Monday, May 16, 2011

Why Aren't You Happy?

Today's post is a bit more of a personal anecdote than actual advice, but it does contain within it some of the mental processes I use to evaluate games and my satisfaction with them, so I thought it may still be helpful here. The game in question that this is about is a Halo RPG that is being run by a friend of ours. I've mentioned the game and the friend a few times, he's a new GM but is doing very well and it is a fun game. I know it is fun, because I am regularly looking forward to this game. So why, in the middle of the session, was I so unhappy with the game?
Realizing There Is a Problem
I didn't realize I had a problem until partway through the session. Now, a number of factors contributed to this. I was completely exhausted for one, and had just spent the last day chauffering around - and being interrogated by - my parents for another. So, I could've just been out of it. Except for the fact that this was more than just being out of it. That realization more or less needs to come on its own, but whenever you aren't feeling it in a game ask yourself honestly why that is. Are you tired? Are you bored? Or is there something else? If you can be completely honest with yourself, you may be surprised with the answer.

Where Is The Problem?
So, now that you know you have a problem, next you need to figure out where it is. This, for me at least, generally takes a bit of replaying the game in your head. For me, the sharpest spike of emotion I'd felt had been during an IC argument earlier in the game. There had been a major miscommunication between 3 people, which ended up with one character thinking another was a liar and acting like a child. I had a strong negative reaction to this treatment, but managed to keep it under control. Eventually, we sorted the issue out and moved on, but I was still bitter about it, and the bitterness just wouldn't let me go.

Now, looking at it closer, that reaction hadn't just been towards the person who called the other character a liar. Yes, that was the strongest part, but it wasn't the only thing. Looking at it, this tide of unhappiness was actually attached to pretty much every other character in the game. As a rule, when you're mad at everyone, the problem probably isn't with them at all btw. At least, not in my experience.

So What Was It?
Honestly, I wasn't sure what it was during that part of the game, so I just kept my head in character and played while watching what was happening. I didn't realize what was going on with it until we finally made it into combat. The problem? Silly as it is, I was envious of the other character's performance. The game has only been going for about 3 sessions so far, but in every session I've consistently been rolling average while everyone else has been rolling amazingly. This isn't their fault, it's not like they can control how well they're rolling, but it does happen and it was effecting things. A fight would happen, and I'd graze one person while they'd all drop multiple people a round, and then finish my person off. Frustrating to say the least, right?

Well, except for a few things that made it weird. One thing? I specifically built this character to not be a combat monster. I was specifically choosing combat options in character that would keep me from being the super huge presence on the battlefield. Why would I do that, when I clearly so like combat? Well, because most of my characters lately have been awesome on the battlefield and I wanted a change. Part of the idea with this character was to be happy, combat capable but not super massive, and effective through creativity more than other things. Just, in being tired lately, I'd lost sight of that.

The Results
The results is that I now know the problem. There are some things I want to talk to the GM about for future games when we come back to the Halo Game. However, most of this is with me. I need to go back to the roots of the character, and re-find it. I like the character, a whole lot, so I need to find a way to play them that captures what I like about them. One of the things is simply the character's confidence and supporting nature, and another is their ability to have fun. The point is, having recognized the problem, I can face it and fix it. Which is awesome, because it really is a fun game.

Oh, and if you're in that game and reading this. Sorry if I seemed angry at you specifically during the game, I was trying to figure out why I was angry in general and trying not to disrupt things.

As usual, if you have advice for pursuing this sort of thing, or other tricks that help you find where problems are, I'd love to hear about them in the comments.


  1. As the GM, I usually consider monitoring my player's enjoyment of the game my job. This is a really tough situation for a new GM. In essence he had an experienced player that is trying to expand his RP experience by making a more challenging character. On top of that, experience players do tend to be self sufficient keeping up their own interest in the game (most times) and all of a sudden he's not. That's a lot to parse so I can see why the GM wasn't able to keep on top.

    As a GM I watch for them withdrawing mentally from the game. A Player that is usually involved and immersed in the game changes their expressions when they withdraw. When they do, I'll try and give them a job to do that they should be able to handle. Done right, it usually re-engages them (so I don't always do it right). If that isn't working I might try and change up the tone if it doesn't feel weird to do so.

    As a player when I'm feeling disengaged I try and do something that will spark my interest. Either I sit back and try to form a plan that will really throw off the GM (GMs have a saying with me. "I can't give you guys extra time or Emmett will have time to plan.") Or I just do something nuts and hope it works, I figure if the character dies I wasn't having fun with them anyway. Sometimes when one or the other actually work, it establishes the character in my mind and I start having fun again.

    But that's just how I handle it.

  2. Solid and good advice, Emmet. There really wasn't much the GM could do in this situation to be fair. I was still in the game, I was just being quiet about the same time, the character type I am playing is also quiet when others are around so even that could be misconstrued.

    Still, you have some solid advice on handling it as both a player and a GM.

  3. I think my problem is that I scan for who's paying attention and end up playing off the people who are "in," as opposed to doing what I should be doing and drawing in the people who are "out."

    But I am really sorry, man. I didn't realize you had checked out so much, or that the argument had been so divisive among my players. If I had known, I would have done something to straighten it out or lessen its impact.

    I remember what you told me after the last session, and I'll try to incorporate some player-specific parameters in future missions.

  4. Like I said, nothing you could have done, so not your fault. Besides, the issue was totally a personal one (I want to roll in the 90s too! :P )

    Going off who you have involved in a scene can be good. Figuring out who isn't paying attention is something you pick up in time. At which point, making an attempt to draw them in can be good, but it can also cause a lot of strain on the game if the person is just out of it.

  5. I do, do hate that prickly feeling when you realize you're just not enjoying yourself. It's always pretty high stakes for me, too, because gaming is my primary hobby and it takes so much more time and effort than, say, playing around in Torchlight.

    It's also a bummer to read that you burned yourself by rolling a different character than what you usually play. I have a compulsion to constantly reinvent my game slate, which I've been going back and forth on; if I don't give into it, I'd probably just play Controllers all the time and do it well. But I'm always worried I'll miss out on a really satisfying Defender or Leader experience when I do so.

    I've also got a game going right now---a very start-from-the-ground sort of Glenn Cook vibe---that has been pretty disappointing for me so far because two of the game's five players are just...rude. Or at least, come off as rude based on the kind of conduct I've come to expect from over a decade of online gaming (and am absolutely getting from the other players in the game). I consider both of the DMs to be friends, but one of them has rather stridently jumped to the defense of the first player to really rub me wrong, and knowing that I'm frankly not sure how much longer I'll be able to stay in the game. I do enjoy the character, and a lot's at stake with him as he's both my first leader in several months and my first full-on psionic character in 4e.

    Between the post and the comments, it sounds like you're in a good place to get in there and shift things around (with your character, with the game itself) and have good people backing those plays. I hope it works out for you, and maybe generates another post I can put to use in trying to get my own business right.

  6. I'll keep you informed Seth if it happens. Unfortunately, that game and a different game switch off on an arc by arc basis, and it is going into an off arc. This is actually better for me as a player, as it gives me a longer time to really find the aspects of the character I want to focus on, with time off and a chance to talk to the GM on things if I need to.

    I'll keep my eyes open though for other ways to follow up on this for you though. And when the game goes back on, I'll also update on it.