The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

Who’s Kicking Ass?

In the past year Malstrom has repeatedly talked about the rise of developer ego and how that has affected “ass-kicking” in video games. His premise is that years ago game developers tried to make the players feel like the players were kicking ass, while now developers try to show the players how much the developers kick ass.

For example, the rise of cut scenes is symptomatic of swelling developer ego; when there is an extended cut scene in a game, not only is the player not playing a game (as he likely wants to be doing), but he is also subjected to the developer (metaphorically) screaming “Hey look at how awesome this is! It couldn’t possibly have been so awesome if you had been in control!” An even more pronounced example of this is how power-ups have gone from giving a player an advantage to being essential for advancement in games.

I find that this change in developer attitude runs parallel to changes that have occurred in pencil and paper games; changes both in the industry itself and the attitudes of DMs/GMs.

In the 70s and early 80s role playing games were basically what we would now call sandbox games. Characters would arrive at the site and then have free reign. There were little bits of story to be had, but the story in the game itself was secondary; just like in a sandbox game players would write their own narrative without the DM inflicting one upon them.

Now it goes without saying that a DM created narrative is going to be more like a traditional story than a player driven one. But a very important question that every DM who is controlling the narrative needs to answer is who is he doing this for? Certainly there are players who play to hear the DM spin a yarn, but far more play because they want to control a hero. And if the DM has a group that is more interested in doing their own thing than hearing a story, then surely he is telling the story either to stroke his own ego, or because he has never stopped to think of what it is his players want.

Believe me, I know; I’ve been that DM. For years I ran a game where I was frustrated to no end that the players didn’t better appreciate the stories I worked so hard to tell them. But no matter how good your stories are, you can’t make an rpg player love them if all he wants to do is kick ass, and you get in his way by forcing him to watch you kick ass.

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September 10, 2010 - Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | ,

2 Comments »

  1. I think I might be in trouble if the opposite happens, like if my players were like hey we want a fantastic epic story instead of more kick ass’ng :)as it might put a strain on my capabilities.

    I think goodness of fit of DM and players is important and giving the players the kind of game they want is good, however, I also feel that the DM is entitled to enjoy the game as well so I think if the DM wants to tell big stories that it would also be alright to look for a group of like minded players

    Comment by middleagedm | September 10, 2010 | Reply

    • I totally agree that if players want a story intense game, then that’s the way to go. (and certainly I have been part of some games where I felt like there needed to be more story) But I have met more than a few DMs who wanted to tell a story that their players really didn’t want to hear.

      Also, it occurs to me that I should have been more clear about how Malstrom uses the term “kicking ass”; he doesn’t necessary mean fighting, but rather the feeling of being awesome. And it is a lot easier to feel awesome when you are in control of your own destiny.

      Comment by The Red DM | September 10, 2010 | Reply


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