The Reluctant Gamer
by, 02-20-2012 at 09:08 PM (1255 Views)
I've been noticing more and more that gamers tend to focus on one game, and one game only. They may be a fan of literature or movies that span several genres (Fantasy, SciFi, Cyberpunk, Post Apocalypse, etc) but will only play one genre. And sometimes these players will go so far as to dismiss, or express disgust over, the other genres in context of gaming. Players and GMs alike find themselves frustrated when confronted with a gamer like this, and find themselves equally at a loss in finding a way to engage this player in games outside the restriction they place on themselves. In some cases you'll find yourself fighting a losing battle, but in others you may have a chance if you can determine exactly what circumstances cause the issue in the first place.
There appears to be several reasons for this narrowing of focus in gaming. Of course, it may simply be just a case where the player truly doesn't feel motivated to play the other genres or games. In this case, trying to talk them into it isn't going to get very far, and pressuring them will just annoy. After all, it's a preference thing, and everyone is entitled to have a favorite game or genre. It's not unheard of for someone who would otherwise not be a gamer make an exception for one game or genre.
But other reasons for this narrow focus in gaming are not so understandable when scrutinized. Every GM has run across the player (and sometimes, players run across the GM) that will only play one game because “That's what (s)he knows how to play)” and the individual doesn't want to spend the time learning a new system, or even play a different genre using the same system as the one they're familiar with. (For instance, a player familiar with Hero: Champions not wanting to play Star Hero). This may tie into the aforementioned “I only want to play this” mindset, or it may be due to a lack of confidence in being able to do well in the new game. (“I won't know what I'm doing, and I'll look stupid.”) If it's a case of the latter, the best one can hope for is an eventual change of mind brought about by patient explanations, maybe telling the player a few stories from adventures in a particular game. You might try taking the time to sit with the player in a non-game setting and flip through some books, letting him/her see some of the ideas, concepts, and artwork to be found in the game. Maybe even try a character generation, not with the pressure to play, but “just so you can see how it works”. After a few times like this, the reluctant player may decide on their own to give it a try after all. They'll have had the time to ease into learning the system, and character generation, and the setting, without the pressure to hurry up in order to join an impending game. And sometimes removing that pressure, that sense of urgency, is enough to help them relax enough to realize that it could be fun after all.
Another cause that I have seen all too often is the "bad experience" syndrome. The player (or even the GM) had an experience with the game that was less than stellar, and for whatever reason, can't separate the experience from the game, or even the genre. I have seen this scenario play out more often than I'd care to believe possible. My wife (who started gaming with me even before we started dating) is a prime example. She'd been in games where the GM was best described as "broken" or "dysfunctional", and because of that experience she didn't want to play the games she associated with the bad experience. (Star Wars, HERO: Champions, Werewolf, etc). It wasn't till she listened in on the preparation for these games with my group that she decided - reluctantly - to give these games a second chance. Upon playing the game with different people, she was actually surprised at how much fun she had - a profound revelation, indicating how much the bad experience had affected her opinion of the game itself. A bad GM can also give the impression that the game system is “broken”, when in reality the game system works fine – provided it's being run by a competent GM. If the GM is trying to run a system (s)he's not familiar with, or if the GM failed to do basic preparation, even the simplest system can become unplayable. GMs, only you can prevent this one. Learn the game you're trying to run, prepare adequately for the game, and at the very least have a notepad with page numbers to appropriate rules/conventions used in the game.
More and more frequently, another cause for the problem has reared it's head in gaming circles. Related to “edition bias”, there are gamers who decide that they have found the “one true system” for games, and that “all other systems suck” because it isn't their favorite system (despite, in some cases, a more than passing similarity between the favored system and the despised one, e.g., AD&D 2e vs D&D 3.x vs Palladium Fantasy). Sometimes this brought about by understandable circumstances, but sometimes it's an unreasoning prejudice normally only seen among fans of sports (“I'm a Mets fan. I hate the Yankees” - actual quote from a sports fan). As excessive as it may seem to use the word “hate” over a game, sports – and gaming, it would seem – has fans that would go to that unnecessary extreme. Sometimes the player will have reasons to offer, like “That game is too complicated”, or “That game is poorly designed” (Variant: “Broken by design”). The best thing in the case of rules-medium to -heavy games is, once again, for the GM to do the necessary preparations. There are a lot of ways for a GM to streamline the flow of game play. A well-prepared GM can reduce (if not eliminate) the perception of complexity – without going through the trouble of “modding” the game, “house-ruling” it to the point of making an entirely different game. And if this sounds like too much work...well, that's a topic for a future post.