Maturity & Gaming

Back in the 90s, when I played Second Edition (this was the edition I started with), my friends and I almost always used 4d6, drop the lowest, re-roll 1s, and arrange to taste when rolling up characters. Max HP were generally awarded at first level. I usually played elves, most commonly elven wizards. I often came up with relatively intricate back stories for characters before play, and our characters rarely died (though we did not consciously run a “low lethality” game; such things were not considered). We enjoyed the process of rolling dice, mostly for the variation they introduced, but we didn’t want randomness to rob us of whatever our predetermined vision was.

By that point in TSR’s history, many of the core elements of the original game had become obscured or removed. For example, some of our characters had animal companions or other minions, but we didn’t really play with hirelings. We scorned random encounters, never used reaction rolls, didn’t use hex maps, and ignored all manner of other early techniques (mostly, now that I understand them, to the detriment of our games). This was also certainly affected by the amateur thespian advice littered around the Second Edition books, and the rise of the White Wolf Storyteller games around the same time (which all the older, more sophisticated kids were playing). I flirted a bit with The World of Darkness in high school, but even at that time D&D was always my game of choice.

I wonder, though, if play style is somewhat generational, not in terms of when you were born, but in terms of maturity level. I started playing during my adolescence, and much of one’s life during that period is about defining yourself. Thus, I think there is a strong pull towards wish fulfillment play (“this is what I want to be”). Gary and Dave, when they originally developed D&D, were obviously not in that sort of mental space. They were already mature adults, and were building an intricate game informed by their wargaming experience. There is still a strong strain of childlike wonder present, but that is different than wish fulfillment. To perhaps oversimplify, if adolescence is about self creation, then maturity is about self discovery. The parallels with “character builds” and its alternative “development through play” should be obvious, I think.

17 thoughts on “Maturity & Gaming

  1. Trey

    I’d be wary of casting one play style as “immature” and another as mature. I think there is plenty of immaturity to be had in any game style. I think some of the differences come down to inspirations/expectations. The early rpgers were often wargamers either mainly or additionally. By 2e, wargames were mostly removed from peoples list of influences and I think (as you point out) ideas of epic stories and what not.

    “character” build” or “development through play,” I’d argue, have really nothing to do self-discovery–rather they’re adaptations to the rules provided. Minmaxing is a logical (an mature, I guess, so far as it goes) response to rules that allow that. If some of us choose not to minmax in a game that would allow it, it’s only because other concerns take precedence for us.

    1. Brendan

      I guess the idea is that wish fulfillment is less mature than self discovery. I guess it might be possible that someone will read immature as bad and mature as good, but they really are separate concepts. There are some things that I do now that are more about wish fulfillment, so I don’t think that is inherently bad. It’s just not so much how I game.

      My point is not to pejoratively label one method of playing over another. I’m more trying to understand my own gaming trajectory. I used to play one way, now I play another, and I think the way I play now is in some ways more rewarding than how I played before. Maybe there are also associated downsides; I haven’t though enough about that side of the equation yet.

    2. John

      “I’m more trying to understand my own gaming trajectory. I used to play one way, now I play another, and I think the way I play now is in some ways more rewarding than how I played before.”

      This is almost exactly what my group is going through right now. We’re also early-20-somethings coming to terms with the realization that sometimes, we are what we are. You might be on to something here.

    3. David

      Very insightful thoughts. My old group went through a phase where we disdained randomness, as well. We thought we weren’t worth our dice as DMs if we didn’t design and know everything about our settings. Random determination wasn’t only deemed lazy at the table, it was seen as indicative of a general, and debilitating, lack of imagination.

      I’m much more pragmatic in my old age. I like randomness for two reasons: 1) I don’t have to do as much work beforehand; and 2) I like enjoying a sense of wonder and discovery as much as my players. That’s one thing my maturity has taught me: enjoy the ride.

    4. Trey

      My point is that I don’t believe either play style is linked to “self-discovery.” Playing old school D&D really doesn’t help you grow as a person–and only if “self-discovery” means “having a more detailed history of play” is any D&D character more self-discovered than an other character in any other game.

      All you’re doing is saying “I used to play this way, now I play this way, and I think it’s more mature”–which is a value judgement really.

