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Expected levels of engagement and interest

Wulfgar22

Registered User
Validated User
I think paying attention and engaging with the game you're playing is a pretty basic expectation whether it's RPGs, wargames or boardgames. I certainly wouldn't want to play with people that don't think so. Of course, there are occasional breaks and interruptions in any game but these are occasional.
 

Cosmic Hobo

Madman with a Boxed Set
Validated User
That’s about the level you can expect. Compare it to other activities and see what happens. If you’re watching a TV show or movie and displayed that behavior what would you conclude?

Most likely that they’re bored.

It’s not often talked about, but large swathes of gaming is utterly boring. Especially in mechanics heavy systems. Sitting around a table with a group of my friends listening to the GM explain for the seventh time tonight how initiative works isn’t engaging. Sitting on my hands for 5-10+ minutes as the rest of the table works through various stages of decision paralysis, deciding what they want to do, and looking up the rules for whatever random thing they want to do is fucking dull. And that’s every round. Every single tedious fucking round of combat. The most exciting part to watch in the source material becomes the least exciting in most games.

That and familiarity breeds contempt. I’ve been gaming for something like 35 years now. There’s literally no GM on the planet that’s going to keep my undivided interest for a 5-7 hour D&D session. After a while it becomes routine and therefore dull. Like watching the same movie or TV show over and over and over again. You may think you’ve got the greatest twist known to gaming, but with an experience group of players, chances are they’ve seen it a half dozen times.

Telling your players to not talk to each other and not check their phones is ridiculous. Gaming is a social activity. No GM is good enough to hold a half-dozen people in rapt attention for hours on end. Your group likely doesn’t care about the system because they don’t like it but don’t want to bother learning a new one. I’d guess because they’re not there for the system, rather the socialization. So again, telling them to not talk is destroying part of (if not the entire) reason they’re at the game.

My advice is switch to a rules light system and ask about what their favorite genres are to watch and read. Try to come up with something that at least interests the whole group if not actually excites them all. If you’ve been playing fantasy for decades switch to horror, or science fiction, or westerns, or spies...etc. Not as a one-shot to cleanse the palate but long-term or permanently.

ETA: Talk to them. Don’t make demands. You may be the GM but you’re only one person involved in a group activity. You’re not in charge of the group, you’re in charge of the game. There’s a difference. It could be something as simple as your expectations are not the same as theirs. They’re a beer and pretzels group and you think it’s all diehard rules lawyers.

ETA2: I’m a social and talkative gamer. When I jump on my phone at a game it’s because I’m being polite. Rather than disrupt the session for others by being too chatty, I get on my phone to not distract the other players. Don’t talk out of turn, don’t talk to the other players unless it’s directly game related, and don’t look at your phone? No thanks Colonel Klink. I got a tunnel to dig.
 
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TheMouse

garmonbozia
Validated User
I figure that people should be generally paying attention and participating, for somewhat flexible definitions of those things.

I'm more flexible if there's a reason. Like if someone is worried that their kid's ride from school might glitch on them, I'm completely okay if they're checking their phone every five seconds. That shit's more important than a game, and boy would I have to be an asshole to ask someone in that situation to stop it.

But if it's just a habit to be on Facebook the whole time? No, I don't have any patience for that. If someone doesn't want to be involved, I'm not forcing them to be there.

That said, conversation is often the cure for this sort of thing. Sometimes something's up and I just don't know. I'd rather find out what's actually going on than put down my foot and turn out to have been a dick.
 

hyphz

Member
RPGnet Member
Validated User
It’s not often talked about, but large swathes of gaming is utterly boring. Especially in mechanics heavy systems. Sitting around a table with a group of my friends listening to the GM explain for the seventh time tonight how initiative works isn’t engaging. Sitting on my hands for 5-10+ minutes as the rest of the table works through various stages of decision paralysis, deciding what they want to do, and looking up the rules for whatever random thing they want to do is fucking dull. And that’s every round. Every single tedious fucking round of combat. The most exciting part to watch in the source material becomes the least exciting in most games.

