“What Can I Do to Fix This?”

Continuing a few themes I touched on briefly in last week’s post, “You’re Playing It Wrong!”, I wanted to continue to talk about what to do if you have an actual problem in your game community.

No community is perfect. This is true especially when it comes to interactive games, where players have to negotiate two identities and two sets of relationships. Add to that the fact that most gamers are highly creative, emotional people; and of course issues are going to occur with some regularity.

What I want to do in this post is encourage every single player who has a problem with their game to ask themselves, before complaining to your Storyteller or Plot Staff, “What can I do to fix this?”

In many games, the Storytelling Staff is the lead authority. Beyond merely running games, they are also responsible for setting the tone, shaping the culture and (usually) adjudicating disputes between players. It’s tempting, therefore, to take one’s complaints to the Storytelling Staff and have them fix it. But Staff aren’t gods. They aren’t omniscient, and they aren’t omnipotent, and receiving the same complaints from the same player, over and over again, isn’t going to make the game better for anyone. Voicing complaints on public fora (like your game’s Facebook group or mailing lists) usually doesn’t accomplish much, either. Nine times out of ten, complaining in this way just creates bickering and facilitates a culture of negativity.

Now, I’m not dismissing the validity of complaints about a game. It’s perfectly legit to have issues with how a game is run. But the key is – it’s your game, and your fun. It’s up to you to take responsibility for your own participation. Your first impulse, when encountering a problem, should not be to ask, “How can I get someone to fix this for me?” Your first impulse should be, ‘How can I fix this?”

Are you unhappy with the low levels of immersion in your game? Focus on what you can do to improve immersion for yourself. I’ve offered to make costumes, at cost (or even for free, if I already had a suitable fabric & pattern in my stash), for other players, because it would help my immersion. Now, we can’t all be seamstresses. But the principle is similar – what resources do you personally have that you can put towards solving the problem? Organize a donation drive, share tips on maintaining immersion, bring games you can play in-character.

Are you upset because the Storytelling staff never seems to have enough time to send plot to your character? They’re probably extremely busy running a game. Focus instead on what you can do to be a proactive player. Involve yourself in the stories of others; or even volunteer to run side plots to alleviate some of the burden. I’ve also done this. After a year or so of running side plots in a game where I didn’t feel like I was receiving any significant Storyteller attention, I was invited to join Plot Staff full-time. I held the position for two and a half years, and my experiences ‘at the top’ helped me understand the mistakes I’d made with my earlier characters.

Is your game culture changing in ways that upset you; or are there elements which have always bugged you? A culture forms by everyone contributing a tiny bit to the whole. If you don’t like the game culture, don’t just complain about it. That only makes you part of the problem. Instead, focus on being a force for positive change. Lead by example and support your fellow players.

Sometimes, the problem is, the only game in town isn’t one you want to play. Maybe it’s the system, or the setting, or the play style. You shouldn’t expect to be able to completely overhaul a game and remake it in your image – the game is what it is, and other people are obviously getting something out of it. The solution in this case is to start your own game, more to your own tastes.

Now, there are some times when complaints must absolutely be made. If you’re being harassed at a game, what you do to fix it is tell Storytelling Staff – who will hopefully be willing to follow through on the responsibility they have to their game and fix the problem (more on this in a future post).

And sometimes, problems just aren’t fixable. Sometimes, the game culture is just too entrenched or the problems are too endemic. But, at least you know you did what you could, and you can leave the game on (hopefully) amicable terms.

But the next time you want to complain about your game, take a moment and ask yourself, “What can I do to fix this?”