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Author Topic: The social agenda and the antisocial agenda, as I have experienced them  (Read 7327 times)
Vaxalon
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« on: December 05, 2005, 03:06:31 PM »

Let me start with some play experiences.

First, there's a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that I ran some years back.  We played about 12 hours a month, on average, and over the course of a year or more the PC's went from first level to about ninth, which in my opinion is the most functional portion of the game.

We started shortly after 3.0 came out (about a week after the PHB was released) with 12 players.  I took this many because I knew there would be attrition.  We eventually distilled down to five or six regular players - good number, in my opinion, for DnD.  For the purposes of this discussion, I'll focus on one player.

From where I sat as DM, he seemed to be interested in doing anything he could to disrupt the game, while still actually playing it, that is, without doing things like throwing dice.   One of his favorite topics, as far as I could determine, was to take the question "Why are our PC's associating with this guy, again?" and bringing focus to it over and over.  His character never participated in combat, never assisted in problemsolving, actively alienated allies, and generally made trouble for everyone.  The fact that the other PC's tolerated his presence was a constant note of cognitive dissonance for me.  I could never understand why the other players took so long in doing anything.

Things finally came to a head when his character was discovered actively sabotaging the efforts of the party.  Another PC discovered the betrayal, and killed his PC.  He seemed quite satisfied with the outcome, and promised to come back with a more cooperative PC the next session... and then never came back.  He wanted to know how far he could push things before people would violate the "party" play convention and get rid of his character.  He found out, and then left.

As far as I could tell without being telepathic, this player had what I would like to term an "Antisocial Agenda".  He seemed to be interested in finding cracks in the game, whether they were in the social contract, the actual rules, or some other aspect of System, and getting a wedge into it and banging on it for all he was worth.  The crack he chose for our game was the "party" model of DnD play, where the IC group associates with each other because the OOC group does, which is kind of odd when you look at it, especially given how widely different the characters can be in DnD.

Now I won't say that having this guy in our game group was a bad thing.  His influence on the game, while unpleasant, was galvanizing.  The group went on to some great play from there.  But that's not what I'm talking about.

This player's style really bothered me.  It REALLY bothered me.  I found myself shaking my head and saying, "Dude, what the hell?" at least once a session.  I had a firm policy of not interfering in the social interactions between the PC's though, so if they were willing to tolerate him I was willing to shrug and move on to the next encounter.  I wouldn't say it spoiled the game for me... I would have stopped running it if he had... but it definitely was a fly in the ointment for me.  The other players never complained about this player's play, and some even said they liked it, as a kind of comic relief, but judging from some of the faces I saw around the table when he was up to his antics, some of that was politeness.

We rarely spoke of this guy after he left, and I do not recall anyone ever saying they missed him, whereas other players who had to move away were occasionally mentioned in fondness.

In contrast, most players have, in my experience, a sense of "social agenda".  They generally find many different kinds of play fun, whether it's gonzo monster-bashing, careful puzzle-solving, soapy relationship play, and can switch modes to follow along with whatever direction the group is moving in, and if they come across a scene they're not interested in, they can hang back and watch for a few minutes while someone else has their fun, knowing that their turn will come.  They are invested in the game primarily as a social phenomenon, and any artistic, competitive, or immersive goals (or most any other gool) can be subordinate to that one.  In addition, most players can appreciate and respect other players goals, and are willing to help them reach them in return for help with their own goals.... and if they don't get that support, they're willing to change their goals in order to get that support.

This is my own personal interpretation of what "Social Agenda" means.  It may not be completely in accord with what has been said previously here.

I have found the "Social Agenda" to be most strongly expressed in the games I have run with my wife and her best friend, Heather, and Heather's husband, Steve.  Heather is a bit set in her ways about what she wants, systemwise, both in terms of social contract and rules.  The rest of us kind of rotate around her, no matter who's actually the GM... and we have a blast.

