How can a GM make the stakes important?
On the surface this is quite a straightforward question and therefore I could give a simple answer, but as like most of things in role-playing there are a lot subtleties lurking beneath the surface. I think the easy answer is personal, a perfectly valid answer. I just happened to take it a step further, since what is personal? Why do people care? Why is someone motivated or invested? I go in to more depth of my #PieChartofIndecision in my video, plus touching on my L5R and Aberrant campaigns.
Following on from the time pressure point, when I was working at KJC Games running role-playing Play By Mail games (PBM) for a lot of customers, one of the big issues was players had a limited amount of things they could do each turn. Yep that sounds quite obvious, but since the players had in-game friends and enemies also trying to achieve things, gather resources, uncover mysteries, improve their alliance, undermine their enemies, time pressure really stood out. Thus the relationship between time and choice was emphasised.
A quick short story about being an NPC at the Lorien Trust LARP. As an NPC I created and ran out plots, potentially hundreds of players could interact with or at least hear about the plot; plots at the Gathering could affect thousands. Some of the players chatted with me about how surprised they were with my style of GMing, that I didn’t just run out big deadly plots that I also did several small things, or rather they seemed small to them, but then they wondered. Thus the players didn’t know whether somebody coming in to the guild was actually a threat or not. Then they had to determine what was important, made harder because there were so many things happening, which resulted in some plot being given to other players. Not that everyone was happy, nor everyone was involved, but a bunch of compliments was still great 😉
A common thing that I found at LARP, particularly festival LARP, is that a few proactive players were regularly resolving plots, whilst less physically capable or newer, less well-known/connected players struggled to be involved. This is partly a result of competency, understandably established characters had proven themselves.
The large scale LARP problems mentioned above are rarely a problem in tabletop, mostly because the players can discuss things directly with the GM; so much easier and appropriate to freeze game time than at LARP.
I think another thing to think about is with ComputerRPG (CRPG/JRPG), they are quite different than tabletop. Overwhelmingly with CRPG is that time is not an issue, with the main plots being put on indefinite hold whilst side-quests are carried out; daft when the main quest keeps emphasising how urgent something is. Elder Scrolls and Fallout in particular do this, but it is a core CRPG approach. Whilst I like the games the ignoring of time undermine my character and story immersion, time doesn’t really matter.
Coming back to this fusion of the #PieChartofIndecision, plus other things I’ve not mentioned, we are mortal players playing a game, time matters, time is our stake, the fact we are playing the game itself is part of our choice in life; any game is a stake of our life force.