One of the big GMing theory questions that constantly goes through my head is how to make important things stand out to the players. I’ve done a few articles in the past about how to do this. Still, I keep coming back to the concept and ways to do it better. While thinking about this the other day, one key concept keeps sticking in my head:
If you want it to be remembered, it has to stick out. Put it in a red dress.
Ok, so I’m dating myself a bit here, but I remember the Matrix movies from when they first came out. The one big takeaway that I pulled from those movies is the red dress scene. Remember the scene where Neo is learning about the matrix and gets entranced by the woman in the red dress in a midst of black suited corporate types? Yup, it always struck me that the girl in the red dress was blatant and meant to stand out. I always thought how cheesy that was, but the more I thought about it the more I realized I still remember the woman in the red dress. That keeps sparking a thought in my head in relation to gaming.
If you want something remembered, make it stand out from the scenery around it in some way.
That’s right, make it bold, make it stand out, make it divergent from the background if you want it to be noticed. Even if it feels like it is breaking the game reality or is over the top. If you don’t want it to be forgotten, make it BOLD in a way nothing else is!
The paradigm exists in all sorts of media. In video games, any item you can interact with is almost always brighter than the background or has a small glow around it. In old animation, moving characters were given the appearance of vibrance by raising the plates of the cels a few millimeters above the plates for the backgrounds. In most writing, only the important details are focused on after the initial description of the setting.
Too often as Game Masters, we want things to flow organically and every element to be part of a diverse backdrop. But how many times have you watched players struggling to pick out that one vital clue to solve the puzzle or social situation? When you want an element in your game to stick out, doll it up and make it front stage.
There are3 major things we have to think about when thinking about the actual scene playing out at the table:
- Despite props, maps, scenery, description, and all the other things we do to make the game occur at the shared space of the table, the final movie theater is in each individual player’s mind. They each control how bright or bland things are for their experience.
- There are rarely medium grounds inside the mental theater of players’ minds. Things being imagined are almost always either very scant and fuzzy with only the important things being in focus, or everything is vivid and bright and you have very little control over how they imagine things once you’ve described them.
- Players don’t see it from the character’s perspective. Looking at a situation from the outside, let a long being described the major elements of it by someone else, is a far distance from actually being there and experiencing it. The things you describe (such as the innocuous person slipping a knife back into their belt) are going to be ignored or picked up on with gusto, but they are never going to be the same as if the person were there.
And that means…
that any important element has to be distinct from the landscape in some way, i.e. the red dress in a sea of black suits. Not every element needs a red dress, but if you want it to be big and remembered, then it needs to shine like the woman in the red dress.
So what do you do to dress up your NPCs, plot pieces, important clues, and other game stuff? What are your red dresses when you GM?