There’s this thing that happens in RPGs where different people can bring radically different readings to the same game. This is totally fascinating to me!
Like…in boardgames, the rules are the rules. And you can like what the boardgame does or not. Like, a friend of mine dislikes (despises?) a couple games I adore, like Hegemonic and A Study in Emerald. We’re playing the same game, but I like what the experience delivers and he does not. I’m 100% sure neither of us are drifting or houseruling or whatever.
But roleplaying games though, right? The Burning Wheel forums were notorious for this, with the very hardest core who “got” what the game is going for, and noobs showing up who were absolutely certain that they’d seen through the bullshit and were there to prove the fans wrong. I’ve never seen that in a boardgame community.
Even when you don’t have the vociferous, angry identity stuff motivating the yay/boo sides of rpg advocacy, you can still have two people read the same rules text and come up with very different conclusions, absent any advocacy.
I have to speculate that many, maybe most roleplayers with any experience at all, bring a sense of how a game ought to work. Which is interesting. I suppose there’s a similar set of assumptions at work in the hex-and-chit world of wargames. You expect all chits to represent some abstraction of force (a squad or platoon or division or whatever), you expect the symbol to denote the force type as well as a batch of important reference materials: armor, attack, support requirements, movement, and so on.
So maybe, given the deep roots in wargaming that lie at the heart of the hobby, it’s not totally crazy that that culture of assumptions has carried through for, jeez, 40ish years now.
I still do this! I mean you folks read my deep-read posts — I work hard at digging into games as they are and try to set aside my projections of how they ought to be. And I still fail. Some scifi game doesn’t care about maintaining your ship? How could it not care? Money/gear doesn’t actually matter, even when working out possibilities and positioning, man what? Seriously, I have to track every bullet? Seriously, I don’t even track bullets?
Advancement schemes. Character competence. Incentivizing economies. Conflict scale. When you roll. All of it.
Further complicating this is the DIY culture of gaming, that has basically assumed that anything that doesn’t fit with your pre-existing mind map can probably be nudged closer to your expectations. Maybe you make a houserule that bridges some procedural gap in the game. Maybe you have a local play culture that breezes past stuff that another culture will totally get stopped up on. I don’t go to a lot of conventions, but I’ve been to some and sometimes I can sense regional differences that are super interesting.
So, anyway. Mostly this is a reminder to me about taking into account assumptions that people probably make about games all the time.