I really dig the enthusiasm a lot of story-gamers bring to the hobby. Like, for instance, the Durham 3: their energy and excitement for gaming is inspiring!
But I think there's a weird tendency among a lot of people involved in internet story-game communities/fora to overvalue "the awesome". (Nathan Paoletta talked about something similar a while back, but my take is slightly different).
What do I mean?
Well, I think that the idea that "Creativity = Going Big" gets a little bit too much play.
I think I understand the origins of this trend: for years, lots of RPGs worked on a model that should be familiar to World of Warcraft players. You start with a basic, lowly peon, who is kind of generic, and then have to grind your way to the top and pay a price for customization. You had to earn the right to be awesome!
A lot of groups saw their games end prematurely with the awesomeness still off in the future, so it makes sense that one of the assumptions about how RPGs should work that has been challenged recently is the one about having to earn awesomeness. So, there's a tendency to push for awesomeness right now.
I'm cool with that! I think that having to earn awesomeness tends to make for an unfun play experience, because most groups aren't really playing their games long enough to reliably achieve that awesomeness. "Awesome Now" is necessary in order to get rid of the lingering spectre of "Awesome Later".
Sometimes when I'm reading through threads at places like Story-Games I find the constant boosting of "Awesome Now" just a little bit over the top. I completely sympathize with the intent, but, in practice, it tends to push this idea that the best gaming is gaming "turned up to 11". By which I mean: it isn't enough just to have a character who's struggling with family issues - your character needs to be Oedipus.
Hey - I like playing in "turned up to 11" games. I'm playing in one now! Judd Karlman's Dictionary of Mu might be my favorite "turned up to 11" fantasy settings ever: it's a mix of Robert E. Howard, Edward Rice Burroughs's Martian stories, Dune, and the Bible, tied together with an aesthetic that (to me) feels like it was derived from the cover art of 1970s Heavy Metal albums. The character I'm playing in a current game is the half-alien master of a Demonic gladiatorial arena. His first scene involved stopping a slave revolt led by a four-armed albino ape-man. And his storyline has been a bit more subdued than that of his fellow player characters! (James, our GM, has a great play write-up, here).
It is, indeed, an awesome game.
And one of the games I'm preparing right now is a pulp sci-fi adventure using Spirit of the Century, which is definitely another "turned up to 11"-style game.
It seems to me that the constant praise of the awesome tends to overwhelm the idea that more restrained story-gaming can be satisfying, too. In fact, the best story-game experience I've had over the last year - a game of Breaking the Ice that I played with a friend - was of the muted/restrained/matter-of-fact variety. This game was set just after WWII: it involved a returning vet courting a young woman who had lost her fiance early in the war and had spent the war years alone. It was a pretty quiet game: there were no big scenes, no crazy reversals, no convoluted family trees. Just two damaged people trying to connect with each other. It was a very enjoyable game, a moving story, and a meaningful experience. But it wasn't "awesome".
Part of the problem is a cultural one: we're used to hype, to bigger-is-better, so that's what we emphasize when we write about our games. But, as Scott points out in his comments on this post, we often get a sense of the possibilities of good gameplay from reading other groups' play accounts. In this spirit, and so this isn't just me being negative, I'm going to finally write up that BTI game and post it at the Forge.