Another odd thing I've been seeing in my games lately is what you could call 'plot avoidance'. Before I can explain what I mean, I have to explain a little bit about what I mean by plot as I am not really using the term properly in this case.
By plot I mean the relevant conundrum of the session or arc of sessions that are related by what is going on. It could last a single evening, several evenings, or even longer. It is the mystery the group of PCs is trying to solve, the quest they are attempting to complete, the villain or villains they are fighting to vanquish or whatever else might be driving the campaign at the time.
Recently I've noticed players who make an effort to not try to solve the mystery, who would rather RP for the entire 4 hours of our 4 hour online sessions, or who scoff at other players when their PCs come up with an idea about what's going on or how to stop it.
This one is particularly strange to me because of the type of games I run and the way in which I run them.
Generally speaking, I don't write adventures the way most people do. Really I don't write adventures at all. I have characters that are doing things or situations that have occurred and the PCs in the game come across these things and decide what, if anything, they're going to do about it.
In some campaigns, largely based on their genre or setting, the events that transpire are directly related to the PC's and their outlooks/purposes and one can therefore assume they will get involved because that's the very reason the characters are there. A good example of this is a Silver Age Superhero campaign. If a crime occurs and the PCs learn of it they will likely investigate. If the Super Bowl is under attack by Alien Invaders, the PCs will go to try and stop them. They don't have to technically, but they are Superheroes after all. It's what they do. It's why we're playing that particular game.
A variant on this is when the PCs belong to an organization that can assign them to investigate an unusual or potentially dangerous situation. In this case, as above, the PCs chose to do this job, so they will want to accomplish their given assignment. An example of this is a Star Trek campaign. A Starfleet Admiral contacts the PC ship and ask them to check out a region of space not far from them where two probes and a small scout vessel have disappeared. The PCs are inclined to investigate this because they are Starfleet Officers on a Starfleet Ship and this is what Starfleet does. Furthermore this is an order from an Admiral and you need to follow orders because that's how things work in Starfleet.
The third type of game, and last for now, is one where the PCs are 'Adventurers' with a capital 'A' in an open world/universe where they are the masters of their own fate. When I run these types of games the PCs will come across local or widespread events, characters, and conditions and it is completely up to them whether they engage with them or not. I have run Dungeons & Dragons, Traveller, and many other games this way.
An example of this type of game is one in which the PCs hear rumors of a Monster threatening the local villagers and eating their stores of food. The PCs party may decide to hunt down the Monster or they may want to leave town before the Monster strikes again. Let's say they do the latter. The team travels on to a bigger city; arriving a few days later, they hear about a nearby ruin and a possible treasure there. They decide to check that out. When they return from their expedition they might be richer but they might also hear tell that the village they left has been abandoned. The Monster ate all the food the inhabitants had saved for the winter. The players may care or they may not.
So basically, once the players in any game discover that something is going on, something that interacts with their present course of travel or activity, they must make the choice on whether or not to interact with that component of the game. In some cases, as noted, interaction should be assumed and almost automatic. Superheroes will fight villains and try to solve crimes. Ghostbusters will investigate hauntings and try to bust ghosts. Rebels in a Star Wars game will attempt to defeat the plans of the Galactic Empire.
In the case of a group of Adventurers, Thrill Seekers, or Treasure Hunter in D&D, Traveller, Star Frontiers, or other open-ended settings, players and their PCs decide what they want to pursue and if something crosses their path, they either deal with it or move on to something else.
Now we can get to the real meat and potatoes of this post...
Once something is encountered or discovered, once a mystery reveals itself or a quandary is presented, the players generally make a choice to pursue it or not. The players Do Not not make a choice of any kind. They don't generally sit around the gaming table (or on the chat these days) and just RP or drink at a tavern or whathaveyou for the next dozen some odd sessions.
Sure, there are games in which Role Playing is the explicit focus, with little to no combat or traditional mystery solving involved. There are Soap Opera games, Slice of Life games, Romance games, and many other genres that de-emphasize traditional RPG elements. Breaking the Ice, Golden Sky Stories, Romance in the Air, Tales from the Loop, Til Dawn are but a few of these with varying degrees of investigation and tactical action but which get deep into the characterization and storytelling aspects of gaming.
What I am talking about however is more or less traditional game wherein the players or PCs would rather Role Play than get involved in the plot - be it discovering the reason behind a lost allied starship suddenly appearing and attacking peaceful aliens or what's behind the assassination of a nobleman and his daughter on the crux of establishing an important alliance.
The players want to 'play their characters' and aren't focused on what is happening in the story, as if they can't act in character while searching for the catalyst of their current predicament. They want to talk with NPCs and PCs alike but with little goal in mind beyond the act itself. In some ways, this reminds me a little of the issue I discussed in my previous post. Why not do both? At the same time? Towards an end? Imagine having memorable dialogue AND accomplishing something!
In one player I have a fellow who seems to actively get upset when other players make in-roads towards solving the conundrum at hand. I am not certain why but at least twice now he accused his fellow players of kind of meta-gaming by guessing at what was happening based on the facts provided. In both instances I disagreed completely, instead commending the players for actually paying attention and putting the clues together in a sensible way. Sadly I am not always sure they're paying close attention and I'm pretty impressed when they reason such things out.
In conclusion, What The Hell? Why is a balance between Action and Story, Characterization and Intrigue, Role Playing and Exploration so difficult for some players? Why isn't it all fused together into one coherent, equally comprised, unspoken ebb and flow?
Why is your character in the game if they're not going to participate in the exploits that characters in such a game are supposed to participate in?
Are you playing a Starfleet Officer who isn't interested in preventing a Temporal Anomaly from damaging the timeline? Would you want to be a Superhero who opens a bar and doesn't ever fight crime? How about creating a Thief who isn't interested in obtaining treasure and instead just sits around the local tavern discussing politics and wine pairings.
Why? Why would you do that?