That and familiarity breeds contempt. I’ve been gaming for something like 35 years now. There’s literally no GM on the planet that’s going to keep my undivided interest for a 5-7 hour D&D session. After a while it becomes routine and therefore dull. Like watching the same movie or TV show over and over and over again. You may think you’ve got the greatest twist known to gaming, but with an experience group of players, chances are they’ve seen it a half dozen times.
That's what I was afraid of, essentially. In our case it's not so much rules delays but exploration problems, and I sympathise with this because I've had the same issues when GMing. Exploration was a lot of fun when I first started playing, but it's quickly become rote - "You come to a closed door, what do you do?" Well, gee, have a guess. "There's three passageways leading away from this chamber." Do they look any different or do we have any information on where they lead? If not, it's Hobson's choice. It could be bad dungeon design, but he's using official modules for a lot of them; and while it could be skipped over, that ruins the playfeel and ends up feeling like the necromancer's lair or whatever was next to the entrance.

My advice is switch to a rules light system and ask about what their favorite genres are to watch and read. Try to come up with something that at least interests the whole group if not actually excites them all. If you’ve been playing fantasy for decades switch to horror, or science fiction, or westerns, or spies...etc. Not as a one-shot to cleanse the palate but long-term or permanently.
I'm not actually the GM at the moment, although I have been before. I'm not going to try and pull a coup, but I'd like to work out what I can do to make things more interesting if/when I do GM next. There's a ton of resistance to rules light systems, mainly because the players currently get a lot of their entertainment from gear maxing and levelling up. (I also get nervous about running them because of the level of improvisation required and the difficulty of creating fair challenge.) I did try to run Strike! at one point, but people verbally expressed interest and then infinitely procrastinated about making characters until I gave up.
 

Strange Visitor

Grumpy Grognard
Validated User
You also can have a situation where people are wanting subtly different things--so that what's intriguing one player is boring another--but they aren't motivated or there seems little options for another group. Where they like some aspects of the game enough they want to be there, but just find parts of it, well, unengaging. Not necessarily the mechanical parts, either (I concluded I found most puzzles and investigations bored me to tears most of the time years ago for example).
 

jacobkosh

Registered User
Validated User
\... I want to avoid this move from "target" to "social expectations" because as I said, as an entertaining hobby people should be doing things because they want to, not because of a sense of social obligation.
I mean, at some point, expectations come into play. "Showing up" is the most basic, but it's not not an expectation - as a person will quickly learn if they keep flaking on a group without giving any heads-up or communicating their situation.

There are a lot of fun, enjoyable hobbies that people really love that nonetheless come with obligations and social pressure. Public performance (drama, music, etc), team sports - success in these activities is an amazingly rewarding feeling but getting to that place requires work. It requires an upfront investment of time and effort and a willingness to agree, mutually, to enforce or proscribe certain behaviors.

That doesn't mean that any particular group needs to push themselves to some arbitrarily high standard, but they need to at least agree on a standard and try to meet it. You don't have to play super-competitive league softball - you can play casual tee ball - but even tee ball requires some kind of effort. There are very few group activities where a person can get away with just stepping up to a trough of endorphins and lap up passive entertainment indefinitely.
 
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hyphz

Member
RPGnet Member
Validated User
There are a lot of fun, enjoyable hobbies that people really love that nonetheless come with obligations and social pressure. Public performance (drama, music, etc), team sports - success in these activities is an amazingly rewarding feeling but getting to that place requires work. It requires an upfront investment of time and effort and a willingness to agree, mutually, to enforce or proscribe certain behaviors.
Sure, but I'm not looking for that. Like, if someone was taking part in a badminton game and not even trying to hit the shuttle, you would say they're not playing badminton and possibly didn't want to. You would never consider that they were hitting the shuttle just to meet the social expectation that they would do so. If they didn't try to hit it, you wouldn't go up to them and tell them they had to try and hit the shuttle or they wouldn't be allowed to play badminton any more with the group - that would be insane. You'd be basically saying "if you don't play badminton you can't play badminton" which wouldn't make sense.

