Playing For The Sake Of Playing

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.

Daniel and Alex were our main GMs (circa 1987)

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.

Game on!


  1. Sounds like my early gaming experience (before I took a 20 something year break).
    Hard to make it happen. We can do a little to help but it is an organic process.
    I’d be happy to join you on that adventure, but my emotional instability always seems to get in the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I miss that old style of play where the games and groups were fairly fluid and we were just having fun playing games. The modern players seem to bring a work like approach to playing, almost like its a job.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There is soooooo much to talk about here. I am in total agreement with you. There are some games, even back in the old days, that maybe lend themselves less to the kind of ongoing play you describe (I’ve never been able to wrap my head around the idea of a Call of Cthulhu game that goes on for years), but for classics like AD&D, Traveller, Champions, Runequest, etc, the idea of saying “this is a 12 session campaign” has never made any sense to me.

    Not to bash on current game systems and editions — just brainstorming here — I feel like the the way D&D is presented as kind of a consumer product/media consumption kind of thing is indicative of anything. Of course it has always been a consumer product, but it seems like a much more sophisticated “product purchase funnel” now. Packaged in massive story arcs, set times to level-up to keep people feeling like they are “doing it”, etc. Add to that the popularity of streaming/youtube actual play media — I think that kind of changes some peoples’ notions of what it’s all about, and certainly plays in the formation of new gamers ideas these days.

    I guess I could go on and on. Maybe we’ll talk about his on our Traveller podcast a bit. I think it’s a topic worth exploring, but with care so as not to bash anyone’s style of play. More an exploration of our own ideas of what it means to game.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree this is a play style issue – I have an episode on that very thing coming Saturday on the podcast. It’s also a rich vein to explore if your appetites run towards longer-term play for exploring worlds, or fellowship, or a number of other engagement experiences.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.