In one scene, my wife was running a game (using a fairly rules-light system which I can't now remember) there was a scene in which our characters were holed up in a cabin built into the base of a cliff, while the Forces of Darkness laid seige outside.  With no clear direction from the other players as to what kind of scene we were going to play out, I had my character start talking about making plans to avoid the fight by sneaking out of the cabin through a priest-hole that led up to the top of the cliff.  This promised to short-circuit a long, drawn out battle scene... which I was kind of done with, having just finished two such scenes.  The gamemaster, my wife, shrugged and started telling us what rolls would be required to pull off our scheme, and we started rolling dice.  In the end, we had lured a number of the enemy into the cabin, collapsed it on them, and set it on fire, thus making the rest of them think the PC's were dead.  The scene took ten minutes to play out instead of a half hour, we felt victorious, and noone felt as if their fun had been taken away.  Later, Steve's character and Heather's got into an animated discussion of religion, power, and life, and I thought that something very deep and interesting was being expressed.  I sat back and watched, and enjoyed it immensely.  When it seemed to be devolving into a circular discussion that wasn't going anywhere, my wife jumped in, had the discussion interrupted by events, and pushed us into the next scene... which was exactly what was needed, and we flowed along with that.

Social agenda and antisocial agenda are important to me, because they are, I believe, the foundation of fulfillment or lack thereof in a roleplaying game.  A strong social agenda always promotes fulfillment in the game, and a strong antisocial agenda never does.  I'm much more likely to enjoy gaming with someone who is willing to support my goals, and when I'm enjoying my play, I'm much more likely to support THEIR goals.

And of course, the thing to say here is "Well, duh.  You should play with the people you have fun with and not play with people you don't have fun with."

True, of course.

But ultimately, that's a limited response to the truth of the strength of the social agenda.

I believe that by properly engineering the System, an environment can be obtained that promotes a strong social agenda.  Since this is the realm of sociology and psychology, however, the answers to how that is done are not easy or absolute ones, and the rules of the game itself have a limited role to play in that engineering process.  Because a game group is a bit like a sports team, and a bit like a business, and a bit like a military unit, certain lessons can be learned from coaches and managers and military officers, about how to forge strong cooperative groups. 

No matter where those lessons come from, however, I of the firm opinion that how many of them are learned, and how well they are implemented is the most important factor in whether a game will be fulfilling or not.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2005, 03:26:25 PM »

Ralph, I'm envious.  Such a playgroup fueled by a mutually supportive Social Agenda is something that I've long wished I had access to, but I've never quite been able to find it.  What I have found has not been your Antisocial guy -- I mean, I've met him, but I've met lots of other people, too.  And those people weren't necessarily interested in discovering and facilitating what I enjoyed in the game.  Most gamers I've played with, talked with, or read descriptions of play of seem to have a pretty static conception of "what gaming is" and get very agitated when that border is threatened.

When folks started talking about Constructive Denial, this sounded very familiar -- but from a social standpoint.  I think a lot of gaming boils down to a social group that reinforces what the activity itself is, not necessarily in ways that support individuals or their goals.  A lot of gamers show up for the biweekly dungeon crawl and monster bash, despite the fact that they're not very interested in either.  I've gone to a number of these, and my interest was pretty narrowly defined, even if the end result did not satisfy my personal interests.

Which is a long-winded way of saying, from my angle, it seems your "Social Agenda" and "Antisocial Agenda" are two kinds of Social Agendas (since even the antisocial one is how the individual interacts with the larger group).  In addition to your mutually cooperative players who provide for each other's preferences, there is another social agenda where definition of what the gaming activity is is the primary social goal, reinforcing the group's cohesion, sometimes at the expense of individual satisfaction.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2005, 03:58:55 PM »

Hello,

Quick clarification for Joshua:

Valamir = Ralph
Vaxalon = Fred

Fred,

That's a damn good post. I definitely agree with you about D&D's "sweet spot," but that can be discussed another time.

It might be helpful to consider the difference between social success, by which I mean enjoyment, camaraderie, not dominance or status; and fictional characters' cohesion and cooperation.

It seems to me that the fellow you describe, and yes, I've met some like him who you might as well have been describing, is disrupting the general social success in two ways - first, by irritation, disruption, distraction, and later, through his fictional character's fictional betrayal.

