Thursday, March 08, 2007

Swamping, Pacing and Immersion

I've talked about swamping before, and recently. But it keeps rearing its ugly head.

Why is content swamping such a huge issue in computer games and not in tabletop RPGs? The answer is both simple and irritatingly complex. It's a matter of pacing firstly and immersion secondly.

In a tabletop game, you're immersed tightly into the people and plot you're currently stuck in (or what perversion of it you're planning). Even if you want to, you can't really talk to random people on the street (even though they are theoretically more realistic than townfolk in a computer RPG). You can't really go hunting wolves for four hours, or push on to the next town to try to get a slightly better sword.

This is because the other players and GM will punch you in the head repeatedly if you bore them. While you're doing something interesting to you, they're stewing in irritation.

Sure, it depends on the group. Some groups are all about just punching holes in random encounters until two in the morning, and others are happy to settle down and raise sheep. But, by and large, a group isn't so united. And no matter how united, they'll get bored if the game is too centered on one player.

This has led to a specific style for tabletop RPGs: a minimalist style. While some GMs do use significant amounts of flavor, most don't bother, and even the flavorers tend to be rather spotty on the subject. The reason is because many players get bored while the GM is prattling on about "streets teeming with unwashed hordes". The GM is also subject to the "get punched in the head" rule. (Obviously, some GMs use quite a lot of flavor - and they generally struggle to find a group of players who uniformly like to listen to it.)

On the other hand, computer games are the inverse. A computer doesn't really punish a player for doing whatever they want, and as computer games have evolved, flavor has become more and more important, to the point where in some games (such as Oblivion) each NPC (even brigands whose only purpose is to kill you) bear lovingly crafted pseudo-unique faces and lines of dialog with each other.

In one-player games, exploring the world is often the primary interest of the player. For example, all I really want to do in FFXII is hunt marks. I'm not really interested in the plot at all. This is fairly common, as GTAIII and similarly "open" games attest.

This is why swamping is a huge issue in computer games and not in tabletop games. From a Jedi game I'm running, I can safely say that swamping can be forced to be an issue in a tabletop - Ha! - so what's the difference? What's the solution, and how did I make a swampy tabletop?

It's involves immersion... and it's another essay.

What are your theories?

No comments: