If I have a manifesto for gaming, the biggest assertion I want to make is a simple one: of all the marvellous games available for us to enjoy in our spare time, the fantasy roleplaying game has the greatest value as an infinite game.
An infinite game is played for the purpose of continuing the play. When I first began playing Traveller the group I was part of would meet most days and merely play. We’d carry on the adventure, each session led to the next, and then to another.
We weren’t playing a particular campaign arc, nor were we playing a module. We weren’t counting down the sessions to the end of one person’s tenure as Referee. We certainly weren’t bothered about reaching greater levels of power or even wealth. We were merely playing.
These days it seems I can’t get as far as proposing to play before someone will ask me the limits on the game: Which rules system? How many sessions? Which campaign book? Running from which level? How many players? The list of qualifying and limiting questions is seemingly endless.
Why don’t we just show up and play anymore?
Maybe we feel like commitment is harder now that we are adults – surely we all have barriers to getting to the literal or digital table. You probably have a family, a job, a partner, other commitments. Sure. But that’s not really the problem. We can choose to run an Open Table. We can accept that some sessions you won’t be there. We can even decide to run the game with varying Game Masters. But we don’t.
We’ve backed ourselves into an imaginary corner with clearly defined limits that take the potential for an ongoing infinite game and reduce it to a finite parcel. This or that set of rules, this many sessions, that campaign book, from level 3 to level 10, and only four regular players. Because we have come to believe that this is better.
I am questioning that orthodoxy. I remember that my friend Daniel ran the sessions most of the time but when he couldn’t we’d meet elsewhere and someone else would take up the mantle. We could grab new characters or continue with the current crop. It didn’t matter too much because the goal was that we were going to play today.
Sure, we aren’t teenage kids anymore. We don’t have the free time we used to have, not by a long shot. But we could choose to set a day and a time, perhaps once a fortnight or every week. Or even once a month. We could decide that whoever is free turns up to play.
We could decide that the game is set in one world and that anyone could run the session for the others. We could choose to have a troupe of characters, rotating which we played depending on the needs of the game this particular session.
We could stop worrying about whether the story is epic or the characters are levelling up quick enough. We could engage in the fantasy, as friends, together, today. The play could be the priority. We stop looking for one particular set of outcomes. We embrace the uncertainty and playfulness of the open-ended roleplaying game.
I can’t help but wonder how liberating that might turn out to be.
Meanwhile, I better focus on prepping my next session for the campaign I am running for these particular players which can’t progress because my work got in the way, or because I am off sick. Because somewhere along the way, we decided that an improvised session of play wasn’t enough.
We stopped playing to find out what happens next, for the sake of playing, when we wanted to hang with friends and see where our shared fantasy would take us.
When I think about what I hanker for the most from those early games it’s the attitude of turning up and playing. Whatever was on offer, that was fine. We’d roll with it. The play was the thing and those games turned out to last the longest because they were infinitely extendable. We just kept playing.