Seriousness in RPG's

This is thought that deserves more attention, but all I have got is this for now:

I think RPGs, as a form, are capable of exploring some of the various aspects of the human condition like fear, love, tragedy, revenge, death, longing, etc.

These are games that would be more "serious" than others. (1)

I'd like to play/run games that do the above, at least sometimes.

But that never really happens.  I am not sure why,

(1) I am not implying that these sorts of games are better -- in any sense of the word --  than other sorts of games.  I am just trying to differentiate the tone of said games from others.  Also, I would imagine, there would be fewer jokes about bodily fluids and/or Monty Python references.


  1. Maybe because these can be embarrassing subjects for some folks. When confronted with something that makes them uncomfortable, many people turn to levity to mask their discomfort.

  2. Well, if you ever feel like making the trip down the interstate: we don't have many bodily fluid jokes, or any Monty Python references that I recall. ;)

    I think Matt makes a point--people sometimes get uncomfortable with the serious stuff.

    I'd say I like a fix. My games often have a sort of Lieberian tone (or at least, that's what I shoot for) there is plenty of humor at times, but also seriousness--it depends on what the players' respond to though. Can't do the same thing with every group. I think a lighter tone tends to go over better with larger groups, too.

  3. I think Matt hits on something very true. Another element that can also be added to his suggestion is the motivation to play in the first place. Is it the exploration of the human condition and psyche, or is it simple escape from the cares of everyday life? The same can be asked regarding other entertainment forms: "literature" vs. adventure novel, "art film" vs. romantic comedy, and so on.

  4. A well-timed post for me as I was just discussing this very subject a few days ago.

    In my experiences, the odds of running or playing in a "serious" RPG significantly diminish as the number of players in the group increases and/or as the rules-intensive fiddliness of the game system becomes more complex. Seriousness requires collaborative concentration, and too many distractions can make the actual play of a game quite shallow.

    For me, when a GM ties thematically appropriate challenges with original and surprising mechanics that enhance the theme into an adventure that threads character background organically into the action, a serious story has its best chance of coming to life and thriving throughout a session. There are never guarantees, but I think taking the chance to play one is worth it. I heartily agree that this hobby offers wonderful opportunities to explore the human condition if prepped and executed with attention to detail and sensitivity to the players.

    The RPG I've been so desperately trying to get people to play is rife with opportunities for serious play, and I've even already written up an adventure suite that explores themes of finding redemption in a violent world and struggling to persevere when hopelessness is easier to accept. However, as compelling as I believe the adventure is, when it final sees action at my table or on Google+, I know that seriousness is not assured, so I've prepared "dark humor" margin notes to accommodate the players should I read their unease with the themes early on.

  5. I think desires of the moment are almost as important as personal tendencies (and dare I say it, maturity). But yeah, I've done a lot of serious gaming in the past, and I have really enjoyed when I can have a serious game with serious folk. These serious campaigns didn't exclude moments of levity (both out-of-game and in-game humor), but they dealt with serious issues of family, betrayal, revenge, redemption, and so forth and were deeply satisfying.

  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    I think Matt is right -- serious gaming is well, serious, which is not what a lot of people want out of a game. It's not even what I want out of a game all the time. Life is serious enough. But there are times when I want minimize the silly.

    If you've read the blog, you'll notice there's a fairly high degree of levity involved with the folks I game with.

    @Trey -- I would love to come down and game with you sometime!

    @JF -- I never really made the connection between rules complexity and seriousness. I'll think about that further.

    @Bard -- Right on. I am all about escapism most of the time. I think it's the season (and my recent fascination with The Walking Dead) that's got me thinking about seriousness.

    @Theodric -- Do you mean player desires of the moment? As in, engaging in the sorts of games one wants to play when one wants to play them?


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