Guest Column: Why We Game

Why We Game

By Richard Tucholka

CEO Tri Tac Games and Publishing

gamemaster3Way early on at a mythical place in Kenosha called UW Parkside a legend named Gary Gygax told me “It’s not about the rules, it’s about the fun.”* As a young and impressionable hatchling of a Game Designer I was impressed and genuinely took that statement to heart. Your primary role as a Game Master and Designer is ‘Games Should be Fun’. There is no other rule that is more important to why we play games, create games and inflict our creations on our friends. Dave Arneson echoed the same statement to me in the 80’s. Make it fun.

To look at the core of why we play is more complex.

Play is part of us.

Games are played alone or socially. Mammals play. We’ve all seen cats’ and dogs’ hunting behavior and the same goes for humans. The more complex the society, the more we need to play. We could get deep into 7 years of College Psych and Sociology on this but it would bore you… Just skimming the basics we game to have fun and socialize. We play to compete and win or nearly win. It is a ‘feel good’ thing. We play to relieve stress. While we would like to put a cap in the ass of our pointy-headed work manager, it’s just not socially acceptable. In the 21st century it’s much easier to go home and kill mutants on a computer. But remember… computer games are not social. They are pre-programmed for a correct response and only now are becoming a little bit more interactive with the player. The larger Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games are a different story because they are also a very social thing. Uru Mist Online is an amazing social thing. There we go with that social thing again.

Before there was the hobby of ‘gaming’ there were cards, dice games and board games. Just add that social aspect and you have wargaming. Few gamers realize that board and miniatures gaming have been with us for over 3000 years. Three millennia ago the Etruscans created six sided dice. (They were loaded.) The Egyptians crafted magnificent board games (sadly the rules are lost and don’t believe for an instant that we can constitute them…) The Romans created the

Roman Polyhedral Die

Roman Polyhedral Die

common six sided dice for games and games of chance (they were also loaded as well as the first polyhedral dice. Common tabletop miniatures were around in the 19th century. I recommend the work of Classic Sci-Fi writer HG Wells, who created two books of simple rules Floor Wars and Little Wars to play with his children. Starting in the 1960’s-70’s real wargaming became popular with rules like Fletcher Pratt’s Naval RulesChainmail and those endless SPI Board Gamesthat were always fun to play with friends.

Now we have RPG Games and GM’s whose job is to make an enjoyable experience. If your GM fails in that aspect of gaming, then find a good GM who understands that his role as storyteller is:

  1. Not to bore you to death.
  2. Weave an adventure you can enjoy with your friends.
  3. Make the players a part of the story, not excess baggage.

There are good and bad GM’s. You can game with a bad GM’s who has social or psychological issues they need to expound on. They have ‘agendas’… I shudder at that word. They have fixations. I have been in wonderful games and absolutely awful games where I considered gnawing my dice hand off to have an excuse to escape.

A good GM has a fundamental need to make his friends happy.  A bad GM has dice and an agenda.

A Great GM goes with the flow and improvises. A Bad GM never Improvises.

A Good GM wings the rules in favor of the players. A Bad GM is a rules lawyer (the same can go with players).

A Bad GM falls out of the character of the game. Same goes for bad players who fall out of character or don’t take the game seriously. Good players work within the fabric of the game. Bad players go off on their own agendas. 

A Good GM does little things to make a Good Game, like handouts, Personal side plots for characters, small perks, music, sound effects, (for example, I had a blind player and added smells like Glade Pine Forest, and seashore aromas) and the occasional ‘Fudged’ die roll to give the player a couple points to accomplish something heroic. (I enjoyed doing occasional potluck dinners in the theme of the game at the end of my FTL: 2448 campaign games as well as awarding medals.)

We also should realize games are an escape from a sometimes insane society we did not create. After 40 hours on a thankless International Computer Help Desk I want to get out and do something. Dragons are hard to slay in modern society, but imaginary dragons are plentiful. I want to visit other realms and see Strange Places and Exotic People that Detroit just has a lack of unless you enjoy Post Holocaust settings and meeting “Working Girls” and Crack Heads on 8 Mile Road.

If you read Joseph Campbell (any game designer worth his salt should read every scrap this man has ever written) you realize it is also ‘being the hero’ is also a critical factor in what makes us game. In reality we can not be heroes, in dreams and games we can. While life can generally suck, a gaming group can boost your character to the status of a leader and hero.

To a lesser extent we also Game and GM for Respect and Social standing. It’s good to be a ‘Grand Master’ and have your tournaments always sold out at a large con. It’s even better to have 8 players and 20 spectators. It’s even better when a decade later a particular game you ran comes back to a casual conversation. While life can generally suck, a gaming group can boost your character to the status of a leader and hero. It’s good to see a harsh critic come over to play one of your games and say ‘Well Hell, I had a good time and I’m sorry my review dumped on you book because those spelling mistakes…”

My gamers, (no children of my own) have grown up and are now reaching their mid 40’s. Some have become professors and doctors, lawyers and professionals in the military. Just a few months ago, a fan of my RPG Fringeworthy contacted me and wanted a copy of the RPG for his 12 year old son. He stated “When I was 16 you ran a great game at a convention that I never forgot and now I want to give my son a copy of the book.” I kind of felt a bit greyer over that but it was a good feeling to know 25 years of this business with its ups and downs meant something, I guess you keep a few kids off the street and make one person happy and that it is all worth it.


One Response

  1. I JUST read this, Rich, and it’s ironic that, without ever having read this article, I use as my closing line on the Fringeworthy/TriTac podcast, “There’s a reason it’s called “gaming”- it’s for having fun!”.

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