Competition as Training Wheels.

Quite recently we held a discussions called “Competition? What for?” on this very blog, and with this post I’m going to give a suggestion on a possible role of competition in games, specifically RPGs.

In most traditional RPGs, there is one person, the Game Master, who weaves the story and the world. Players can act and then the GM has the world and story react to their actions, but in case the group is more reactive, or even passive, the GM can push the story forward, forcing the characters to react and take a stand. The game progresses one way or another, and the GM, a good one, helps ensure that it is so.

A common problem when traditional players are faced with more recent games is that the task of narration is suddenly thrust upon them. It is not uncommon for players to freeze in such an instance. But we’re not going to dwell on that. Many a time these games are based on the assumption that all players will push the game, their characters, the story and/or the world forward. They will introduce complications, go out of their shell and make things happen. Sadly, this often does not happen.

When you have no limitations, you often get nowhere. You are paralyzed by too many options. Once you are limited by some constraint you have an easier time of figuring a direction in which to move and act. Before being thrust into a new game, many a player might do well to have some in-between stage. I posit that competitive games can be that stage (as well as a non-competitive game to which you add a competitive side for this explicit purpose).

You can treat story as a vector along which to enact competition or competition as a vector along which to tell a story. It matters little. Once there’s competition present, there’s a direction. It is clear what the goals are, who you’re competing with and why. Once you have a competition, you may very well not explore other facets of the game or enviroment, but remember, you limit freedom in order to foster creativity and lower paralysis, and once creativity is fostered, you can later remove the competition and have the players use the new knowledge and skills they had gained to explore the game.

Competition has many uses. There are too many games that once you finish reading them you say, “Cool, but now what do I do?” Competition answers that question. You compete, and if the rules make you create a story as you go along, then by the game’s end you should also have a story created and told.

Next month I’m going to focus a bit on the Story component of games. I hope this short entry was useful to you. It was intended as an answer to the previous post more than as a post of its own.

5 comments on “Competition as Training Wheels.

  1. Guy Shalev says:

    Care to be a bit more specific?

    I’m also amazed you’re still sticking with Blogspot.

  2. I like how you note that competition is one of the basic structures of story-telling. Of course, there are other types of stories.

    Blogspot’s new version is much better.


  3. Guy Shalev says:

    My main problem with Blogspot is how often it seems to be down/inaccessible, just when you want to write a post…

    Another odd thing is that I note you’re not on my links to the right, which I’m sure I put you on, quite odd.

    Also, thanks for reminding me. One of the oldest games is the storytelling competition, in which you compete by telling stories.
    Or the alternative of the wizards’ duel, as presented in “Equal Rites” and Sandman 1. You shapeshift forms in order to best the other, which for us is a verbal/written duel of the imagination, using story as a tool to power competition (or perhaps the other way around?)

    And of course there are other type of stories, thus “Training Wheels”, though I of course, also believe in advanced competitive story-telling.

  4. […] 17th, 2007 at 10:16 pm (Components, Segments, Social Engineering, Building)  The previous entry was mentioned on RPG Theory Review, twice, once during the weekly review, and once during the […]

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