Play Culture Zero: My Four Principles of Good Play

One of the upshots of the explosion in online gaming has been that I have been given a chance to play a lot more than I usually get to do. As a perennial GM, I have never really had the chance to lavish myself with lots of playing experiences, but over the last two years I have had more than enough time, and a chance to think a bit more about what I think about how to be a better player.

In general, I have a few core principles that I apply to all of my games as a player of a character.

The first principle is that you have responsibilities beyond turning up and playing the game. This runs parallel to the first principle in my mind but can seem a little counterintuitive to some people. One of these responsibilities is to respect the game culture that the GM is trying to foster. Another is to, by your action or inaction, not slow or hinder the game. And more than any other, it is simply not to be an arse. It’s easy to do, but some people still try not to manage it!

The second (and possibly most important) is that you are there to have fun, to make sure everyone else has fun – including the GM. This is the principle that informs every single thing within my practice. To borrow some professional wrestling parlance, once you go into business for yourself, chances are people are going to stop having fun. We see this phenomenon in virtually every group activity – the ‘ball hog’ in football who refuses to pass, the ninja looter in an MMO game, and the prima donna soloist in choral singing. Sure, YOU might be having fun, but at the expense of everyone else.

The third principle is to be ready to enhance the game, as much as you can, in every action you do. This one is quite qualified. You cannot be the centre of the game, generating ‘the awesome’ all of the time. It leaves no room for other people to have their moment, so you need to pick your moments, be subtle sometimes, be purposeful in others, and learn when to lean into the game and when to back off. But if all you’re going to do is sit and do nothing for a session, why are you taking up a place?

The final, and possibly most controversial principle is that you should play the game as hard as you feel comfortable. For me, that can be quite hard. I really enjoy getting to grips with the nuts and bolts of some systems as a player, in a way that I tend to gloss over a bit as a GM. As long as you are adhering to the other principles, this isn’t a problem. It’s a game – it’s there to be played. Don’t shy away from that!

A few years ago, I wrote a short series of articles about Game Culture – the meta-rules that permeate all the games I run. Now, I’m going to follow up on that with Play Culture, my own personal approach to playing in a game. Let’s hope you enjoy them!

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