Have you ever felt like lack of headcanon keeps you from enjoying a game?


#1

This is something that I’ve always thought about, but I’ve never been able to put into words. I’m going to give it a shot since it comes up so often when listening to Austin and Rob on the podcast.

Most recently, Rob talked about an encounter in Battletech where he had a pilot who just hid behind the biggest rock he could find and fired endless streams of missiles every round. For at least five minutes he described this Mechwarrior’s whole backstory as a glorified tech support worker who now punches in targeting data with the same dispassion he had when fixing hyperpulse communications equipment.

Now, if there’s one thing I love about Battletech, it’s LRM spam. But for me, it’s mostly because the numbers are essentially the best. I don’t have much attachment to whoever’s firing them. In Battletech this isn’t a barrier to enjoyment, but in other games that give you less to work with, I’ve often heard stories like that one and felt that other people were just finding fun in a game that I’m somehow blind to.

Heat Signature is a good example. I loved that game, but once I got a grasp of the mechanics, it felt easy to take down just about any ship. Most of the variety at that point comes from your character’s name and one-sentence goal/backstory.

So am I alone in feeling like I’m missing out on a whole swath of fun in my games? Do you feel left out by your ability to suspend disbelief?

A bonus question: Do you ever feel like your headcanon papers over flaws in a game, not in a way that lets you enjoy it in spite of the flaws, but in a way that you don’t even notice them?


#2

As a fellow optimizer, I sympathize with your play style. I rarely, if ever, name or customize troops in gaems like XCOM for example. I’m in it for the systems, bruh, and I’d rather leave the storytelling to media that fit it better. If this is a loss, I’d submit it’s a preferential one.

Bonus answer: headcanon’s job is to paper over the gaps in a story, so it and accompanying techniques are a great tool for flaw restitution. A well-told story leaves gaps to let that canon crystalize in your head, so it’s not necessarily an accidental thing either (Undertale, Papers Please). I don’t personally find strategy gaems scratch that one for me often.


#3

A big part of Destiny for me and the people I know are headcanons and storytelling. I don’t know if you’ve played Destiny, but it’s not really known for good plot or any plot at all, really. Bungie tries and I appreciate it, but it’s incredibly shallow. Lore-wise, it’s either all over the place or barely there, despite how cool it can get. It’s the kind of mindnumbing game that you have to make up shit as you go, or else it’s just endless fetch quests and alien murder via magic.


#4

Being a history geek, the closest I ever get to headcannoning is when I play Civ. It’s mostly some what ifs about the Greeks holding on to cultural hegemony or Japan leading an imperial conquest, but it definitely brings the game to life in a way that science or gold production never will.


#5

This was something that generally has made it hard for me to really get into role playing games. I can never really be creative enough to come up with a decent story for my character and then keep myself immersed in the story


#6

A friend of mine, who also listens to the Waypoint podcast, once described Rob as having “impossible experiences” - that is, the extent to which he purports to read into and mentally develop gameplay scenarios as he plays them, in the way described in the OP, is flat-out unrelateable to them. To a degree, I feel similarly; however, I do find myself enhancing some of my experiences by giving my characters distinct looks, and outfits.

Usually, if the character is dressed in some outrageous manner (they’re wearing a business suit and holding a sword, for example), I find myself thinking stuff like “holy shit, this salaryman has absolutely had it with this demon’s powerpoint” and laughing at how ridiculous it would be if some lackey in accounting just lost it and started killing demigods. It’s almost always just laughing, though. Rarely is my experience dramatically heightened by the stuff I’m imagining.


#7

I don’t know if it’s kept me from enjoying a game that would otherwise be up my alley but otherwise I just lack the kind of creativity that makes autsin/rob streams so fun to watch. Like, my xcom soldiers are either just the versions of my friends I put in the pool or randos I never customize and when I play stellaris I mostly think on a game-systems level. I guess maybe this is why I never got the appeal of the CoX style of game despite liking other mmos, you have to bring some stuff to that table that I just don’t.


#8

This is pretty much my experience as well, which is why I found myself wondering if others had the same depth to their headcanon and some people just embellish it when retelling, or if there was actually a difference in experiences while playing. Sounds like both!


#9

Playing Doom 3. If I had a headcannon, I’d have my hand freed up to carry a torch.

I’m sorry.


#10

Might I sugest agin, a skul-gun for my head. Yesterday in Batery Park, some scum we all know pushes smack for NSF gets jumpy and draws. I take 2 .22’s, 1 in flesh, 1 in augs, befor I can get out that dam asalt gun. If I could kil just by thought, it would be beter. Is it my job to be a human target-practis backstop?


#11

Laputan machine.


#12

I’ve never been a headcannon kind of guy and I enjoy games just fine. I never rename my Pokemon or any of my characters in just about every game I play, and I still have a good time! I’m just not a very creative person.


#13

Heard someone on the train this morning talking about someone who got the GameBoy he’d lent his girlfriend back and found that she’d renamed every single Pokemon after him (the example I overheard was that “Seaking” was called “Philking”)


#14

Every time Austin Walker talks about such things I feel a bit that way. like I enjoy Crusader Kings 2. and I am still mad at my dumb older brothers from that first game of it I played for the way the elbowed me out of the kingdom but Austin Walker is like, the Mozart to my Headcanon Salieri.


#15

This is partially my experience too!

Storytelling/character building is a thing I’m very personally inclined toward and really enjoy in games, but usually my headcanon starts out vague (two characters in an RPG end up in the same party a few times, maybe level simultaneously, I go “oh, these guys are definitely buddies”) and don’t come together as a Story with Characters unless

(1) something really memorable happens while playing and I tell the story to someone else, adding details and constructing a better narrative as I go,
(2) I’m playing with someone with similar rp tendencies and we’re making up fun details as we go along, or
(3) I put some intentional thought into things, which is slightly less fun that the other two options.

imo sharing this stuff with other people makes it way more concrete in my mind and also way more enjoyable. It’s also one of the things I really like about Austin and Rob’s XCOM streams!


#16

The entire State of Decay 2 conversation on the latest podcast was almost entirely about this exact topic!

Hearing them each make their case really clarified the question I was trying to ask here, which seems to be “Is there any way for a game to encourage (or ‘teach’ as Austin put it) headcanon in players less prone to it, and would that stifle the creativity of more-imaginative players?”

Austin made it pretty clear that his way of playing games often covers up flaws in games, but then he said that the game should do more to teach the player to create those stories on their own. Being on the other end of the spectrum, I feel like that attitude would just backfire, since it doesn’t feel like there’s any way for a game to “teach” me imagination. And at a certain point, it would just fill in too many of those gaps where Austin’s stories come from. Is there any middle ground that could accomplish both?