Friday, November 1, 2013

The Necessity of Emotional Distance - Happiness

While many of us remember those movies, books and videogames that touched our hearts and made us feel something and dearly desire to get that same level of emotional resonance and gut level reactions from our roleplaying games. 

Of course, is this what we really want?  Are we really ready for a depth of emotion at the gaming table surrounded by our buddies and based off fictional concepts that our mates invented?  At least with a book or a television screen you often have the courtesy of privacy when you reach for the tissues or seethe internally.  Would it be fun to know that while you're doing it everyone is looking your way?

Now sure, there are those positive emotions that can be a joy to share and there's no reason why we wouldn't want to see our friends' elation, pride and sense of accomplishment.  The trouble is that the best highs are interspersed with lows which provide contrast.  If everything were peachy all the time, would you really feel elated?  If everything were easy and you had no real sense of dread or fear of failure, would you really feel all that proud or accomplished?

We can still reach for those happy feelings through in-game humour and reinforcing our friendships through out of character jokes and movie references but the former can't sustain itself for too long without becoming a farce and the latter tends to tear apart immersion.  So what you generally get (if you're lucky) is a large chunk of contentment or mild tension broken up by moments of cheer.

Which is fine and all but it can get a bit boring.  (It also defeats the purpose of playing horror games that try to build up tones of fear, anger and disgust but not everyone is going for that genre.)

Players can often feel emotional distance against happiness as well as joy can make those down moments more poignant and powerful. This can be especially so in high fatality or horror games as there is an urge to defend oneself from pain and it's easier to do that if you are looking at things through a distant perspective.

As an example, humour and fun experiences really do help attachment both to the character you are experiencing it through and to the NPCs that are invoking that feeling. If those NPCs are later hurt or killed, or your character is put at terrible risk, you feel it more and harder.

On the other hand, too much playing around and goofing off can also break the plot, frustrate the Storyteller, and annoy the other players. Sometimes the best sources of happiness at the game table are the movie references and other issues that can really damage things overall but which feel really good on an individual level.

So there are reasons behind emotional distance even against happiness. Yet if you cut yourself even off from feeling happiness at the roleplaying table, things are going to look pretty dire.

As a Storyteller, if you notice this around your table you should take a look at your game to see what the disincentives are behind your players pulling back from their enjoyment. It might not be *your* fault. It could be expectations against your game (or game genre) that haven't even happened. It could be that the other players are being judgemental or critical. It could even be that they're literally not finding anything they like there.

So what do you think of people feeling emotional distance in games that work against happiness? Something you've ever done? Something that ever felt necessary to you?

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