My parents have their hobbies, things they do for fun, and they keep doing them well into their 70’s. My Dad is actually still out there playing basketball (when his body allows him.) My mother plays bridge a couple of times a week. These are things they have both done for a long time, have been practicing, working on their own, training (in their own way) all so they can be better at their hobbies. Not because either will be a top player. But because they enjoy the game when they play better.
On the topic of basketball, I remember back in the 80’s, during the heyday of the LA Lakers Showtime era, that people derided their coach. Said that he didn’t really coach, all he did was roll the ball out there and let the players play. People saying things like just do not have a valid view of how much hard work it takes to be at the top of their profession or game. This clip says it all:
Anyway, what does this have to do with role playing games? It is easy to think that the people who are running or playing the game are not doing anything. How much work is it to crack jokes and roll dice all night?
Well if you have gotten this far you probably realize that I take my hobby seriously. I put a lot of thought, mental work, and even some physical effort into it. As the GM, I probably devote anywhere from 1 day to a week to planning and putting together the adventures for my game. As a player, I still put in a good amount of time to thinking about my character, his choices, what he will do next, how he will respond to the next encounter. I know some great GM’s who seemingly do not put any effort into their game, but that isn’t really the case, there is work being done there, they just make it look easy.
How does this make someone a better player? Am I saying that everyone should work as hard as I do? No, that is not it (although it would not hurt.)
What all this leads to is one of the biggest skills of being a good player: pay attention! Part of this, a very large part, is simply a matter of respect. The GM, and possibly other players at the table, have put in a lot of effort to learn, run, and play in this game. You wouldn’t talk over a play, or ignore a band when you go to a concert because you respect the effort that it took for that performance. Well, show your GM and your fellow players the same amount of respect.
Also paying attention as you play greatly increases your chances of doing something constructive during the game. If you know that the rogue has been angling himself very stealthily for a sneak attack on the BBEG, then you do not ruin that attack by casting a spell that lights up the hiding space where the rogue is hiding. If you pay attention to the GM narrative maybe you catch that crucial clue that the NPC mentions in passing, that other people miss.
Paying attention to the game, to what the GM and other players are doing will make you a better player. It helps you better appreciate the work they put into the game. It shows respect for everyone at the table. And it gives you a better chance to do something that will go down into the annals of your party.