What gums up discussions about these issues is focusing too much on the latter. I have seen perfectly wonderful D&D play in which a character's failure to betray the others, when the opportunity arose, would have had a similar, at least irritating, disruptive effect.

So my thinking is that it's not about whether a character should or shouldn't betray the others, or whether the party is or isn't cohesive and cooperative. It's about whether the real guy wants to contribute to the shared social success, or whether he doesn't.

'Cause basically, he wasn't just a fly in the ointment for you. He was a pain in the ass, pretty much period, apparently; I think your observation that no one missed him is important.

What I'm wondering is what about your group's social contract permitted such a pain in the ass to stick around? You guys lost about four folks fairly soon, right? What about those interactions tipped them and you off that they really weren't in the right place? (And "time" considerations, etc, are usually merely lame excuses.) How come such interactions didn't work in this guy's place?

Best,
Ron
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2005, 04:43:13 PM »

1> What I'm wondering is what about your group's social contract permitted such a pain in the ass to stick around?

Well, I think the primary barrier to it was a strong commitment to never objecting to anything that was entirely IC.  I should mention that this player's disruptions were never on the OOC level.  "It's his character, he should be allowed to play it how he likes.  After all, I wouldn't like it if someone else told me how to play MY character."

2> You guys lost about four folks fairly soon, right?

Actually, "lost" is a strong term.  We had several people drop out who never really were part of the group.  We were all pretty much strangers when we started, with a few exceptions, having been brought together via the internet.

3>  What about those interactions tipped them and you off that they really weren't in the right place?

Personally, I think it was the fact that there were twelve people at the table that turned them off.  Twelve people is WAY too many for a focused, GM-heavy game like DnD, whereas a loosely run game of Amber can function with twelve with no problem.   The first few sessions were HIGHLY disfunctional.  The people who stayed were the ones who had the most tolerance for not getting the GM's undivided attention.

4> How come such interactions didn't work in this guy's place?

I believe that his agenda was actually promoted in the large group.  There were more cracks for him to exploit, early on.
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"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
                                     --Vincent Baker
Josh Roby
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« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2005, 06:48:50 PM »

Damn you, obscure V-names!

Fred, do you think you may have lost some of those early folks because of Mister Smarty-Pants?
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2005, 06:53:26 PM »

Nope, not at all.  The early "losses" were just people who weren't as committed to the idea of the game.
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"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
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Callan S.
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« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2005, 07:25:19 PM »

Quote
Things finally came to a head when his character was discovered actively sabotaging the efforts of the party.  Another PC discovered the betrayal, and killed his PC.  He seemed quite satisfied with the outcome, and promised to come back with a more cooperative PC the next session... and then never came back.  He wanted to know how far he could push things before people would violate the "party" play convention and get rid of his character.  He found out, and then left.

As far as I could tell without being telepathic, this player had what I would like to term an "Antisocial Agenda".  He seemed to be interested in finding cracks in the game, whether they were in the social contract, the actual rules, or some other aspect of System, and getting a wedge into it and banging on it for all he was worth.
Someone shoot me down, but I'm seeing 'bang' of a different kind here. Particularly the way he was actually satisfied with his character being killed, like he'd gotten something out of that event and the other character(s) involved.

I'm not saying they were socially healthy nar bangs. But it is kinda like the kid who horribly teases a girl to get a reaction out of her. Horrible interaction, but stemming from a deep interest in her (in the analogy, romantic interest, in this game, narrativist interest in the other PC's).
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2005, 07:42:09 PM »

Callan, yes! Absolutely, especially to the "tease your crush" analogy.

