I hate to ask the question, but I feel like it is something I need to know. I recently started up an Earthdawn game. It was very impromptu. I had an idea, I asked Brian and some friends, we rolled up characters, and away we went.
We have played three sessions, and I have to say, I am not having fun like I used to, and I am not sure if that is the problem, or if it is a sign of the problem.
The Problem is Engagement.
Isn't that always the problem... This is the first time I have run a game since people became so addicted to their smartphones. I have had one player watch videos on their phone during a game, and another player who was so into what he was doing on his phone he missed a major event that has changed the story for everyone.
I was a little apprehensive about writing this post. I haven't really talked to them about it because I don't know how. I feel like if I say anything it will sound like, "How can you not find me so entertaining that you devote all your attention to me?" That is not how I feel and not what I want to say.
I have the same problem when I watch TV Shows with friends. They play with their phone and let the show just be on in the background. Then when something happens I want to talk about, they missed it, or were paying so little attention they argue that it didn't happen the way it did. This has left me feeling like they have voted themselves out of the fandom, and now I don't know why they are there.
This same thing is happening with the game. I feel like I am wasting my time working on the story and characters, and that I could just phone it in. I mean, why am I not just hanging out on Twitter and Tumblr like they are.
Don't get me wrong. This is not a problem with every player, but it is making me feel like writing certain characters out of the game, and to simplify the plot. I don't want to do that, but the urge is there.
Attention spans aren't shorter, Imagination is thinner.
"But our attention spans are shorter." I disagree. While there is some research to show that our attention spans have shrunk from 12 to 8 seconds (see post), but that isn't enough of a difference to account for this issue. 4 seconds is a large percent of change, but it isn't a lot of time in a face to face interaction.
What feels like the real problem here is that our imaginations are suffering from a drought. We don't have to use it as much as we used to. Everything has a picture with it. Movies, videos, and games are all so much more visually intense.
Pen and Dice RPGs are imagination games. That is what makes them fun. You gather around a table with your friends and tell a story together. That is what makes this problem so infuriating.
The Imagination Drought hits the Game
When my players sat down to make their characters, they didn't talk about what they wanted to play. They started talking about roles (tank, DPS, healer), and were focused on stats and character sheets rather than fleshing out their characters. I didn't receive a single Bio for the characters. Now, I have played with these people before, and they know the kind of games I like to run (character driven), so when they treated the game like it was WoW or some other BS playground game, I just fell apart a little inside.
So the players don't know anything about their characters. Some took no time to understand their discipline. I have one player who cannot level up any of his powers because he hasn't taken advantage of any of the opportunities to do so...
Forget this game...
I am not sure if I am going to continue running this game, but I really do what to run a game... Maybe something on Hangouts... but that is not something I need to be thinking about right now.
I am not even sure if I am going to be running any game any time soon. We need to find a way to deal with this imagination deficit. It is neither good, nor healthy for us as a species to be running around in either a rational haze or an imaginationless funk.
We have to take more time to connect with that creative spark we all have in us. That is the only way we can grow, learn, and improve.
I refuse to believe that Pen and Dice RPGs are dead. They will always have a devoted audience, even if it is small. What is dead, or at the very least stagnate, are the pools of inspiration we used to draw from to fill our lives with interesting moments.
Do you think I have diagnosed the problem? What do you think is the future of pen and dice RPGs?
My name is Charlie, but if your looking for my work, I go by C. E. Dorsett. I write scifi, fantasy, and a touch of horror. I like to play with gothic, steampunk, decopunk, epic fantasy, and wuxia. I love to tell stories and talk about books, movies, series, and music.