Private Collins of the title is an NPC in a Call of Cthulhu game my online group ran the past two Thursdays (sorry Ethan if I'm mangling the name of one of your NPCs). This particular game is pulled back before the usual CoC time period (1920s-1930s) and is set in the aftermath of the American Civil War (or as my partner calls it, The War of the Traitorous States – they're from Charleston SC and have strong feelings about the South's moral position in that war). Any rate! I bring up poor, driven to insanity by the haunting of his abusive commanding officer, Private Collins who freaking shot a nurse in our scenario iteration because I wanted a catchy lead-in. I mean I'll be talking about how I think my gaming group is good at reacting to situations in game like normal people from the real world and not player characters, but the title and lead-in help. :)
One of the thing going on in Call of Cthulhu, at least in one-shots and the early stages of campaigns, is that the characters are, theoretically, average people. They haven't been confronted with life-or-death situations, haven't been exposed to the mythos, aren't freaking paranoid and jumpy and ready to kill everything with fire to save the world from insanity. At least not yet.
But the players. The players usually know something about the mythos. We've played CoC and Delta Green games. We know this world is out to horrify and kill our characters if possible. We've played the badasses, paranoid, nut-job, murder-hobo, power fantasy characters with no consequences for the first and only solution to problems being 'kill it with fire.' In video games if not at the role-playing... video call? I mean I wanted to say table there, but yeah, I don't think I've actually had a face-to-face, physically present gaming session in more than three months. Hurray scheduling...
Anyway, what I'm driving at is that metagaming is a thing. The disassociation from the consequences of your character's actions can and usually will lead you to make different choices than if it was you, yourself, physically having to react.
Which is why I'm so proud of myself and my fellow players last week when the GM said 'I wasn't really sure what you were going to do – you all react like normal people, not PCs'. Feels like an accomplishment of role-playing. That we got in the right headspace to act like people in insane situations, not video game characters. Don't get me wrong, I will totally play characters as badass murder machines in, say, Delta Green where it is literally that character's job to go out and hunt down mythos for the safety of humanity. But not while I'm playing a Civil War-era nurse just trying to get some passes from Union soldiers for the patients under my care.
And it was such a simple thing we did, too. When we first encountered a house where no one answered our calls hello, we went back outside and investigated around the outside. Instead of treating the house like a dungeon crawl, with every room to be secured and made to yield all its secrets.
There is a downside, mechanics wise, to role-playing properly, at least in this scenario. At one point we were trying to deal with a character's horse who was being driven mad, to the point I thought it was going to strangle itself on its reins (tied to a hitching post). Which meant that I cut those reins so it could run off. This would have left us without a horse, but you know, it dying to strangulation would have done the same thing.
Cutting the horse loose let the mythos creature control it. We got attacked by a character's horse. That was... not fun for the characters, even if we the players enjoyed that combat sequence.
So yes, Private Collins did shoot me. No, I did not shoot back. That was the job of the calvary Captain on this little expedition. And yes, as our GM (Ethan) mentioned afterwards, despite everyone trying to talk the kid down, in the four times Ethan's run this scenario, Private Collins has yet to survive.