Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Moving Past Gamer ADD

This month's Blog Carnival topic is Transitions & Transformations. With that in mind, today, I'm going to be discussing how to transition past a case of Gamer ADD.

What is Gamer ADD?: Gamer Attention Deficit Disorder, or Gamer ADD, is a term used by many gamers to describe the behavior of flitting from one RPG to another, never sticking with one RPG for any appreciable amount of time; also, being easily distracted by new games and systems at the expense of your wallet, focus, or both.

I know affliction quite well, having fallen prey to it personally. Let's face it, there are a lot of companies out there right now just making fantastic, exciting games! Now, Gamer ADD isn't a totally bad thing; in fact, let's first look at some benefits to this behavior:

The Good:

-Gamer ADD can lead to trying a wider variety of games and getting more education on exactly what sort of diverse RPG styles are out there.

-You can develop a more informed taste for what you like and don't like in different RPGs.

-Trying to find out about new games can bring you into new networks, bring about interesting conversations with new friends, and open up new communities for you to visit.

During my prolonged period of Gamer ADD, I learned a lot about exactly what I wanted and didn't want from an RPG, and I think that's a tremendously valuable lesson. But when Gamer ADD continues, there can be unpleasant effects as well:

The Bad:

-Constant switching of systems can lead to overload/animosity within a gaming group, who can feel left behind or alienated by continual change.

-Buyer's remorse: Gotta have the new hotness? Need to have that precious game everyone at Big Purple is claiming goes all the way to 11 (and may cure cancer)? It may not seem so hot in three months, when you realize you should have done a little more research and a little less paying attention to hype, and you're stuck with a poorly-bound $40 hardback that's yesterday's news.

-Bang for the buck: You've got System A, which is this amazing system that you can supposedly run anything with. It has more bells and whistles than you can shake a stick at. But while you're still perusing the GM's chapter and really getting a feel for the game, System B calls. You still never ready "let 'er rip" with System A, meaning you really aren't getting the most use or value out of your purchase--and might be missing out on some sweet Random Probabilitiy Engine Action.

-Did I mention RPGs are expensive?

So, one hand, trying new systems is a great thing: it means you're open to new games, new conversations, and new ideas about how to get the most out of this hobby. On the other hand, chasing the Next Big Thing every time can lead to a painfully thin wallet, neurotic gaming group, and a wake of purchases you didn't get as much out of as you might have.

Let's face it: we like new and shiny things (even when sometimes those things go back to old and homespun). For many, it's seductive on places like RPGnet and Story Games to follow the newest thing, be a part of the conversation, and be fashionable in your choice of game. And until taken to excess (enter Gamer ADD), that's fine. But if you've identified with any of these items and want to make sure you're being a smart, well-informed buyer/gamer without losing your enthusiasm and love of new ideas, you may wish to consider some of the tips below:

-Make A Commitment: There are threads on various message boards where individuals for one reason or another have decided to play Hackmaster, Rules Cyclopedia D&D, Vampire: The Dark Ages, and other games for a set time, be it a pre-determined campaign, 101 Days, or even a year! While the latter may be a tad extreme for many, the basic idea is a good one: pick a system you feel has lots to offer, and make a commitment to explore, run, tweak, and discuss that game primarily for a certain length of time. Allow yourself to learn the system, see the nuts & bolts, come up with your own house rules, and figure what works for you and what doesn't. At the end of the time, you should have a mastery of the game, a better idea of what you want for your gaming, and what you'll be on the lookout for in the future.

-Don't be afraid of Gestalts: I love space and sci-fi RPGs. I have about 18 of them that I seriously wouldn't mind running (I told you I suffered from it!), from Traveller to Icar to Spacemaster. But I know that in my time on Earth, I am only going to be able to run a finite numbers of games before I'm rolling dice with Uncle Gary in the Great Beyond. So what I do is decide on a primary system, and then bring ideas and tweaks from other space/sci-fi RPGs into the mix. I use races from Nebuleon. I use some lifepath and simplified starship combat ideas from Thousand Suns. I use some equipment from Icar. I use so much background from Starcluster 2 products its hard to say where I start. It all finds its way into my cheerfully bastardized Traveller game. You can still commit to a system as above, but bring in what you love from other systems as well. These are books I already have, and books I'm not flitting about like a hummingbird: they've found solid, prolonged use in this way. I've found this one of the best weapons in curbing my gamer ADD.

