I have over the years gone through various phases of gaming. Mostly those were based on rule systems. My late 80’s, Palladium phase, my 90’s World of Darkness Phase, the 00’s d20 phase, and most recently my 10’s Indie phase. Through those phases, my preferred tone, dark and grim, remained constant. Not that I didn’t like lighter games, I do, but I loved dystopian cyberpunk, neo-gothic vampires, dark and gritty fantasy, and of course indie games that make you sad and cry. Then that all changed.
Starting in 2016, I noticed that my tastes were changing, most noted when our group stopped playing our excellent campaign of Things From the Flood because it became too dark for us. Then we slammed into 2020, and suddenly I found that games that were dark in tone or ones that evoked emotions like sadness or anger, were not appealing to me. For the first time, my taste in game tone had shifted.
That is what I want to talk about. What do you do when your tastes change. This article may be a bit more angled for gamers newer to the hobby, and less for some of us grizzled gamers, but your tastes can change at any time. So let’s talk about it.
Our Changing Tastes
One of the best things about this hobby is that it grows and changes. What were once avant-garde ideas in gaming, wind up as rules in the largest RPG. We exist in one of the most prolific times for RPGs. Never has the ability to create an RPG and distribute it been easier. New systems and settings are being published almost daily.
Our tastes can change as well and in all sorts of ways. We can of course change our taste in the mechanics of the games we play, such as going from 5e to Dungeon World. We could change our taste in genres, such as going from Forbidden Lands to Alien. We could change our taste in the types of stories we play, from dungeon crawls to courtly intrigue.
Sometimes our tastes shift slowly over the course of time or sometimes change after a significant event. We may tire of dungeon crawling after our 9th crawl, or we have tried a new game on a game day and now everything is different.
Also, your tastes may never change. That is just fine. Some people like one system and one style of play, and there is nothing wrong with that. And if you are one of those people, stick around, because someone in your group may change their tastes.
Being aware of our tastes changing
The first thing we need to be aware of is that our taste in something is changing. It likely varies in people, so I will share how I feel when my taste was changing as just an example of how it could change. Your mileage may vary.
When I notice a change in taste, it is either I am tired/bored of something, or I am really excited about something different/new. In the former case, what I notice is a gradual decline in the enjoyment of what I am playing. I am usually cautious about this feeling because sometimes this is just an off-game session, but if it persists over time, I then take it more seriously. As that decline in enjoyment continues, I notice that it is harder for me to prep the game, if I am running it or if I am the player getting the motivation to attend the game. At the extreme end, that drop in motivation becomes apathy where I no longer want to run the game or attend the game, depending on which side of the screen I am on.
In the latter case, this is usually more noticeable because it comes with a wave of excitement. It also comes with a desire to learn as much as I can about the topic, which includes buying materials, listening to podcasts, watching YouTube reviews, etc. This one is really easy for me to pick up on because I can feel the energy shift towards the thing that is driving this change.
When I sense either of these things I do some reflection about what it means and start asking myself questions about what am I interested in? What am I not interested in? Why is that? What would make me happy, etc? It is important to understand what is changing and why.
Gradual and Sudden Changes
Sometimes your taste changes all at once. Such as when you hear about a new type of gaming system and you become obsessed with it and want to buy it and get it to the table right away, and all your other games suddenly pale in comparison. This does not happen to me often and when it does it is more about being excited about a specific game and not my tastes shifting.
What typically happens when my tastes have changed is that the change is a bit more gradual. First, it starts with that decline in enjoyment and interest. That often leads to a few failed campaigns as I try to change things up in the thing I was interested in but ultimately find less and less enjoyment in it. While that is occurring, I am often experimenting with things where my taste is heading and eventually I make the change to whatever that new thing is.
A bit of an example. In the late ’00s, my taste for d20 was starting to wane. I had run all sorts of d20 games and had a lot of fun, but gradually I was starting to get annoyed with the mechanics, the level progression, etc. At the same time, I kept lurking on the Forge and reading about games like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch. I even bought a copy of Dogs but never got it to the table. Eventually, I played Fiasco and that tipped me over the edge and I started getting more and more into Indie games. Within a year, I had gone from d20 and more “traditional games” and into Indie games.
It is also possible that your change is not exclusive. That you may be less interested in Fantasy and more in Cyberpunk, but that Fantasy is still ok, and you would not mind playing it every now and then. In that case, your change in tastes is expanding what you like, and that is also good.
Change is disruptive and not everyone enjoys disruption. Your changing tastes may be happening in sync with other friends and members of your group or it could be happening alone. When you sense a change in your gaming tastes coming on, you want that change to be the least disruptive to those around you as possible.
If you are the GM, and your taste starts to change, your change is also going to affect your group as well. As the GM, you are the person who is running the games for your group, and if you no longer desire to run one style of game in favor of another, your players also have to make the change as well. If you are a player, your change in tastes will also affect the group, but you are not the one running the game so if you want to stop playing a given game, the group can persist without you, though your leaving the group will alter the group dynamic.
So when it is time for a change and you feel your tastes changing, here are some things you can do to make it easier.
- Communicate your changing tastes, the sooner the better. Gradual change is always easier to handle than a sudden change. Just start talking to everyone about how you are feeling and where your interests are heading. You may find out that you are not the only person who is interested in this new thing.
- If possible, bring games to a satisfying conclusion rather than dropping games for the same reason above.
- Before you jump over to something totally different try some one-shots outside of your normal gaming. If you are getting into Indie games go and get a few one-shots and run them for your group. Test the waters and make sure you really enjoy these new things before you disrupt any game groups.
- If everyone else is fine not changing and you are the one who wants to, it may be time to find a new group and allow that group to continue enjoying what they like.
My Own Changing Tastes
As I said at the beginning of the article, I find my tastes in tone and content of the games I am running/playing changing, for the first time. The Pandemic has changed many of us, and I have changed for sure. I don’t want to play gritty stories and I don’t want to play games that are about sadness or heartbreak. I am quite sure I don’t want to be evil. I want to play games that are an escape, and I want to be good people doing good things. I don’t need to always succeed or win, but I need my games to be about trying to do good and trying to make things better.
For me, it’s weird because while my tastes in game systems have changed so many times, this is the first time my taste in tone has changed. The change is gradual as I am still running a few things that are a bit gritter (though the players are the “good guys”), and there are a few games that are bleaker (Twilight 2000) or evil (Cartel) but those are becoming the outliers as my focus is looking at games about community, helping people, etc.
What Has Changed For You?
In the time you have been gaming, have your tastes changed? If so, what have they changed to? If not, what is it about what you are playing that still feeds you? Did the Pandemic change any of your tastes?