    5. Brendan

      Did you play a different way when you were younger, and if so how has your play style changed?

      Again, this is not a better/worse thing. No value judgment is intended, but I can’t stop people from reading it that way if they want to. I think there is plenty of value in immature things, but that doesn’t stop them from being immature.

      I do think that some characters are more self-discovered than others. Some PCs start with a very specific idea and never change, and others are more shaped by their play experience. I don’t think this is an either/or, of course, more of a spectrum.

    6. Trey

      Again “self-discovery” is not being defined well. The sort of experiences D&D characters seldom make them better realized characters in the literary sense of the term. And they certainly not “self-discovering” because a character is an artificial thing with no “self” to discover. The player may be “finding the character” but that process isn’t “self-discovery.”

      But to answer your question: yes, I play differently now than when I was younger, and some of those differences (subject matter, tone, nuance) I would chalk up to “maturity.” They don’t really have much to do with how much I make up about a character ahead of time, though. The sort of game I’m playing and whim determines that.

  2. DrBargle

    ‘To perhaps oversimplify, if adolescence is about self creation, then maturity is about self discovery. The parallels with “character builds” and its alternative “development through play” should be obvious, I think.’

    Oversimplification be damned, that’s a very interesting point indeed!

  3. Adam

    This is the second time I’ve seen the idea that teenagers have the wrong personality for the original game. It may be true for a majority of teenagers, I can’t say, but in my experience it’s bunk.

    Last monday I ran a game of DCC- which starts with the mass slaughter of 0-level characters- with some kids who’d never tried RPG’s before. They got straight into the groove and it worked out great – they blew up a fire-breathing statue and used a rope trap to crush 40 clay warriors.

    Everyone plays games differently. I don’t think it has much to do with age.

    1. Brendan

      Everyone plays games differently.

      Yes, totally. I would ask you the same question I asked Trey though: did you used to play games in a different way, and if so, how has that changed now?

      It seems to me your example is more about you and less about them. Who knows what those players would default to on their own? Also, DCC is a game that is designed very tightly to promote a certain style of play.

      My limited personal experience, and everything I have read online does not seem to back this up. Incomplete, I know, but that’s all I have to go on.

  4. Zenopus Archives

    I think bringing the world/game under control is part of it. When we are younger we long to exert mastery over a chaotic world (real or imaginary). At a certain point young children become aware that others can die, but generally imagine that they themselves will always be skillful/clever enough to avoid it. When they are older and play a game like D&D, they want it to be a fully adult world where death is possible, but where they can control it to always avoid death of their PC through skillful play. Randomness, including “unfair” character death, threatens to break this bubble that we can control the world through our personal cleverness.

    1. Zenopus Archives

      Also, see this article by M. John Harrison (author of the Pastel City/Viriconium post-apocalyptic series), where he mentions that rpgs (among other forms) are centered on controlling the anxiety produced by the vastness present in imaginary worlds. We learn the rules, the chaos is controlled. Unlike Harrison, I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, but it is an interesting viewpoint to keep in mind.

      What It Might Be Like to Live in Viriconium

    2. Brendan

      Man, now you reminded me of another book I’ve been meaning to read. Not enough time!

      And that’s a really good point about control being the central urge here. I wish I had though of mentioning that more explicitly.

  5. LordVreeg

    I tend to agree with you, and respectfully tell Trey that while there are no absolutes about maturity and play style, there are attributes of maturity that are often needed for some facets of certain play styles.
    The early game and rules were written for Gary and his peers. As time went on, many things changed, and I believe partially to accomodate a younger audience that the game found was out there.
    MinMaxing is all about beating the game, not playing it. And the earlier rules were very hard to play with, dealing with a lot more randomization (as you noted). I would argue that since winning is placed above playing the game, or ‘roleplaying’, it is a less mature style of play.
    Lethality and consequence is also tied to maturity. None of us like losing characters, But having been playing RPGs and D&D for over 30 years (I was 10, so it is 36 years), I would argue that lower-power/consequence-driven games are a style better suited to the those that can deal with context and take responsibility for their actions.
    The opposite would be the Monty-Haul/Low-consequence game, more suited to developmental stages needing appeasement and frankly, selfish fulfilment over risk/reward.
    But this is personal opinion.


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