Selfishness Ruins Games, Or The Importance of Meeting Halfway

Posted: January 25, 2012 by pointyman2000 in Advice, Articles, Roleplaying Games
Tags: , ,

Dialog, negotiation and compromise.  These are important things for any social activity, and roleplaying games are not exempt from this.  I often get rants from people who either GM or play in a campaign that they’re unhappy with.  Almost always, the cause of their dissatisfaction lies in the fact that either the GM or his players have inadvertently (or, in some rare cases, deliberately) run roughshod over some of the fundamental assumptions of a game.

I’m sure that these examples are not new to you:

  • The Bait-and-Switch GM, who promises one thing and then pulls the rug out from under you, undermining all your assumptions in character creation by running the campaign in a manner completely different from his pitch to get an edge over his players.
  • The Absolute Control GM, whose narrative is forged in steel, unyielding and hateful of the efforts of the Characters.  It is an uncaring, stoic campaign whose events unfold merely at the GMs whim, and only when the GM allows it.  The player character’s efforts are merely doodles on the margins of their sacred story.
  • The Solipsist Player, who insists on a character with a concept so removed from the campaign that it becomes impossible for them to actually join the rest of the party or participate in the conflict central to the game, forcing the GM to somehow reach out and conform to their concept in an effort to have anything interact with that character at all.
  • The Combat Savant Player, who insists on a character so specialized in hurting things as to be incapable of meaningful social interaction for the sake of being a combat monster.  Nevermind that soldiers and combatants are often highly educated in order to be capable to begin with, the only thing that truly matters is their personal survival.

Each and every one of these are prime examples of people who have refused to listen, and refused to compromise.  There is an inherent selfishness in this sort of thinking, as people who exhibit this sort of behavior are putting their enjoyment before others.  Much in the same way that toddlers refuse to share toys, these GMs and Players are unwilling to surrender their ideas towards a collaborative effort such as an RPG.

In many ways, an RPG is like a potluck dinner, where the GM is the host and the players are the guests.  Ultimately everyone brings something to the table, and everyone else gets to enjoy it.  The GM has greater control over the experience, but ultimately even they have to submit themselves to the communal pool of ideas.

So what am I really getting at?  Well, to sum it up simply, I’d like to encourage everyone who has these kind of issues to have an honest-to-goodness conversation.  And by conversation, I’m not talking about just spewing demands in the other person’s face, but the honest-to-goodness kind of communication where each party takes turns speaking and listening and providing feedback.  This isn’t the place for passive-aggressive behavior either.  Be honest about what you expect, and what you plan to do, and see if you can work something out amongst each other.

Ultimately it all falls to trust.  It’s easy to be selfish if you don’t trust the other people in your group.  Open yourself up to the possibility of collaboration and see just how well your next session goes.

  1. Hikkikomori says:

    The potluck analogy reminds me of Dowton Abbey.

    Unfortunately, I doubt all those types of people mentioned above will make for an interesting dinner.

  2. I never played under a B&S GM and don’t think I dealt with an AC GM either. I did play under GM’s who were just terrible.

    For Solipsist Players, I always give new players a social contract and a campaign primer. The social contract states that I have zero toleration for Lonewolves or Chaotic Jerk characters and the campaign primer indicates the theme of the campaign and tells the player to create characters to enhance the theme. If they don’t, the character is disallowed. If a player wants to play Lonewolves or Chaotic Jerk characters, they’ve played their last session with me.

    • Hi there,

      Excellent point! The importance of a social contract is something that I can’t help but stress. While this may not necessarily be a formal document, the point of the exercise is to get all parties involved to agree on a set of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in the context of the game.

    • Hikkikomori says:

      As strict as that is, it is true that you do not create a Space Marine in a Lord of the Rings game — regardless if the rules allow it or not.

  3. dbro36 says:

    Interesting post. I had the same problems. I think it was a combination of several of these, myself being guilty as well. I actually used this point in the design of my own RPG. My problem was that I had built a starter campaign without even knowing what the characters were going to be. So I decided that in “character creation” in my game, players get to have a sort of say in what the campaign is going to be. But thinking back, it doesn’t even really have to be in the game design. I could have just asked what they wanted out of the campaign.

  4. khael says:

    I just rode an emotional rollercoaster remembering games with all those gamer types mentioned in the post. I’d say that trust goes hand in hand with respect – give the others a fair shake at having fun. They’re spending their own time and effort after all.

    The social contract, pre-game dialogue or briefing certainly saves us from a lot of headaches.
    Heartily recommended no matter how you play your games.

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