|June 5, 2008||Posted by Patrick Benson|
If there is one thing that I can’t stand in a game it is players criticizing the verisimilitude of a game in the little details. The act of trying to define a virtual reality is one thing, but to insist that your game world uses the physics of the real world in every way is pointless. You have elves, you have laser handguns, and you have psionic abilities, but some idiot wants to argue with you over whether or not the bad guys can continue their car chase after their SUV takes a few slugs from a pistol because the PC missed the driver that he was aiming for? Because you as the GM described those bullet holes in the grill as a way to intensify the scene? Please…
Don’t get me wrong. If a player says “I want to take the SUV out of commision.” I can roll with that. In fact, I like and encourage that kind of play. It is when I describe a scene or an event and someone pipes up with “It can’t happen. Fords have a very thin engine block due to the new casting process. I read about it in Popular Mechanics. That car should be totaled.” that I start twitching. You want to get on my bad side as a GM? Pull something like that. Tell me how it works in the real world, and then insist that it work that way in the game world. If we are playing in a gritty and realistic game world I will tighten things up as a GM, but most games aren’t like that.
Why does this bother me so much? Because it goes against the kind of game experience that I promise my players before the game begins. I like to run cinematic over the top games. I want my players to try crazy stunts with the risk being supplied by the dice, not the theory of gravity. I make this clear to my players form the beginning, and I want the players to work with that approach in the game. To point out how the game world is different from the real world in the name of verisimilitude goes against the very definition of verisimilitude: similar to reality. That doesn’t mean equal to reality.
Now if a player questions why I chose to employ GM fiat in this way after the game, and this is GM fiat by far, that is great! I now have the chance to explore what the player wants from the game. I can find out why the player questions my decision, and how to tweak my game accordingly to provide a better experience for the player based on that discussion. But too often I run a con game or a one shot at my the local gaming shop and have to deal with some player bringing up his “extensive knowledge” of something that is so minor to the game that it is nothing more than an interruption to the game play.
For example, I once ran a game where the PCs wanted to swing from one rooftop to another using a clothesline and I said “Go for it.” Immediately a player piped up about how an average clothesline would snap with that much weight and force being applied to it in such a manner. Do we have to be that detailed in order to enjoy the game? And how do I as a GM verify that statement to be true (even though I believe that it is)? The clincher is that we were playing a super heroes game! The genre already justified the attempt as being plausible.
These kinds of players are game killers. They are more concerned with appearing to be “smart” than they are with how much fun the group is having. And good players and GMs put the group first and compromise accordingly. If such a player or GM is compromising too much and not having any fun something is wrong, but most players and GMs will find that sweet spot and work with it.
So how do you deal with this kind of player? The kind who wants to impress the table with their knowledge instead of compromising for the sake of fun? One word – verisimilitude. Go by the very definition of the word. You aren’t trying to recreate reality when you evoke verisimilitude. You are trying to simulate it with accepted differences. Tell the player that they are correct, or that they may be correct, but that the game world’s physics are not the same as the real world. Then ask the question that they dread – “Do you really want this game to emulate the real world exactly?”
There is no point to running a game exactly like the real world, because we pretty much know what is going to happen in the real world. Shoot an arrow to split the one already in the bullseye? It can’t be done due to the design of the arrow shaft and how it will shatter and deflect the second arrow from its course. Go into a deep dark ancient dungeon? Hate to break it to you, but underground structures like mines often collapse given time. Have your character survive a stab wound and keep adventuring without immediate medical attention and/or without the wound becoming infected or worse? You get the point.
There is a reason why you won’t see Accountants of the Carribean on the big screen any time soon, or why you don’t play RPGs titled Corporate Workforce: The Daily Grind. Reality can get pretty boring at times. That is why our popular media employs suspension of disbelief so much. Why? Because that is more entertaining. It makes the game more fun too when we let the little details slide and just roll with it.
The only way to deal with these game killing players is to give them a big whopping dose of the current reality. You and your group are playing a game, and Science class is out of session. Now let’s get back to enjoying the verisimilitude of the game.
That is my opinion on the matter, so what is yours? Leave your comments for others to read and share your own experiences with me and other members of the GnomeStew community. And no matter what happens, don’t forget that the GM is a player too! Have fun with it!