roleplaying games

What do I want from this gaming thing anyway?

My two creative impulses are to write and to run games. On the surface, they seem like two different ways to do the same thing, but I find that isn’t true.

My first crossover between writing and gaming came in high school, when I wrote up a gaming session as a story for a class in high school. I got relatively high marks for the writing, but it was noted that the characters were very flat, and motivations for the whole thing were unclear. This illustrated two things: first, a writer needs to know their characters much better than a GM does; a GM has their players to manage and consider their character’s motivations. Second, a lot of roleplaying games do not automatically produce compelling characters, nor do the players need to have compelling characters to enjoy the game.

My second crossover moved in the opposite direction. My girlfriend was running a horror game for me and several of our friends. After choosing to stop running the game, she lamented that she had come up with a great story, but the characters were kind of along for the ride. This helped cement a point that myself and many GMs don’t always take to heart: when you’re running a game you aren’t writing a story, especially not before play.

Gaming is at some level about telling stories. But every person at the table is bringing part of the story there, and no one can write the story alone (that seems like a GM issue but I’ve had players try it too, with disastrous results). This goes back to my interest in systems like Apocalypse World, where “play to find out what happens” is ingrained in the game physics.

So gaming is clearly different than writing, though it’s not always clear to me why I’m so much more drawn to gaming. It’s not only that running a game is easier than writing a story (and it is), there also has to be something else, something that explains why I ache to run these games and that same ache isn’t necessarily there for my writing.

Part of it almost assuredly is process. Worldbuilding is one of my favorite parts of gaming, but it has been relatively minimized in my writing process. This may be a mistake, really. In theory, if I can figure out what about gaming makes me love it so, I think that can translate to writing. For better or worse, in games I’ve already answered (at least partially) the question of what stories I want to facilitate; when sitting down to write on my own that question isn’t nearly as clear.

If I figure out what process from running games translates to writing, I’m still not sure that the results will be the same. Gaming is also a social activity, where multiple people are bringing the stories they want to tell to your table. My experience writing fiction has always been a relatively isolating one, though that can be desirable on its own, too. But social or not, the emergent qualities of five, six or seven people all pushing on a shared world can’t be easily recreated.

So what now? My short term answer is to keep gaming, keep my mind running that way. The writing will come as I figure out what makes me so involved in the act of creating.

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