Worlds of Design: “All About Me” RPGs (Part 2)

Part 2. Continuing to describe the “All About Me” style, and asking why it’s popular. It has to do with player (not character) backgrounds, certainly. Is it generational in some way?

Part 2. Continuing to describe the “All About Me” style, and asking why it’s popular. It has to do with player (not character) backgrounds, certainly. Is it generational in some way?

Photo by Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash

Last time I talked about the “All About Me” RPG style, and how it differed so drastically from the semi-military style I’ve always been accustomed to. I’ve been trying to compare the two, to describe rather than prescribe, though it’s obvious which style I prefer.

Another element of this style seems to be a lot of what I would call wacky ideas that the GM is supposed to take seriously. I recall one group where the player/character wanted to throw an old-fashioned wood-burning oven (they are remarkably heavy) a hundred yards, and expected to be given a reasonable chance to do it (as in, a 20 on a d20). I would have simply said “that’s impossible,” but that might not satisfy the “All About Me” crowd.

I occasionally wonder how one could encourage such players to play the more semi-military/mercenary style. Probably the first thing to do would be to impress upon the players before they joined the group that this was the kind of game we were going to play, that you had to be on your toes and cooperate or you were going to die. Of course, if someone accustomed to the “All About Me” style comes into an existing game with people playing, shall we say, more seriously, they would probably learn to conform pretty quickly; it’s when you start out with an entire group of new people (new to your style of GMing) that things can go wrong quite quickly.

I remember particularly the case of one player who attempted to do something, where the GM warned him that it was dangerous and it might result in his head exploding. Yeah sure, he said, and did it anyway. And his head exploded! But in less than a minute a fully formed version of himself walked out of a nearby building, some kind of special power that he had even though these characters had not been playing for more than about five sessions.

Use of this style is mostly a GM-player thing, but rules can contribute one way or the other. Rules that allow for a great deal of customization, and for wildly neurotic characters who are nonetheless supposed to be functional, encourage “All About Me”.

Why is this style popular?

An obvious point is that the great majority of players are not wargamers, and may not be gamers at all, that is, they’re not accustomed to leisure activities where you can lose. When you cannot lose in an RPG, that is, you cannot die (and not come back), then individualism is easy to express and adopt; when you CAN lose, cooperation is more natural. Single player computer RPGs with their respawning and save games are part of the “cannot lose” mentality (far more people play computer RPGs than tabletop RPGs).

The ultimate question of the game is one often asked of people throughout history: what is more important, the individual or the group? In difficult times, such as World War I or WW II, cooperation was at a premium, which tended to make the group more important than the individual. More recently, in the “safer” post-Cold War environments, the emphasis tends to be on individuals. Individuals are what “All About Me” is, well, about.

Though some people still doubt it, there are clear differences between generational behavior, as discussed in many books. People of the World War II generation naturally cooperated, because of their experiences in a very difficult situation. And each generation since then has behaved differently as their shared experiences have been different. Corporations have hired consultants to help them cope with the newer generation’s tendencies and preferences.

Maybe it’s natural for younger people of any generation to play this way. I don’t know, I was 25 when I started playing, and my first game involved meeting dozens of humanoid monsters in dungeon corridors, where only cooperation could allow survival.

I also understand military history quite well. So the “All About Me” style never occurred to me. As always, this is descriptive, not prescriptive. YMMV.

This article was contributed by Lewis Pulsipher (lewpuls) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. You can follow Lew on his web site and his Udemy course landing page. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
 

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Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio

nickostopheles

First Post
Wacky ideas are based on comedy. You like a serious game.They want to play a Looney Tunes version of D&D (or Adventure Time). That’s all that is. Just don’t play comedy D&D. You don’t have to look at anything but your style of D&D as inferior. It just ain’t for you.

Yes, you should warn players that you run a serious, fatal, tactically minded game. I do like those sometimes, and I personally almost always prefer consequences be serious and consistent. But I don't always want "everyone better maximally cooperate or we're all dead." Frankly every single gaming being good vs evil or merc vs merc and almost entirely tactical with little to no personalities or personal goals would get dull super quick to me. It sounds like Groundhog Daying the same game for years and years.

Ditto much of ehren37, cmad1977

People can cooperate to survive or they can cooperate tomake an interesting story. It is not a lack of cooperation if the goal is different.

PS - changed font for the sensitive eyed.
 
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Gradine

The Elephant in the Room (she/her)
I can see the next issue of Forbes now.

Report: Millennials are killing tactical war-gaming; also single-use chopsticks

PS: I would probably agree with the above post if reading it hadn't burned a hole through my retinas
 

G

Guest 6801328

Guest
I'm sorry but I find this all to be wild conjecture tinged with...ok, entirely based on...blatant biases. There's your style, and then there's the style that, as you describe it, selfish kids who grew up on video games play. Gosh, I'm glad you're just describing and not judging.

I recall one group where the player/character wanted to throw an old-fashioned wood-burning oven (they are remarkably heavy) a hundred yards, and expected to be given a reasonable chance to do it (as in, a 20 on a d20). I would have simply said “that’s impossible,” but that might not satisfy the “All About Me” crowd.

How is this "all about me"? It doesn't seem to have anything to do with selfishness or lack of cooperation. It sounds like the player simply has a more fantastic/comic-book aesthetic than you do. I'm with you regarding the aesthetic, but nothing wrong with preferring the other.

