Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Players & Preferences

Most people come in roleplaying through a fairly informal process.  They play with friends, or join established groups.  While this kind of entry to gaming is fairly reliable in allowing people to identify the kinds of games they don’t enjoy, few groups actually have an explicit conversation about the kinds of gaming activities they enjoy most.  In fact I’d argue many people haven’t even given it a whole lot of thought.
And yet, when a group (collectively) fails to click with a game the consequences can be severe.  Perhaps more insidiously, groups might spend years playing games that, whilst enjoyable to some extent, don’t actually press their buttons.

This issue is compounded by the fact that within the group tastes may vary considerably, and that many people actually like a lot of different elements in different combinations.  Consider the following list for example:
  • Exploring ideas and concepts
  • Exploring settings or environments
  • Investigating mysteries and interacting with NPCs
  • Battling and defeating foes
  • Developing a story about the characters
  • Acquiring new powers, expertise or items
  • Interacting with the other players in character
  • Developing innovative solutions to intractable problems
The chances are good that most players will enjoy all these elements to some extent, but they probably also have several that they enjoy over the others.

Now consider the social inhibitions commonly associated with gaming.  The GM often runs the game they want to play without necessarily having regard to the preferences of the players, on the basis that they will invest more time into making the game successful.

Then there the myriad of complex relationships between players – are they friends outside the game?  Are some ‘tenured’ while others are relative newcomers?  Have some invested in specific game books?  Plus, the aforementioned possibility that they may not actually have given a whole lot of thought to their actual preferences, or simply enjoy the social activity irrespective of game.

So, how to reveal the preferences of players?  Here are two suggestions:

Explicit question: contact the players individually and ask them what kinds of activities they enjoy most; ideally as a hierarchy using a list like the above, as it’s likely that people will enjoy all of those activities to some extent, or in a particular context.

Observe and assess:  watch how your players respond to specific sessions containing different mixes of the above elements.  This will likely also reveal the group dynamic to some extent and give you a good feeling for where respective preferences sit around the table.

Suffice to say, that I’ve observed that the preferences of the players in my group (collectively) are not actually what I would have previously thought them to be, and since I’ve tried to find a game that better suits their preferences, people have been having more fun.

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