Oh, my friends there are as many answers to this question as there are people to answer it. Some of us just want to win, and that’s okay. Some of us want an activity to spend time with our friends and that’s okay. Some of us want to build worlds to share with people and that’s okay. Some of have our very own, very personal reasons for playing games, and that’s okay too.
Now this is not a dig at the people who are spectators to games. You’re all gamers too, but this is about the people who play games and the reasons and rationales behind them. Those of you who watch the streams and follow the lives are just as awesome a bunch of gamers as the ones playing, you just consume the hobby differently.
Ultimately, my friends, fellow gamers and other assorted gentle people, this is a question that you have to decide the answer to yourself. I’m going to spend a little bit of today talking about some of the reasons I enjoy playing games (and these have changed over time), and some of the motivations some of the people I have played with over the years have espoused.
Something I learned the stupid hard way is that not all of these are compatible, and that’s okay. There are some friends I don’t play specific games with because they have a marked tendency to make the game astonishingly less fun. I find other things to do with those friends.
So, let’s take a look at some of the things that motivate people into playing games, shall we?
Life is a hard thing for a lot of people, and being able to assume the role of a character that is the center of its own adventures and stories is a mighty powerful lure. If for four hours a week you could stop being Dave the account rep and turn into Hrothgar the mighty, champion of the north, would you? Getting away from the struggles going on around you can be a powerful stress management/coping mechanism and it’s one I believe in.
Sometimes you just want to win at something. Now a tabletop roleplaying game may not have as clear-cut rules for winning as say chess, but there are very definite examples of success and failure to motivate a person to jump into them. Achieving successes (or avoiding catastrophic failure) in a game can be just as rewarding for some of these players as the ability to escape into a different reality for the players we talked about above.
Some folks look at a Tabletop RPG as a means to interact with other people, which makes a certain amount of sense doesn’t it? Realistically, it’s an activity for five to sevenish people who get together and interact socially with one another to create a vivid story where everyone gets a chance to interact with each other. For some folks this is their primary social interaction engine and it’s a powerful motivator
Not necessarily the typical idea of finding a new place, but tabletop RPGs give us an opportunity to step outside our experiences and try something completely different. Creating an RPG character is an excellent opportunity to try being someone new, experience some new things in a mostly safe environment. Being able to as I call it, “let your hair down” can be an exhilarating experience that can be a powerful driving force to get someone into the game. Some concepts and ideas may not work with every group, so if you are going to try this kind of exploration, I would strongly suggest you talk about it with the rest of your group before you dive too far into an exploratory character.
Some folks enjoy opportunities to show off how clever or smart they are and this can drive them into a tabletop RPG. These people can be a lot of fun in a group, but I have had to remind the ones I have had in groups that RPGs are a “team sport.” This usually reminds them that everyone is there for their own brand of fun and has brought the table back together.
A reasonably okay movie once added the line “Some men just want to watch the world burn” to my life experiences and these people exist in the tabletop RPG community. Some of them are contrarians who just love to argue with other people. Some of them enjoy sabotaging the works of other players. Some of them just want an excuse to be a dick to the universe at large. In any of these cases, these people need to managed so that their motivation doesn’t kill the game by ruining the motivations of the other players at the table.
At heart, some of us want to make something new, something that we have never experienced before. These players (usually a Game Master, but players controlling their own characters can surprise you) construct elaborate worlds, characters and challenges for their characters and the other players to experience.
These are some of the motivations that are broadly attributable to players in tabletop RPGs, but I am sure that if we surveyed a hundred people we would get a hundred different answers that might fit into one or more of these broad categories. These are not what I would suggest for identifiers, because people are more complicated than that, but it can give you a basic idea of the type of game they might be looking for.
Personally, I have probably been motivated by all of these at one time or another (6 is still iffy, but I am sure that younger me was an asshole who played games just to annoy other people, so there’s that…). Currently I find myself leaning more towards Creation and Exploration. I find something thrilling about stepping outside my comfort zone to try something new. I also love to build new things. I recognize the things that I find motivating and I look for games that scratch those itches.
I have said before that not every game is right for every table. What I mean is, there are some combinations of players that are incompatible for telling certain stories in a tabletop RPG. That means you may not be able to play the game you want to try with that group. That’s okay. You may need to stretch your group out a little and either add or reduce players for the game you want to try to play. That’s okay too. Finding the right combination of interests and motivations is something we all fiddle with when we explore playing a new game.
For example, Drewbacca and I have an associate we will refer to as “the Cave Troll.” No it’s not a particularly nice nickname, but for the purposes of the internet, it is as effective a name as I am going to use. When we look at a new RPG (Or hell, a board game or a minis game for that matter), we always have the discussion is this a game we can play with “the Cave Troll?” (If you’ve read any of my “Just Dumb Things” articles, this is the same feature individual). This player consistently seems driven by a misanthropy angle and seems to revel in destroying the fun and or happiness of other people.
Fortunately, in my opinion, most of the games we’ve looked at in the past several years are things we can’t play with “the Cave Troll.” His motivations are just too far outside the alignments our motivations seem to run in (Drewbacca is more of an escapist/socialization player). Every once in a while I find something I think we could play together, but time seems to slip away and keep us from getting in a game of something. The last time we spoke, he mentioned how stupid he thought the new edition of Warhammer 40,000 was and I don’t think we’ve talked since.
In closing, we all have very different reasons for playing games, and that is perfectly okay. Find people to game with that have intersecting motivations, and you should be able to have a lot of fun playing games. You may not fit at every table, but you will most certainly find a table you do fit at, and make some friends along the way.
Game On, Game Fans