Monday, April 25, 2011

Social Gaming and the Angry Purist

Order of the Keepers of the True Game

Okay, I'm not really angry about the subject.

But I have had my share of frustration dealing with this style or philosophy of play.

I first heard the term "social gaming" on a role playing forum--I didn't know what it meant.

I do now...boy, do I ever.

 Let me say there is nothing wrong per se with social gaming--if you like that. All table top gaming is social, of course.

But social gamers are people who are of the opinion that "Hey, the rules don't matter much, the setting isn't the most important thing, the most important thing is that we all have fun and laugh together and roll some dice and just have a good time, koombaiyah."

If that sort of gaming experience satisfies your need to game, then go for it. I'm not putting social gaming down at all. You will not need to be nearly as discriminating in who joins your game as they are just there to hang out and the game is the vehicle for that. I think that's great for people, great for the hobby. I like social gaming from time to time.

But if you are searching for a specific type of game experience, especially one that is very tied into a particular setting or set of rules, nothing is more frustrating than social gaming.

Settings like Professor M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel or something like Middle Earth, RuneQuest, Star Wars or Star Trek, or HP Lovecraft's Cthulu mythos--these settings evoke a certain game atmosphere and enjoyment that comes from immersing the game in that environment. This is because such game effort are largely a fandom effort ...mixing the setting with anything else spoils it for these fans...plain and simple. Social Gamers think such notions are stuffy and too serious...but then, they haven't love for the setting that you do.

For example, if you love Middle Earth and you want to create a game that is faithful to the books and films, you simply have no room for characters who do not conform to the setting. A player who names their character Grognak and runs him like Conan doesn't get it...or doesn't care about the experience that the purists are trying to achieve, which is a simulation of Middle Earth. Conversely if you are running a Hyborean campaign and someone runs around trying to have a Frodo or Aragorn type character, to put it bluntly that person is refusing to play in your Hyborean campaign.

If you are trying to build a gaming group that is faithful to a setting like the ones mentioned, you need to aim your game group advertising at fans of that specific game and setting. And you need to discuss this frankly and clearly with all potential players.

 Let them know some of the setting quirks that differ from other games...try to sell them on it, who knows, they may be intrigued and want to play. Or they may decide such features are not their cup of tea and politely decline. Either outcome is good if you are aiming at a purist approach.

Obscure and retro settings have very loyal followings but these folks are often scattered to the four winds so it may be harder to cobble a group together this way but a few players who love and understand a setting--or are willing to learn it--is better than a larger group who will become bored or frustrated with it. Novice players are sometimes the best to draft for such a game, since they have no bias against it.

If you like Dungeons and Dragons best,  you are lucky--this game probably has the widest following among fantasy role players and usually incorporates highly adaptable and mutable settings. It may be that you like a variety of games--this is fortunate too. You can let people know up front that you might be trying different things. One option is to run a regular game more palatable to general tastes and run a monthly or bi-monthly game for the purists.

But it's best to settle it up front because almost more important than getting a group together is getting together the group you want. There is nothing selfish or power hungry about this--don't let social gamers guilt you! You want to role play in the setting in question...that's a big part of why you're playing, as well as fellowshipping with other fans of the setting.

To me, it is selfish of the social gamer who joins a game knowing criteria you have been clear about from the beginning and that player then refuses to cooperate--let them cobble together a group based on social gaming, or at least comply with what you are trying to do. If you were up front about this from the beginning, you do no wrong in insisting that they try to make a go of it.

I have developed some very stodgy and immovable opinions about this. If the proper groundwork has been laid and players knew coming into it what it would be, I think the only accommodation a DM and the other players should offer to those who join is patience while they learn the setting and rules.

 If, on the other hand, you get a player who is deliberately circumventing the game premise, culture, setting, etc, I think you should kill off their characters.

Yes, I said that.

If you are playing Tekumel , for instance, and the player character insists on insulting Imperial Tsolyani troops or high officials, well, that is totally out of setting and not something a person reared on Tekumel is likely to do.

The player may innocently insist "But my character is different. My character is an individual. My character is a rebel."


Your different, individualistic, rebellious character winds up  taking the High Ride (the impaling stake) since that's how Tsolyani culture deals with such persons. They are usually considered insane or possessed and not likely to be dealt with with more compassion than the wilfully criminal. The character axing can be handled purely through role playing and the game and doesn't need to come off as vindictive or malicious.

After losing any number of characters this way and being sidelined at the gaming table, even the most stubborn player will most likely lose interest. The person should have realized that the intricacies of Tsolyani culture are one of the nuances of Tekumel that make the game appealing to its fans. They play it so they can role play Tsolyani or Shen culture.

It's kind of like playing tennis or golf. If tennis enthusiasts meet up, they want to play tennis. Or use golf.

These games have certain rules. You get a player who says "But hey, it's fun for me just to throw the balls under the net or bounce them very high."

That might be fun to them...but it isn't tennis, and they have ruined the tennis game as far as tennis enthusiasts are concerned. Would they elect to play with such a fellow? Then why should your game meet up be any different if you are wanting to run Star Wars and you get someone playing like it's anime?

You may need to politely ask such a player to refrain from the game altogether--this is an unpardonable social gaffe in the eyes of the social gamer but it is actually perfectly fair. If the offender is a friend, maybe you can join up at the table from time to time over a setting and rules system that you can agree upon.

I've had good gaming friends who politely refrained from joining the setting I my case Tekumel...because they were up front with the fact that they found it constraining and too exotic to their taste. I appreciated that. Ultimately, if I get a game like this going, myself and two players who really want to play is better than the frustrations we will meet up with down the road in a larger group who aren't settled on the question at hand.

Pardon my waxing eloquent over this issue at such length. But I really feel it bears inclusion in a discussion of putting together a gaming group since it is something that, in my opinion, should be handled in the very beginning.

You don't want to approach it like a religious zealot since that can be off putting--you might simply mention something like "Now the setting is really going to be the focus of the game I'm trying to put together, would you be willing to read up a bit on the material at such and such web site?"

If you can take the time to print up some simple campaign primers to give new or prospective players, this will be very helpful.

Remember, getting a game together is not the most important thing in the world.

Getting together the game you want takes priority over that.

And the world is a big enough place that you can most likely do just that!

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