What I want to know is what gaming's equivalent of hitting the shuttle is.
 

CitizenKeen

Rules Lawyer
Validated User
There's no equivalent of "hitting the shuttlecock" (God, that's a word we don't get to use often enough), because RPG isn't an objective game.

(Side note, if a player wasn't trying to hit the shuttlecock I would absolutely say they're not playing badminton and wonder if they're just there for socialization, see, e.g., my basketball analogy above.)

Some games require tons of engagement to be rewarding. If you're playing a small group Apocalypse World game, you need to be engaged and present. You can't phone it in.

If you're playing 5E D&D, you can totally get away with just being vaguely aware of your initiative and to-hit modifier and not really engaging in the role playing, though if you did that session after session I might question why you're there.

And yet, even that's subjective. Some groups might love D&D and think it's a great game and want to play it with the role playing expectations of Apocalypse World and that's okay.

Role playing games don't have an objective shuttlecock.
 

BlackSpike

Registered User
Validated User
What I want to know is what gaming's equivalent of hitting the shuttle is.
Leaving your phone in the locker room, and paying attention to what the other Players are doing. Proving your Input when required.
If someone has to say "Jo, it's your turn!" <"shuttle is coming your direction, please hit it!">, then you're not getting involved.

As a GM, I know I struggle to keep the spotlight moving from player to player, and give everyone equal screen-time. But they are also welcome to make their own screen-time!
At our table, we have no problem with people piping up (so long as they're not hijacking a scene)to say "I know I'm not involved in this, but here's what my PC is thinking/doing"
Lazy Example: CHA 7 Barbarian at Noble Court.
Bad: "I'll let the Bard deal with this <checks Facebook for 30 minutes> oh, did someone mention something relevant to my PC? can you repeat that please?"
Good: "I'll let the Bard deal with this. <keeps tabs on what the Bard is saying><'My PC is bored, and prominently scratches their nether region'>Oh, you are talking about the Frozen North, where I have a Family Duty? can I butt in here? Bard, you recall I have mentioned this>"
 

SuperG

Active member
Validated User
First off, don't let people force you to run a system you either
a) don't want to
or
b) don't think would work well for the group

If they want to insist, they can either GM or take a hike. (This isn't to say you can't have a discussion about it - but ultimately, GM enthusiasm is essential, and whether the players are comfortable in the rut is secondary. If you're being press-ganged, the game will probably suck, that's just the nature of being forced to do something.)

Secondly, have scenes that aren't structured combat... so that if someone seems particularly bored you can then focus on them right away and ignore everyone else.

Third, you're going to need to find out what actually gets their attention.

Fourth, you're going to need to avoid splitting the party. Nobody stays attentive when the scene is literally completely irrelevant to them and they to it.
(Sometimes they can be geographically split and still relevant; this is ok, and much better than the reverse; a challenge that some characters are irrelevant to and have no possible contribution to make to is still split-like)

Fifth, make sure people have something game-related they can recheck and reread. Going over the details of how spells work, or rereading IC handouts and notes, is a lot better than other options for zoning out, and some people really do need that extra layer of something to interact with.

Sixth, and we're really at the Zeroeth: Have players who, when the game has a good chance of focusing on them, has been designed to appeal to their interests and what they find fun... will actually pay attention.


See, none of this helps if people are really just there to socialize. If they are, I'd suggest not roleplaying at all and running a legacy boardgame or something. But the other steps can help battle inattentiveness in otherwise good players - because people DO get distracted and bored and it's not something that's helped by getting mad at them over. (A good measure of if the game is good: are people excitedly discussing what's going on after the session ends? Listen to that, maybe try to rebottle that lightning)
 
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