Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Exploiting Previous Experience Part 2

Yesterday we talked about a real world example of pulling on previous experience, and the awesome new Halo game that I'm in (it's totally ok to be jealous.) Today I want to talk about what the GM in that game is doing. For those who don't want to read yesterday's post, the thing the GM is doing is pulling on our previous experiences as gamers, and using them to power his own game. So, how does that work? Well, let's look into it.

Write What You Know
This is one of the most basic bits of writing advice out there, but a lot of people get it wrong. After all, if we could only write what we knew, the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres would never have been born, to say nothing of other forms of speculative fiction. However, we can know the emotional states, and we can write about those. Human beings are naturally wired story tellers, and one of the ways we tell stories is by conjuring up emotions from one thing - something we know - and applying them logically to something that we don't know.

If you've ever felt elated, you know something about what triggered it, how it felt, and can apply it to what you're writing in a totally different context. If you've ever felt a sudden loss, you can do that as well. Maybe you have to amplify it, maybe you have to tone it down, but the point is that you have a base line to work with. In much the same way, we can do this while playing. Taking something - say the intense levels of teamwork and intuitive trust we built up with another player - and use it in a different game for similar effect.

What Experiences Are Good?
Almost all of them are good for something. Now, obviously, you don't want to try and draw on experiences that were traumatic for one of your players. No one wants their friendly night out turned into them having to relive past trauma. But still, for the most part you can - and should - draw on the past experiences that people (or even better, the group) has. It helps with communicating, and can help with pulling people into the experience that is going on right now.

A Common Language
Have you ever been hanging out with people when someone in the group drops an in joke that you're not familiar with? Or references a past gaming session from before you joined the group? It happens a lot, and it can make you feel like something of an outsider. As a GM, if you're canny enough, you can pull on this and use it. These references and shared experiences make up a common language that can very quickly convey large amounts of data. In my group, if I were to say that an NPC moves "like Ippo" than most of the group will know what I mean right away. Why? Because most of the group was in the game with the character Ippo, and Ippo's player put a lot of effort into conveying the bouncy/happy-go-lucky way that Ippo moved. As a GM - or even a player - I can give all that information with one simple reference, and save myself a lot of time. Those not in on it may be lost, a danger we always face, but that can be surmounted easily enough. Alternatively, I just use the common language when it is relevant to the people involved in the action!

Sibling Rivalry
Non-game experiences can also be used here, if that wasn't clear. Ever see someone who was an older brother RP an older brother? It's quite realistic, because they know what it takes. They also get the sibling rivalry and all of the other stuff that goes along with it. If you want to see some real chemistry fly between players, get two characters who each have experience being a sibling, and make them siblings in game. Once they get into it, you'll start seeing some amusing antics as the player's mind falls into the familiar role and adds it to the character.

Cautionary Note
The human mind's ability to share experiences also comes with a cautionary note. I generally advise people who are in a relationship IRL to not play people in a relationship in game. The lines can get blurred, and in game fights can turn into IRL fights really quickly. I've seen some couples pull it off, but I've also seen a lot of couples break up because an in game spat quickly turned into an IRL one. The lines between character and person blurred, because both were pulling on the exact same role, and in the end the player simply wasn't ready for it. So just, be careful, and when in doubt, go without.

There is more than can be done with this, but like I said yesterday, it is somewhat hard to communicate. In many ways it seems so basic, use what you know and don't be afraid to pull it into game. So, by all means do that. And, if you have something you want to add to the uses, methods, or warnings, then by all means go for it in the comments below.

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