This title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek / click-baity. I don’t actually think I’m a “bad player” in the sense of being a “that guy”, or even in the sense of detracting from the game. I don’t think I detract from the game as a player. I generally put in a good faith effort and try to engage, and I do think my actions are minimally sufficient to move the game forward. I know there have been times where I felt, as a player, that I had accomplished more than that, but even at my best, I don’t think I’ve ever truly been a good player.
What do I mean by that?
I don’t know exactly, and I think that’s part of the problem.
I am currently involved as a player in Semiurge’s game Beyond the Bizarre Armoire where I play Mr. Fox and the War Dogs, a reskin of the Many Goblins GLOG class, where the character is based loosely on my idea for a War Dogs character class.
Admittedly this is the first time I’ve been a player in a long time, let alone a player in a campaign as opposed to just dropping in or for a one-shot. But I think lack of recent experience is only part of the problem.
One thing I have struggled with as a player in the past is where what I want out of the game differs from how the GM is running the game or the setting. As you all know, I love Weird and complex settings, where the game is itself more about having an experience of wonderment, like performance art. I am quite picky and if I don’t find the world sufficiently compelling, I will lose focus easily. Likewise, if I am both uninspired by the setting per se, and feel stifled by the GM or other players from injecting or evoking Weirdness, I will also lose focus.
Although as anyone who is aware of Semiurge’s work might imagine, neither of these things are a problem in this case.
To a large extent, I just get too caught up in my own head, to the point that I shut down. Even though GMing is in many ways rightfully considered the more involved role in an RPG, because it plays into my skillsets and interests, and because I have much more interest in it, I can do it much more easily under pressure, and get into a flow state. And also, because I’ve designed the world and the setting and done the prep and thought it all through so thoroughly and meticulously, even if the players deviate heavily from my expectations, I can spin it on the fly, I know how to control it in a way that hopefully mostly doesn’t feel like I am controlling anything, or I guess really it’s not that I’m controlling it, but I’ve designed it in such a way that it is self-generative, and I’m just the computer executing my own code on the fly.
As a player, I feel almost blind, or in some other way limited in my senses. Even if is a setting I’m intimately familiar with or that’s so generic that I don’t have to be familiar with it, the moment-to-moment still requires me to visualize and extrapolate from limited information, and to maintain a mental model not just of the world, but of my own character, and all the other players, and NPCs, and sequences of events, let alone the mechanics of the game per se, and then on top of that to be clever, or funny, or do voices, or be tactical, or whatever else. To anticipate what is coming and react to it in a way that moves the game forward.
There’s a certain activation energy I need, a certain threshold that must be crossed, before I can feel engaged with the game and meaningfully contribute at a level that would satisfy me.
Clearly, I am capable of doing this, because I do it as a GM. I know to some extent that practice alone will help, but in the same way that reading so many blog posts or books or watching videos or listening to podcasts over the years about GMing or worldbuilding has taught me unique design patterns that have greatly facilitated my ability to GM above and beyond experience per se, I have seen far fewer resources for how to be a good player, or what that means, or how to make it work for me, let alone for a player with my particular sensibilities, although maybe that doesn’t matter as much as I think it does.
How does one learn to parse and internalize all the game components as a player? How does one meaningfully interact with a game as a player, independent of the GM’s style per se, or barring that, how does one identify different styles of GMing as a player and how to interact with them? How does one manage to do all of that not in the moment, but predictively, so that when it comes, rather than having to perform these mental feats, one can actually be clever and engaging and so on, and move the game forward? How does one cross that threshold to engage with a game as a player meaningfully and at a level that the GM and the game as a whole deserves?