Thursday, April 20, 2023

Why Some Games Need to be Silly


I had a flash of insight last night after my oldest son had a bad night last night. My son, who sits somewhere on the autism spectrum, has a hard time regulating feelings. He has outbursts when confronted with negative emotions, especially when it comes to competition and losing.

In a bid to teach him sportsmanship,  and expose  to competing, winning, and losing until he has effective strategies to handle it, I have been playing Pokémon TCG Online with him a couple of matches per day.

It has been an uphill battle. Her number of reasons. Some of them are very relevant to understanding TTRPGs, and why some styles of play are more suited for particular types of people than others.

See, my son has been on a winning streak. My first round draw of cards in Pokémon TCG has been consistently abysmal.

My go-to deck for
being nasty.
After seven or so losses in a row, including two last night, I finally beat my son by pulling out a deck with some nasty tricks, and he could not handle the change in feelings very well. 

After I coached him in meditating and how not to hand out blame when things don't go his way, I dug deep into some of the things that were bothering him.

One of the big ones is that he invests a lot of imagination in the game. When his favorite Pokémon is on the board, he isn't thinking about how to win the game with its powers, he's imagining himself being a trainer with a loving and obedient monster. He spends his time imagining really commanding his creatures, and so when one of mine brutalizes one of his, it jars him.

This is pretty similar tot he transferance we see when players get too invested in their PCs and have intense emotional responses to in-game events.

On top of that, my kid is a very serious young man, and he takes Pokémon in general very seriously. He doesn't like when I make fun of them or tease him about them. I have managed to get a lot of teasing mileage out of calling his favourite toy "Pikachupacabra" as of late. At seven he has a hard time seeing how patently absurd the world of Pokémon is.

Which clicked something in my head.

Right now I am reading Black Pudding: Heavy Helping vol. 1 a collection of the Black Pudding zine edited and mostly written by James v. West which is very cool, very creative, but also very silly with character classes like the Barbaribunny (a barbaric bunny), Luchadores, and characters that get special defensive abilities while wearing chainmail bikinis. Monsters like evil sorcerers that kill people with jokes. Not to mention NPC's with over-the-top themes like Yarla the Skull, a Barbarix who wields the Skull of the Skull.

The silly, over-the-top humor of Black Pudding has not until recently been my cup of tea (in a game). I like weird and surreal mixed into my campaign, but on a whole I play them very straight. When I first started looking at the OSR, stuff like the Hotdog Suit class in the Gongfarmer's Almanac 2016 blew my mind... but I couldn't see ever using them. Just too silly for my playstyle of the time.

The idea of a campaign like something out of Something Positive's D&D sequences once would have turned me completely off. And watching the current "Brovenloft" campaign unfold in the BrOSR crowd where characters are literally playing things like The Count from Sesame Street leaves me scratching my head at times. I didn't disapprove, it just isn't for me.

But talking to my son last night, I finally get why you might want to run an incredibly unserious campaign.

The absurdity of a campaign world with "Raven Heart" goth girl mages and Bunnybarians fighting the minions of Count Chocula makes it hard to invest yourself or take the game too seriously. You might be able to put yourself in the head of the Chainmail Chick you are playing, and enjoy immersion, but when your enemies are the Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse under the guidance of Rincewind the Wizard, it will be hard to get into a serious state where you are going to be upset when said chainmail chick gets attacked by a Rust Monster and finds herself -erm - "unchained."

A silly tone is a buffer against hard feelings at the table and emotional transference that I can see being very useful at some tables.

It is something I instinctually understood when writing Dragonette, and now should turn up to 11 to see if it helps me son.

Also, if you have an overwhelming urge to kick my ass in Pokémon TCG Online, hit me up,

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