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Don’t Underestimate “New” Players

In yesterday’s #RPGChat Twitter conversation, someone brought up the idea that novice players can’t handle certain things[1]. I see this time and time again, and it pisses me off.

Some of the best games I’ve played have been with people who were new to the hobby.

When I see toxic pseudo-advice about how to treat new players, about how new players can’t handle certain topics — including heavy mechanics (which many can), playing our narrative arc (which many can), portraying a strong sense of character (which many can), fostering interesting interactions and relationships with other PCs (which many can), etc. — I want to throttle those people and expel them from my hobby so they may not ruin it further.

And yes, such people ruin it. They treat new people entering our hobby as lesser beings, to be coddled and to be underestimated. (And fuck-forbid that new person be a woman — I have heard more than a few stories about a woman’s first time playing being entirely undermined.) They tell people to go away from our hobby, not to embrace it.

So if I hear you talking about such bullshit “new players aren’t good with X,” I will call you on the carpet. And I will view you as nothing more than someone who hates my hobby.

Now, maybe you mean “shy players,” which there’s some overlap between shy and new. Some advice that people spout for new players is actually about shyness — smoothly bringing in engagement and characterization. Some of the pseudoadvice is about players who don’t care about mechanics, and showed up for the story (or vice versa). And yes, mastery of a game is also an issue — but there are plenty of people who have played games for months who still lack mastery of it. (That’s the case for me & the Burning Wheel system.)

Finally, new players come with something really fucking amazing: a lack of baggage around this hobby. I cherish that. I loathe to sunder it early.

Next time you pop off the mouth about “new players” or “novice players,” stop, consider what sort of person you’re actually talking about, and say that. And if you can’t come up with anything better, then I hope I won’t hear it lest I consider you a “novice” at being a decent and thoughtful human.

– Ryan

[1] Granted, in 140-character land, that’s what was said. I’m sure it would have more nuance and context if it was a real conversation, so to whoever said that if you’re reading this, I’m casting on aspersions on you.

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10 Responses to Don’t Underestimate “New” Players

  1. Kit says:

    I think that a lot of the “advice” about new players is also, often, about “people who have not absorbed my particular culture of play”. (Curiously, I also find overlap between people who conflate those two things, and people whose culture of play is difficult-to-distasteful for me to engage in.)

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I’ve found very little of that advice to be functional, when framed as “new players have a problem with X.” Are there cases where you’ve seen that as a positive?

      – Ryan

    • Kit says:

      No, not positive, but it’s always made more sense when I interpret it more as “someone unused to my playstyle”, than when I take the given “new players”.

      And usually, it comes from a place where “my playstyle” equals “playing RPGs at all”, which I usually find toxic. So it’s no surprise to me that it won’t be positive.

  2. blackcoat says:

    Right there with you. I wonder how much of that is “I look back on me when I was new, and I was horrible at X, so all new players must be horrible at X” (or even “When I started, I was told that I’d be horrible at…”).

    I’m running something for Free RPG day, and I hope I get a bunch of newbs, ’cause there’s little more awesome than that look on their face when they GET IT, and you get to go “yeah, isn’t it AWESOME!?”

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Word. And sometimes we were “horrible” because someone shamed us in a similar way.

      – Ryan

  3. Kristin says:

    Yes!! This!

    I just wrote my first ever game, and I know it could use extra/better guidance. That said, I got the criticism that my reviewer was “concerned that the current design relies on the players being brilliant” and how they need help with a whole list of things (some that I intentionally want to leave more open ended).

    Only, people *are* brilliant, and the newest players can come up with some of the awesomest creations and connections. I didn’t argue with him, because he’s taking time to review my game from his own personal perspective, which I’m grateful for. And it does need ongoing work. But I wanted to, because we don’t need to write/play/GM for some lowest common denominator.

    So thank you, for articulating this in another way that helps me understand my own frustration.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Yeah, I’ve seen that criticism before. There’s something in that which could be useful, but as stated it misses the point by a mile.

      A side point: When we were working on A Penny for my Thoughts, the two things I told Paul: “Assume our readers are smart” and “You’re giving permission to do things; now get them tools to do it well.” This was to combat any lack of confidence a reader had while reading the game as well as to aid in those moments of creative fatigue that can happen in high-improv games.

      But to go back to that comment, if I were to get that critique, my simple response: “Fuck you, that’s my target audience.” :)

      – Ryan

  4. Kristin says:

    Exactly. <3

  5. Lugh says:

    IME, there are two things that new players are bad at:

    Shifting smoothly between the different layers of interaction (in-character, out-of-character, mechanical, socialization, etc.). Which is totally a matter of getting familiar with the game. And is easily handled by just being patient, giving the new player a little extra time, and some extra bold cues.

    The second thing is jargon (and other references). One thing I have noticed about watching newbies entering a game is that we take a LOT of terminology for granted. The concepts usually don’t trip them up as much as keeping the different meanings of “level” separate.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Lugh,

      I do not agree with you all on the first. Many people, regardless of experience, have those problems. I’ve seen people who have been playing for years struggle with different layers of interaction, because of how they’re wired.

      But sure, jargon is always a problem for new people anywhere. Doesn’t give license to underestimate people.

      – Ryan