Are any of you kids theater majors? If so, you might have heard of a dude by the name of Richard Schechner. He literally wrote the book on performance studies, and he’s been all manner of useful in my own scholarly work recently. That’s because, when you choose to study RPGs, one of the lenses at your disposal is game-as-performance. And if an RPG session is a performance, it goes through a number of identifiable phases. Schechner lists 10 of them, and they range from training and rehearsal to performance and criticism. It can be a fun exercise to try and make a typical gaming session fit the model, but don’t worry. I’m not going to recapitulate the entire text book at you. What I do want to discuss is the oft-overlooked question of what happens when the session ends. I’m talking about the concept of the cooldown.

As Schechner describes it, “If warm-ups prepare people for the leap into performance, cooldown ushers them back to daily life.” In a hobby like ours, where we like to talk about escaping into fantasy, entering another world, and becoming somebody else for a little while, the return to everyday life can bring out some peculiar emotions.

Think about the last really good session you had. The exhilaration of a satisfying combat. The satisfaction of an intense story moment expertly delivered. Now think of the car ride home. That odd feeling of pent-up energy and emptiness as the game world gives way to the real. It’s not unlike coming out of the theater after a really good movie or closing the last page on an thought-provoking book. Or perhaps more succinctly, kermitMeme.exe.

In our hobby, dealing with that emotion is often an informal process. It might be as simple as breaking character to comment on the fun you just had. It might involve heading out to a post-game meal where you discuss the good, the bad, and the awesome of the night’s festivities (traditionally over waffles). If you want to talk about ritual, it can also include the turn from story to mechanics as XP gets portioned out. At the very least there’s usually a “thanks for the session” and “when are we playing next?”

So for today’s discussion question, what do you say we compare notes on our own “cooldown” strategies? What typically happens in your group when the game is over for the night? What signals that “the session is done” and “we’re back in the real world now?” And for those of you who, like Wizard, find yourselves counting the days to the next adventure the second you get home, how do you contend with the odd mix of emotions that comes with stepping between worlds? Give us your personalized post-game report down in the comments!


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