In-game, my players are usually pretty good. Some are louder than others, but everyone generally acts like they want to be there and want to play. Out of game is a different issue entirely. As a GM, a lot of prep I do and generally most of the work I do to make my games work happens outside of the session time, and since I’m writing with my players in mind I often want their feedback, or sometimes just some engagement with the material. For the most part, I don’t get it.
I’m aware a good part of this is uneven levels of buy-in and commitment. In running a game, I’m automatically more committed to the game’s success, and to creating a game world that works. Clearly having a more detailed game world and more hooks for my players benefits my players, but working on those things is not really part of the player’s social contract. Generally speaking players are expected to show up and play, with a minor exception if you want them to show up with a completed character.
I don’t have a problem with this being the extent of the social contract. I think my issue is more that I conflate how I direct my enthusiasm for a game (writing about the game, planning the game, talking up the game) with how others direct their enthusiasm. It makes me think all of my players are significantly less enthusiastic about the game than they may be. The other thing is that I really like my little worlds, which means I look for opportunities to engage with them even outside the once-a-week session. My players, unsurprisingly, do not.
So I’m coming to peace with the fact that just because my players don’t respond to my Facebook posts or give feedback to any of my writing does not mean they don’t enjoy my games. That said, I would like them to do these things. How to make that work? The most common method I’ve heard from other GMs is outright bribery; give some XP for completing a character profile, NPC profile, or session summary. It works, don’t get me wrong, and it’s not even a bad incentive structure: in-game rewards for interacting with the game world. I worry more about it because of player balance and how to give awards that are significant while not being unfair. When I was playing in a 4e D&D campaign, the DM gave 1000XP for session summaries. At our fairly high level, this wasn’t enough to push things out of whack, but did seem like a reward, as opposed to a trifle or a pittance. In Apocalypse World, which will be the next game I’m running, each advance requires marking five XP…so is an award of one XP appropriate? It may be, especially since the game already allows for uneven advancement between players, even to the point where a player can retire a character and start a new one in the middle of a game. It could work.
I still am going to wish that my players would contribute to this sort of thing of their own volition. Still, between understanding that not doing so is not passing judgment on my game and understanding that I don’t always jump to those things for other people’s games, I can be more comfortable only getting engagement when the sessions roll around. We’ll see if I hold myself to that before getting annoyed again.