Everyone likes to tell stories.
Many people think they don't, and many more think they are terrible at it. But I find that, given the right constraints and suggestions (choppertunities glarrrrrrghhhhh...) even the most uptight, unimaginative person can tell great stories. Or, at least, pieces of a great story.
When you get people together to tell stories, there are basically three stages. Each player moves through the stages at different speeds: some players need a lot of help, some players just need a little time to adjust to the situation.
The first stage is "bewilderment". In this stage, the player doesn't really know enough to try to tell a story. In this stage, the player is usually happiest to hear stories - to follow, rather than lead.
Giving the player a viewpoint and examples is the fastest way to get them through this stage. For example, "You're the pirate king, and those guys over there could use some pirate help..." or "you're the incarnation of joy, so keep that in mind as you play..."
The second stage is "immersion". In this stage, the player is part of the world. In this stage, they usually want to explore the world using their viewpoint, and they can be relied on to seek out new experiences and help direct events as their viewpoint (character) would.
Many LARPs and tabletops reach this second stage and stop. It's easy to design a game which uses the second stage, but more difficult to design a game which allows the players to get to stage three.
The third stage is "creation". In this stage, a player stops adhering to the viewpoint given them and begins to think about the world and its stories at a larger level. At this stage, they can be relied on to guide and create situations that try to make the world more interesting.
In order to allow for this third stage, though, a game has to let players make significant changes... which has serious drawbacks. And I'm not talking about content or any of that - generally, players moderate themselves very well as to what is acceptable storytelling or not.
No, I'm talking about the fact that the history of the world gets very deep. New players and slower players will be unable to keep up with the flurry of new stories, and the people who created the stories aren't going to want to tell them over and over again. This generally results in "writer packs" of three to five people working on their corner of the universe and basically ignoring the fact that everyone else lives here, too.
Moreover, I have never seen a game designed to let players be in any of the three stages without being hindered. I've designed games which are good for any one stage, but the rules make it hard to be in one of the other stages. This leads to a very uncomfortable unbalance as to how many players of each stage there are. I don't know the ideal ratio, if there is such a thing.
What do you think? Can you think of a rule set which lets players go through all three stages unhindered? Can you think of a way to bring in fresh blood without requiring a lot of overhead from the experienced players?