted.
What do I mean by "supplanted?" Well, I mean the objectives are suppressed and replaced...and generally this is done in the name of fulfilling the cooperative spirit of the game:
In example #1 the GM is suppressing specific PC objectives in order to provide inclusive cooperative scenarios.
In example #2 the players are suppressing the PC objectives for acting against the group consensus of "right" behavior in-game.
In (hypothetical) example #3 the GM is suppressing the PC objectives for acting against the group's (out-of-game) moral considerations.
In example #4 the GM is suppressing all PC objectives in order to fulfill a campaign objective (in hopes this will lead to "cooperative play").
Why is this a big deal? Why do we care if specific objectives of an imaginary player character gets suppressed, or supplanted, or "put off for awhile?" Why does it matter.
Well, back in Part 1 of this series, I postulated that ROLE-PLAYING is:
Player objective (out of game) matching Character objective (in game)
And you may say, so what if it is?
Well...if role-playing is player objective matching character objective and you are halting this process, then you are halting role-playing. And if you do that, then what are you left with?
Or, to put it another way:
IF the main thing a role-playing game has over a computer game or a board game or a war game is its ability to provide a role-playing experience, THEN that experience needs to be encouraged and nurtured, not suppressed and supplanted.
Now let's go back to that original postulated theorem: that role-playing IS "character objective and player objective meeting." What the hell is this supposed to look like exactly? Are we talking play-acting with a funny voice? Are we talking about writing pages of backstory and background for a character?
Not at all.
If I say, "I'm a dwarven adventurer, I make my living scouring dark holes looking for treasure (because it pays better than working as a blacksmith)," you're on your way to role-playing. It's as simple as that.
And as hard as that...if during the game you can sit down at the table and say (to yourself):
Given that I'm a dwarf...what would I do in this situation?
...then you ARE role-playing.
And there are certainly different levels or qualities to role-playing...some people may have more specific objectives (as I stated originally) than others. And the more specific and concrete those objectives, the deeper or more "enriched" the role-playing experience. For example:
Given that I'm a dwarven exile who feels he has lost his honor and can only be redeemed through death in battle...what would I do in this situation?
Given that I am a crippled dwarf who has never felt worthy of his beard and needs to prove himself useful, as a person and as a member of the Black Rock Clan...what would I do in this situation?
...can lead to a different quality of role-playing than simply, "I'm a dwarf...dig?"
Notice that role-playing (by MY definition) has nothing to do with finding a way to use tactical feats or "daily powers" or healing surges in order to defeat monsters. That's World of Warcraft stuff, not role-playing. Likewise, my definition of role-playing has nothing to do with considering "how can I make the overall story more interesting by using metagame mechanics to screw with this imaginary character?" That may be fun for collaborative story-telling, but it's not role-playing...not in my book anyway.
The challenge is this: given the cooperative nature of RPGs (that's "social contract," son...we're all in this together, playing a game), how does one reconcile disparate character objectives?
BECAUSE if you CANNOT reconcile those disparate objectives, then SOMEONE's opportunity to have an enriching role-playing experience is going to get stepped on and/or squashed.
And we don't want that.
Are you folks grokking my point here? Let me give you an example from my own waaaay back past:
I was a player in an AD&D campaign. I had specific, powerful objectives for my character. Other players in the campaign had their own objectives (as all role-players willing to invest some time in their characters/campaign are wont to do). However, for whatever reason, my character's particular "story arc" was pursued a bit more closely than others and ended up (more or less) taking over the entire campaign. We went from a cooperative game experience to "the JB show."
Not that it wasn't fun, not that it wasn't memorable, not that it wasn't interesting and had lots of role-playing opportunities for everyone. But the other players went from being protagonists in their own right to "supporting characters" of my own PC's story.
That's ugly. That's not what promotes long-term growth of the hobby. That's not what the game is supposed to be about. If it was, then there really would be "winners and losers." In this particular instance, I can say "I won." Because MY PC objectives (my role-playing goals) took precedence over everyone else's objectives.
In part 3 of this series, I closed by saying "here's what I'd like to see happen." Well, here it is:
- I want to see players role-play to the extent that they feel comfortable.
- I want to see player/character objectives (the heart if not definition of "role-playing") honored by both the game master and others.
- I want to see a game system that reflects these values, rewarding players for role-playing, AND
- I want to see a game system that does this while still allowing the players to proceed together, in cooperation, towards a consensus campaign/adventure/scenario goal.
In the game I'm currently writing (the fantasy cyberpunk RPG), I am including these ideas as priorities of design, specifically with regard to the development (aka "advancement") system. Personally, I think I've managed to make it consistent and coherent enough that it can work the way I want it (though it will need some strong instruction and examples). From now on, I intend to include these priorities in ALL future design projects.
Which may be slightly problematic for the space opera game (it will certainly require a lot of thought due to the scattered nature of a game spread out across a million million star systems).