-Cull the herd (temporarily): No one is suggesting you sell any of your RPG books (unless you wish to), but you may wish to consider the following. At some point when you are far away from your bookshelf, sit down and make a list of games and RPG products you really, truly want to use or see yourself using immediately. Then go to your bookshelf, and pack that which you didn't list (you'll be surprised at some of the results)--put it in a box that's tough to get to, or put it in storage for a bit. Then, concentrate on what's left. Use it. Mix it. Remember how much you paid for the damn things, and what you want you wanted to do with them.

-Do Your Homework: Of course, you also want to do your homework, read plenty of reviews (just not the breathless first reports of ultra-fanboys), and ask questions of people who have played the product, and dig for some actual play reports. Is it just one or two gimmicks that make this system big news right now? Does the core of it sound sensible and playable? Do I have something that already does this? Are the comments vague "we rocked out hard playing it, Designer X is a great guy" sort of things?

Ideally, these steps (or your own ideas on how to handle Gamer ADD) can lead to more focused gaming, a better idea of what you want out of gaming, a more stable campaign and gaming group, and a fatter wallet.

That's my take on Gamer ADD. I don't think it ever goes away, but it can be controlled and put to useful purpose. If you've had a bout of the same, have a way you work through Gamer ADD, or have some thoughts on the topic, I'd love to see your comments or posts!


Rich said...

Great, great post, my man. There's nothing wrong with being an RPG fashionista, but it can really hurt the wallet and any attempt at a sustained campaign.

I do remember someone on RPGnet playing only Vampire: Dark Ages for like a year. That's a bit excessive for me too, but you have some good, entertaining advice here from someone who's clearly gone (going?) through it. :)

PatrickWR said...

Gamer ADD leads to a general distaste for campaigning...which leads to short, three-session game arcs...which makes players hunger for the next game...which breeds more gamer ADD. It's a very vicious cycle, and one that I've only just learned to identify and break.

sirlarkins said...

Yup, recovering ADD addict right here. And you and PatricWR are absolutely right about the fallout from said habits being group frustration, shortened campaigns, etc.

I finally broke the cycle by just friggin' committing to a single game, and it resulted in a two year campaign! I had also re-organized my shelves: the top shelf consisted of games I knew by heart, that I could run at the drop of a hat. The second shelf (my "reading shelf") was systems I had a passing familiarity with, that I'd at best run once or twice but that I wanted to run more of. The bottom shelves were books that I planned on using primarily as source material (your "Gestalt" approach). That helped a lot too, because it allowed me to focus my energies and know what I was ready to tackle right away and what needed to be set aside for the time being.

Ironically, I'm getting ready to post about some fairly major shifts in my specific RPG interests and future plans (including an FRPG system that's calling to me, even though I'm really not in the market for another FRPG)...but I'll choose to believe that I'm merely a gaming "fashionista." :P

Badelaire said...

I feel the pain. For me, the cycle usually begins anew juuuust about the time I begin Campaign A, an idea for Campaign B pops into my head and begins eating up creative energy I should be expending on A. So A begins to fade and my attention to it wavers and I let it peter out and die. Then I manage to get people into B, and juuuust as B begins to take off...along comes C.

I'm currently in a Traveller game that's gone on for about sixteen months, and I'm almost desperate for it to go bye-bye and do something else. A year or so, perhaps 20-30 sessions, is the sweet spot for me when it comes to campaigns. Much less and I feel short-changed, much more and I feel like I need to move on to something else.

Zachary The First said...

I do think there is a "sweet spot for campaigns"--mine seems to be about 20-30 sessions. Of course, we have a homebrew setting and do "seasons", but its nice to do a season, do another sustained campaign, do another season, etc...

clash bowley said...

I love reading and running new games, but I'm happy with one shots and short (<5 session) campaigns, so it''s not too bad. What is bad is that I also write my own games too fast, so that my players are constantly playtesting new games, and they want to play them longer, but just when I've got the game nailed, it's out to market, and I've got another playtest ready.

I'm sooo glad they are forgiving...


GeneD said...

I have a few preferred games (D&D, M&M2e, SW:SE) but like to try new rules systems occasionally, if not as often as back in high school or college. However, as a Game Master, I find that most of my group prefers to stick with the current edition of D&D rather than try anything else.

I admit to having bought numerous books that looked interesting, but in my case, the frustration is from role-players being a bit too comfortable with a particular rules set rather than exploring new genres and styles of play. Aside from my weekly game, we have one-shots in other systems perhaps two or three times per year.

Ryan said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this. I thought it was my own private mania. I need to put some books into storage...think I'll do that this weekend.

Excellent work.

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