OngoingWorlds blog

News & articles about play-by-post games, for roleplayers & writers


Good Writers vs Good Players

One of the most pleasant aspects of being a GM is reviewing applications and welcoming new players aboard your sim. Opening my email and finding a new application to read and review can be quite exciting. However, as a GM, you have to be selective about who you accept on your sim, and this is where things get tricky.

Making the wrong decision on a potential applicant can cause a lot of headaches down the road, as many GMs have learned the hard way. We have a lot of tools in the application process to determine whether a new player is a good writer – the biography and the sample post are generally a good indicator of writing skill – but is that enough to determine whether the applicant is a good player?

Being a good writer and being a good player are two different things.

To be a good player requires more than just being well-written. More than just solo writing skills, it involves playing well with others (which is something that most people learn in kindergarten, but there are unfortunately some people out there who were obviously home sick that day) and writing well with others in order to collaboratively produce a story that is not only the best story possible, but also one that is fun for everyone to write.

(I’m including GMs in this because GMs are players too!)

Unfortunately, for many of the same reasons why a frustrated fantasy novelist often makes a poor DM in D&D, sometimes there are aspects of solo writing that don’t translate well to simming.

First is, of course, the famed writers’ ego. While there are a number of good writers out there who are humble, well-adjusted people who are great at working as a team, there is unfortunately a little grain of truth in the stereotype of a writer as massive egotists. And if you hang around the simming community long enough, you will eventually come into contact with one.

This ego can manifest itself in many ways. Being overly protective of one’s writing, one’s characters, and, if one is the GM, that glorious plot that you came up with for everyone else to enjoy, is one way. Trying to hog the spotlight and have everything revolve around your character is another. Being dismissive of other people’s writing skills or lack of knowledge of in game lingo is another.

In fact, I’ve seen it get to the point where players will actually go out of their way to punish other players by making people’s characters look bad if they think their writing or technical prowess isn’t up to snuff. When it gets to this point, no one is having any fun anymore.

We can be proud of our writing, but simming is a collaborative endeavor, and being a good player sometimes involves checking one’s ego.

When you’re writing solo, you are often dealing with one or a small handful of primary protagonists. You can have cool central characters like James Bond who always kill the bad guy, save the world, and get the girl. But in the world of collaborative roleplaying, James Bond would be the ultimate Mary Sue. Not because he’s a bad character, because he isn’t, but because he would steal the spotlight, making the players of Q and M and all the other characters feel pretty inconsequential. Knowing when to share the spotlight is much more important in simming than it is when you’re writing a fanfic.

The other thing with collaborative writing is that sometimes it involves giving up control, which is something that solo writers aren’t used to doing. We can’t always control what goes on around our characters, and in fact, simming sometimes demands that you even be flexible with your character’s actions and intentions in service of the story and out of respect for other players. This sort of thing can be anathema to a frustrated novelist turned play-by-post role-player.

Finally, simming is a fun hobby. More importantly, it’s one which should be open for all people to enjoy – including those whose writing skills may not be the greatest. When it comes to writing, not everyone has the advantages of being well-educated, having English as a first language, or being free of learning disabilities. We should strive to be accepting of those who occasionally mangle some spelling and grammar, or whose prose may not be as flowery as others, because it is much better to have some mangled syntax and frustrating grammar than mangled feelings and frustrated players.

Being a good player means turning a blind eye to the mangled syntax etc and embracing the person. It means assisting that player in becoming better with grammar, or spelling, or what have you and thereby you become a better player. Most of all it requires one to lead by example.

Let’s stop striving to be good writers. Instead, let’s strive to be good players.