Keeping it Real
6. How can players make a world seem real?
Might be my favorite and most provocative question of the set so far. I don’t want to parse it super-closely because I think it’s easy to get sniffy and pedantic here in indieland: what do you mean by “players?” What do you mean by “real?” What do you mean by “world?” And so on.
For me, games feel the most real when the players care about human things. They have realistic aspirations and dreams, they have resentments and wounds. They’re not saving the world, they’re just trying and probably failing to scale Maslow’s hierarchy. They react more than they respond, even (especially!) if their characters know that responding is the right thing but reacting is easy. This is all aspirational “in a perfect world, if you want to make Paul happy” stuff tho.
As a baseline, though, I think what is needed for a game to seem real is for the players to actually care about the fictional positioning of, well…everything. Like, it matters that you’ve just walked into a quiet bar armed and armored. It matters that the weather is miserable and nobody really feels like going out in it. That stuff. This is, for me, the Big Break between the tactical problem-solving school of play and the stuff I care about. Doesn’t mean I’m aiming for stoooooorrry or whatever. It just means that the make-believe is focused on the editorial rather than the tactical.