Monday, July 20, 2009

What Makes a Beautiful Player? (Part 2)

Consciousness, or Sleeping Through the Apocalypse

Gamers love their hobby. Otherwise, they wouldn’t do it. It takes a certain amount of trust (read: masochism) to lovingly craft a character, place their stats with care, design a background, and then hand it over to the maniacal genius that is the GM. Enthusiasm is important. Once you’re at the game, you’re there to game, not to sleep. But there’s a lot more to Consciousness than remaining awake.

A Conscious player remains so during the entire game. She doesn’t nod off on the couch or wander into other rooms to play video games when her character’s involved in a scene. (If the Storyteller is cross-cutting between two groups of characters, of course, this is probably acceptable, but you still might want to ask.) Most especially, a conscious player does not begin chatting OOC with other players during important scenes (at least, not in the same room). This kind of behavior is rude, and belittles the time and energy the Storyteller puts into the game.

Conscious players often take notes, whether or not they are currently involved in the action. I’m of two minds about this. The strict GM in me says, “Nope, if you’re not there, you won’t remember it, so don’t be writing it down.” The Storyteller in me says, “It’s a game, Matthew. Besides, if s/he doesn’t write it down, who will? You?” I usually let it slide except in extreme cases. Besides, if players get in the habit of taking notes all the time, odds are they’ll write stuff down that they think is important. Then, I can look through their notes later (backs of character sheets are good places to take notes, and I always hold onto character sheets) and find out what they thought was important, and adjust the plotline according, if necessary.

Another hallmark of the Conscious player is staying in character, especially during interaction with other characters. Some players route all interaction through the Storyteller, even when the person to whom their characters are speaking is sitting next to them. I prefer dialogue, complete with eye contact and everything, because it’s great role-playing and it’s fun to watch. Conscious players do not drop out of character every other sentence, to quote movies or make silly jokes. To a degree, that sort of thing’s okay. After all, it’s a game, it’s a social situation, you’re here to have fun with friends, right? So what’s the big deal with making a few jokes?

The big deal is when it gets distracting and annoying. A gaming session is not a party; it’s a gaming session. If you’d rather watch a movie, invite the group to your place to do that sometime. But don’t start quoting during an intense scene and don’t slip out of character to make dumb jokes when the dialog train is starting to chug (and by the way, I've seen way, way too many GMs burst in on that dialog train with a setting detail or a correction - don't. Consciousness applies to the GM, too).

An example of what a Conscious player wouldn’t do: I was running Chill a few (well, a lot) of years ago. I ran a game where the group ended up locked in a factory with a huge, spider-like beast called a chimneyrue that lives on smoke. (You can find this creature, and 66 other nasties that work incredibly well for all sorts of horror games, in GURPS Creatures of the Night by Scott Paul Maykrantz.) The thing was stalking them and they didn’t know what could hurt it (they all carried firearms, but were quite used to them not having any effect whatsoever. That’s Chill for you). The factory foreman, standing close to a vent, started babbling about “the ‘rue! The chimneyrue!” He told them to kill it, they asked how. He screamed (I didn’t really screamed, just tensed my voice. Learn to do that; screams in close quarters are bad form), “Kill it with your glack-”. He didn’t finish the sentence because the chimneyrue had crept up through the vent and put one of its claws through his stomach. He meant to say “guns”, of course.

One of the players, however, picked up the cue and finished “glack” with “enspiel!” (Get it? Glockenspiel?) Everybody cracked up. I could have killed him. Until then, everybody was tense, a little shook up, picturing the smoky, darkened factory, the foreman’s sweaty face and darting eyes as he raved…and with that one little joke, it all fell apart. I was pissed. The fact that the joke was funny as hell isn’t the point. A large part of being a Conscious player is being conscientious, and that means not mucking with the Storyteller’s moments.

Staying in character in the face of adversity, including the opportunity to make your fellow players laugh, is a hard task. I appreciate that (and it’s not like I’ve never broken character to lighten things up, either). However, try to have some sense of tact.

On that subject, a Conscious player knows what subjects to avoid. In my essay entitled "When Things Go Horribly Wrong," (which I haven't ported over yet, but it's here for now) I mentioned a number of topics that are sensitive spots for many people (specifically, rape, molestation, drugs, pregnancy, and family member death). These things can and do happen in real life and can happen in a game as well. Understand, however, that you should no more use these topics for their reactionary value that you should slap a player in the face to get a reaction. This goes for players as well - if you know that a fellow players has issues with a topic, avoid them. If you don’t know and someone brings it to your attention, respect that. If you have issues with a given topic, tell the Storyteller as soon as it becomes a problem. Communication is key: be Conscious of that fact.

Another common practice of the Conscious player is helping the Storyteller out. Some players feel that they are going the extra mile by taking actions which result in problems for their characters (or the entire group) and saying, with a pained expression, “But it’s what my character would do.” To that I usually respond, “Nah. It’s what your character might do.”

Think back to the last choice you had to make, important or not. Was there only one decision you could have made, or could have chosen to do several different things for different reasons? People are unpredictable, and you won’t catch any flak from the Storyteller for finding a way to include yourself in the proceedings, even if doesn’t seem strictly in line with your character’s concept at first blush.

Yet another example: I played in a game of Hunter: The Reckoning that probably should have been more structured. The Storyteller really hadn’t considered how he was going to get all of the characters into the action, just assuming that we’d fall into place somehow. That’s a dangerous assumption. One of the characters remained alone at her apartment for most of the game, out of the action, because her player didn’t feel it was “in character” for her to follow the messages she was getting and drive to where the action was. In this instance, while the Storyteller certainly could have planned things a bit better (especially considering he had seven players who weren’t connected in any way, which is a bit much), the player should have been more Conscious. (She did, eventually, decide that the messages and hints drove her to distraction enough that she had to get in her car and drive “wherever”, just to clear her head. That’s a great way to get characters involved, by the way).

Being a Conscious player doesn’t mean you make choices that are totally opposed to your character’s concept simply to further the plot. It means that you don’t go out of your way to make trouble simply because it’s “in character”. It’s a fine line, and a certain amount of self-limitation in the name of concept is a good thing, but at the same time, if the game is obviously straining because people are drifting apart, you might consider taking another course of action that your normally wouldn’t, if only to give the Storyteller a break. (Storytellers, again, reward this behavior.)

The last trait of a Conscious player is the most obvious. They pay attention. That means no sleeping, no chatting, no reading or drifting off to La-La Land while their character is ostensibly present during a scene. No damn laptops at the table, either, or at least keep them closed unless you're using them right at that moment. If you suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, take your medication. If you’re easily distracted by books, write on a clipboard and keep the books out of arm’s reach. Take notes - it’ll give you something to do with your hands, but keep you in the moment (beware of doodling, though). If you find yourself growing tired, sit up straight, drink a can of pop (soda, to all you non-Ohioans), ask the Storyteller for a stretch-break, whatever. If you find you really can’t remain awake or Conscious anymore, ask the Storyteller to sideline your character (or play him/her as an NPC, which is something I refuse to do) and go home. The other players will find your absence preferable to your unConscious presence.

Are you a Conscious Player?

• Do you write down everyone’s characters names and descriptions, so that you’ll remember when you speak to them in character?
• Do you take notes?
• Have you ever cried in character?
• At 4 AM, when the Storyteller is yawning and getting ready to call it quits, do you encourage “making this an all-nighter so we can get to the bottom of this”?
• Have you ever written down a thought or joke that was funny as hell, but would have completely ruined the moment?
• Have you ever suggested making a spouse, sibling, or good friend character to one of the other player’s characters?

If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, you’re probably Conscious.