Sorry I've been absent from the blogosphere lately. The world of work has been taking its toll on my body and energy level, leaving me little to pontificate about subjects erudite and nerdtacular. But I digress...
As I've mentioned before, I've been running an online game for several months now. It's been a pretty good experience overall, though not without its technical and organizational issues, but one thing that's happened as an unintended consequence of this exercise is that I've missed out on my wife Megan's second game, After The Ball.
The game is a steampunk (perhaps I should say Teslapunk) fantasy set in a New York City that never was. The heroes are part of a subculture of inventors that are battling a scheming Thomas Edison analogue. All of this is great fun, and something I would likely have enjoyed playing if I'd been included (Megan is running it for Colin and a group of women who we don't usually game with) but I've had the slightly-different-but-still-awesome pleasure of playing the role of offscreen collaborator for her sophomore effort in the Big Chair. We bounce ideas back and forth as she prepares for an upcoming episode, and I suggest horrible ideas meant to make her players aghast and sad (by which I mean highly entertained). Megan has said that she enjoys having someone to collaborate with. It's fun for me too, although I don't get to directly see how well things play out.
The reason why I'm mentioning all of this here is that Megan came home in high spirits after this week's game, which was the spotlight episode for Colin's phrenologist character Thomas. Thomas has been struggling with his own mental health, and (as if that wasn't enough misery for one human being) wrestling with his feelings for one of the other player characters, Lillian. Megan tells me that Colin really brought it this week, playing out a lot of powerful scenes where Thomas really put his feelings out there. I know that Colin is often a very internal, cerebral player, so this constituted a big, risky effort on his part. Bravo, sir.
What I'm coming around to is the fact that High Trust, High Drama offers players great rewards, but also demands much of everyone at the table. To experience the highs (ha) of a game where the personal pressure on the characters is cranked way up, you need to be able to accept that your character is going to inevitably be placed in situations that might make some players uncomfortable. That means you're often in a position of feeling very vulnerable in front of your fellow gamers.
I've already written about Commitment to a scene (or, as Megan would say, The Fuck It! School of Acting) in an earlier post. Check it out if you haven't already.
Most roleplaying games don't expect players to engage in scenes where their character expresses their feelings for a romantic partner, or is tormented by the thought that he may have killed someone during a momentary lapse of reason. Most games don't dwell on that kind of emotional baggage. For a High Drama game, this is "meat and potatoes" stuff; yes, it's demanding, but the strong feelings that this kind of play generates are powerful. In my mind, there's nothing so immersive as feeling what your character is experiencing.
For the neophyte, especially one that typically plays games which veer sharply away from this kind of emotional immersion, this could be a hard thing to do. Or some kinds of emotion might be harder than others; a player who prefers to play in the "butt-kicker" style probably knows all about righteous or vengeful anger, but might balk at playing out a scene that's about loneliness or rejection or love.
This is where the High Trust part of the equation comes in, the net that's there to catch you when you take an emotional leap of faith in a game. The other players in this style are there to support your choices, and provide both encouragement and opposition/pressure as necessary to bring out the best in your game. As in theatre, everyone who comes to the game is there to have a good time and see some good, meaty scenes. They want you to succeed, to push yourself into risky territory, and ultimately to come out the other side exhilarated (and possibly emotionally drained).
They are not going to laugh at you or think less of you somehow if you let down your barriers in character during a HTHD game. That is part of the social contract between players in the style: create a safe place for everyone at the table, so they can explore exciting, dramatic scenes together.
Be like Colin. Go for it.