A recent conversation about single-player gaming with a fellow Sprite Stitcher, Remy, who is also a roleplaying GM, resulted in a relatively in-depth look at the topic of resistance to one-on-one gaming. Remy was kind enough to allow me to retool the conversation into a blog post, so what follows came directly out of our collaboration. 🙂
The conversation made me reflect on the fact that there really is a lot of stigma and/or bad feeling attached to single-player gaming. Here are some of the foundations of resistance to one-on-ones that came to mind as we spoke:
- Gaming as a social activity. This is the immediately obvious one. For those who roleplay as a means of hanging out with a group of friends, a one-on-one game is a tough sell. Many players prefer the casual and informal environment of group gaming. Gaming as an activity might be secondary to the gathering itself. Resistant players may also believe that a one-on-one game will have less energy, be slower paced, or otherwise be “more boring” than group gaming.
- Game style preferences. Mechanics-oriented gamers can be turned off by the perception of one-on-ones as sort of like roleplaying over instant messengers (remember instant messengers?). They perceive single-player games as talk-oriented rather than action- or numbers-oriented, with interpersonal machinations taking the fore. And of course that can be true, though perhaps one-on-ones get a bad rap in that regard. I certainly find that the quick volleys between player and GM can lead to an even faster-paced, more action-driven game than scenarios like group combat allow, what with all the declarations and die rolls for every person at the table. Still, one-on-ones do rely less on stabbing and more on chatting as a general rule.
- Common gaming conventions. In a one-on-one game, you’re either totally solo or you’re thrust in with a pack of GMPCs. And we all know that GMPCs are terrible and that any GM who runs GMPCs deserves to be shot into the sun. (You can tell that I totally believe this because I only run an average of five active GMPCs during any given campaign with my spouse.) Resistant players can also be concerned about gamist issues like balance, especially in a D&D-style class-based system where the entire point is that no one class, other than 3.5e druids (lol edition warz!), can go it alone. How will a solo character do the job of an entire party? What happens when combat goes south? Will the character die without support, or will the numbers get fudged so blatantly that the player is robbed of the satisfaction of taking the rolls as they come?
- Intimacy. Single-player campaigns require – and engender – a deeper connection between player and GM than is allowed within a group game. That alone can be a scary thought. And some players might fear that in-game conflicts, or perhaps conflicts between player and GM over rulings or feelings of unfair treatment, might put a wedge in a real-life relationship in a way that might be defused by or diffused among a larger group.
- Logistics. Single-player games are easier to schedule and execute, because only two people have to make their schedules mesh. That can mean more frequent gaming. Some players might fear burning out. And if player and GM live together, both parties should be prepared for the game to potentially insert itself into everyday life, with sessions taking place whenever there’s a free moment.
- The single-player spotlight. The solo player is in the hot seat the entire time. She won’t get to kick back and think at a leisurely pace while the other players declare their actions. As a ponderously slow thinker myself, I found that I had to begin developing a particularly focused mental agility to keep up with the one-on-ones where my spouse was GMing. I had already been running games for her for a few years; if I hadn’t already had that investment and interest, I would have been very hesitant to put myself in that kind of player situation. If a solo player makes a tactical goof, there’s no other player there to save her butt. If she has weak areas in her roleplaying, they’re going to be front and center.
- Butthead dudebros. One-on-one gaming is rather gendered in our wacko patriarchal social model, largely because of its intimacy and its focus on talking rather than violence. Some jerkwad male gamers feel that one-on-one gaming is too girly for their man-brains to handle. “Thog no talky-talk! Thog smash orc! Why you want Thog talk about his feelings?!” Even if the dudebro is not quite at that level of cave troll, he might be terrified that his friends are going to tease him. I get enough fish-eye from neckbeards when they learn that my spouse and I have had a long-running single-player campaign to know that, if a male player is concerned about his perceived manhood among his gaming friends, he might shy away from a one-on-one on account of his male ego.
Have any of you run single-player campaigns? Was the player initially resistant? Or were you a resistant player yourself (or perhaps even a reluctant GM)?