The biggest difference between a GM and a Player is how much control they have over the story. Now a good GM will allow the players to influence the game’s backstory and populate the world with their NPCs. But even then, the majority of the game is something that the GM has control over. They decide which rules to follow, what plot each session will face, and what opposition the players will face.
In real life, we do not have any control of any of those things. Not really. We can try to influence them as best we can, but when it really comes down to it we do not have control of what happens to us, what rules we have to follow, or what new twists will come into our lives.
This makes playing RPGs an excellent place to learn, from experience, just what control we do have in our lives and what we can do with that control. Yes, games really are a place to learn things that can be applied to real life. Who knew?
What We Have Control Of
As a player, you have one thing to control: your character. That is it. Some games will have other mechanics that let you make a single decision about an event or an aspect of the game, and occasionally the GM will allow you to do the same. But really, a player is only responsible for their character. This is the part of the game that they have absolute control over.
This does not mean that they get to have their character do whatever they want. There are still rules in every game to follow, just like in real life. You level up as the rules dictate. You find loot as the GM provides it. You gain influence based on your actions.
There is the real key there. You have control of the choices your player makes. They cannot choose if a dragon appears in the next cave, but they can choose how to react to it. They may not be able to save everyone before the ship crashes, but they can still choose to try and save someone. They cannot make the wicked count play nice with the common folks, but they can choose diplomacy or fists to persuade him.
Stats, loot, and dice rolls help determine how likely your choices are to succeed or fail, but when it comes down to it you have to make the choices. You have to take your limited options and decide on the best course of action for your player character. And you have to decide if you care more about what you have control over or the story that everyone is telling together.
What We Learn
Sometimes it is hard in a game, just like real life, when things don’t go our way. We look back and try to imagine how we could have done things differently. We try to bargain with the GM. We flip tables and walk away. Or we move forward as best we can. It is our choice.
When an NPC we were mentoring decides to betray us, our character might wonder if trying to help people is ever really worth it. When a loved PC dies, our character may want to quit adventuring. When we keep getting hit with combat after combat and have no time to rest, our character may feel like giving up. And because this is our character, we understand how that person feels.
Games give us a chance to experience some very hard things without actually having to live with them, and it teaches us a bit about how to deal with such things. You can make choices and discover what the consequences will be. Hopefully you learn a lot about your character, and a little bit about yourself.
Just a quick insight that has struck me lately. What has gaming taught you about yourself? Share some stories. We’d love to hear from you.