An obvious point is that the great majority of players are not wargamers, and may not be gamers at all, that is, they’re not accustomed to leisure activities where you can lose. When you cannot lose in an RPG, that is, you cannot die (and not come back), then individualism is easy to express and adopt; when you CAN lose, cooperation is more natural. Single player computer RPGs with their respawning and save games are part of the “cannot lose” mentality (far more people play computer RPGs than tabletop RPGs).

It is so easy and tempting to blame gaming styles we don't like...actually, any societal changes we don't like...on "those selfish kids and their computer games." I started playing D&D in...82...so most of us hadn't played video games more sophisticated than Breakout, and yet I saw I saw many people play in the way you are describing. I did so myself. Sometimes we'd cooperate, sometimes we'd undercut each other, sometimes we'd go all out pvp. It was all in good fun.

Sure, TODAY I'm mostly interested in "cooperative heroics", and I get annoyed when players I meet at public tables act like I sometimes did in the early 80's. But those alternate preferences have always been around.

I also understand military history quite well. So the “All About Me” style never occurred to me.

I understand logic gates very well. So the mise en place style of cooking never occurred to me.

Those two statements are related at least as much, if not more so, than the two you offered.

Like I said in your first post, these rants come across entirely as "get off my lawn" grouching.
 

Grimkrieg

Villager
Militaristic and Tactical play is alive and well today, just like styles of play that are not like that have been around at least since the 80s when I started playing. White Wolf world of Darkness games, for example, had conflict between party members baked in as part of the fun of the game. There are tons of stories of players even in old D&D playing selfishly.

As a tactically minded player though, I do resent storygamers telling me that I should play a computer game or a board game when neither of them can offer the tactical freedom that a TTRPG can. Even that is nothing new though :)
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
It is so easy and tempting to blame gaming styles we don't like...actually, any societal changes we don't like...on "those selfish kids and their computer games." I started playing D&D in...82...so most of us hadn't played video games more sophisticated than Breakout, and yet I saw I saw many people play in the way you are describing. I did so myself. Sometimes we'd cooperate, sometimes we'd undercut each other, sometimes we'd go all out pvp. It was all in good fun.
Hells yeah, and it's still good fun today! :)

I lose any fondness for (to borrow your term, if I may) "co-operative heroics" the moment I realize that as regular procedure I'm expected as a player to either a) just go along with someone else's plan and stop thinking for myself, or b) come up with a plan - or help come up with one - that everyone else is then expected to follow. Bleah!

I much prefer "act now, improvise later" to be the norm, with meticulous planning left for the rare occasions when it really matters (and is thus a novelty when it does happen).

Like I said in your first post, these rants come across entirely as "get off my lawn" grouching.
Yeah, I think the author would last about 5 minutes in our chaotic crew; and we've been at it since shortly after the last ice age ended. :)

Lan-"plan is a four-letter word"-efan
 


He should just come right out say it: He doesn't like young people because they act differently then he does. It would be much simpler then the article written here.
 
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Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
The story describes some pretty outrageous behavior I've never seen at any game table, and I'm not even sure what game systems would lead players to think such things were possible. I also am not sure that the "semi-military" distinction vs. "all about me" distinction is nuanced enough.....at best, I could conceive of some scenarios in the above situation that might stem from a FATE or Super hero type game system vs. most other RPGs that would not allow such to happen if it was physics defying/immersion shattering.

I agree. "Description" in the original post is judgment. The described table isn't likely one I'd want to be at, but one that's totally semi-military seriousness probably wouldn't be too much fun either. Anyway, this seems like a false dichotomy to me imposed on what's a continuum that ranges from, say, Toon to Millennium's End as if those were the only two styles of play. I never liked Toon or intentionally comedic RPGs in general, but when we played Millennium's End many years ago, there was plenty of gallows humor and a bit of silliness (if not physics-defying), despite the game definitely being quite literally semi-military.
 

I agree. "Description" in the original post is judgment. The described table isn't likely one I'd want to be at, but one that's totally semi-military seriousness probably wouldn't be too much fun either. Anyway, this seems like a false dichotomy to me imposed on what's a continuum that ranges from, say, Toon to Millennium's End as if those were the only two styles of play. I never liked Toon or intentionally comedic RPGs in general, but when we played Millennium's End many years ago, there was plenty of gallows humor and a bit of silliness (if not physics-defying), despite the game definitely being quite literally semi-military.

Yeah....I feel like maybe "players with issues" is not the same as a methodology or playstyle. "All about me" might better fit games where the focus is heavily on the players, but I would not think that that play style automatically precludes the need for immersion, verisimilitude and cooperation with the other players....so cases like the author of the article describes strike me as even breaking the "all about me" concept, since it damages the ability of the other players at the game to enjoy the experience (including, of course, the beleaguered GM who must enforce the concept of physical laws and limits, or what passes for such in the shared fictional headspace).

Maybe the real gripe of the article is that it is sidestepping the problem of special needs players? I could see my son (who is almost 7) trying something weird....but that turns into a "lets learn about physics" learning experience in such a case, and does not require suddenly codifying his limited understanding of the world (or how the game is supposed to be played) as a play style.

Just thoughts....
 

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