With Fred's indulgence, I'd like to offer an Actual Play example of me, myself,  operating in something pretty close to Fred's "anti-social" mode, from my earliest real roleplaying experience as a college freshman. To borrow my own description from an earlier discussion in GNS Theory (RIP) which I tried and failed to threadjack:

Quote from: me!
Freeform, one-on-one, set in the Star Wars universe (geekdom's Book of Common Prayer), with me as sole player and the GM adding some setting tweaks of her own.....I want[ed] to play an Imperial Customs official: not a good guy, not even a cool bad guy, but someone I consistently portray as a cowardly, petty, bureaucratic bully -- because (setting aside my self-esteem issues, thank you very much) in a galactic tyranny, imagined as an objective and logical world, there'd have to be such people, right, so "let's pretend" I'm one and see what it's like.

I remember with particular and perverse pleasure offhandedly referring to the torture devices used on Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back as "barbershop chairs," the GM blinking and asking what I meant, me explaining that was Imperial slang for the things (into which my character was about to put her favorite good-guy NPCs), and her accepting it -- only to have me explain post-game that I'd made the term up on the spot. If you want to emulate the tone of the Star Wars films, of course, such slang is jarring at least; but if you think of Star Wars as an objective world to explore (extrapolate) unseen crannies of, again, it makes sense that bureaucratic torturers would have such trivializing slang for their tools.

In the end the GM had her NPC heroes abduct/rescue my character and, um, blow up a Star Destroyer with psychic mind powers, but we ended at that on her bemused sense of defeat, and my sense of mild triumph, that my character was too miserable a rat to do anything further with that was Star Wars-y.

Now, interestingly enough, I went on to play in a year-long campaign with this same GM, where I also played a consciously anti-heroic character in a heroic game, albeit less disruptively (more details in that original thread if you really, really want them); I played in other games run by her and by another player in that campaign, her boyfriend, again often playing uncooperative loose-cannon characters; and I'm close friends with both of them to this day, to the point of having them and their baby stay at my house last weekend. So here I was being "anti-social" without being fatally disruptive to the social relationship, even in the narrow terms of "I just can't game with this person, although we're friends."

The clear commonality with Fred's "spoiler" is that I was pushing the cracks in the system (in this case, pure GM-fiat drama, which is just riven with cracks) in order to achieve some personal satisfaction at the expense of the rest of the group (in this case, the one other person). Part of that's being an immature jerk. Part of that, though, was probably me trying to impress her with my cleverness (yes, Ron, I was attracted to her; no, nothing ever happened). Arguably, all of it was "dominance or status" as opposed to "enjoyment and camaraderie," to use Ron's distinction.

But competition, competitiveness, and social aggression are potentially positive elements in any kind of play (GNS aside: by this I mean, not just Gamism but Narrativism as well -- if I understand Ron correctly -- and, by extension, arguably in Simulationism too; I'd nail this Star Wars game as pure Sim, with a sub-agenda clash between me and the GM, but what do I know?). My experience, as opposed to Fred's, shows anti-social play isn't always fatal (no surprise). What I wonder about is whether "anti-social" behavior -- the pushing of the cracks in the System, be it rules, setting, or social contract itself -- can be sublimated to serve good play? And if so, how?

Or am I misunderstanding Fred's point and misdiagnosing my own play?
Quote
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #8 on: December 05, 2005, 08:16:04 PM »

Callan, yes, I believe that he got a reward out of jamming his wedge in, opening the crack, and watching the bits fly when it broke.  After that... well, he had demonstrated the weakness, and he was done.  Whether it was an act of petty vandalism, social dominance, or gaming sophistry I doubt I'll ever know for sure, but I would lay my money on all three.

Sydney, yes, I think you have a handle on what I'm talking about.

You wonder if the 'anti-social agenda' as I've laid it out can't be good for a game sometimes.

Well, as I said, our group was galvanized by this process and it was the better for it, once he had left.  If he had stayed, and played a more cooperative character, I'm sure we could have had a good time; as I said he was a polite, pleasant person to be around, and we all considered him a friend.  But it was an unpleasant thing for me to witness, and marred my fun to a degree.

For someone in a playtest, pushing the cracks in a new game is ESSENTIAL.  That's what's needed.  I'm a software QA engineer by trade, and I know that 'gentle' use is worthless for that kind of thing.

But we weren't playtesting, and we weren't looking for cracks.  Once you're USING a system, rather than testing it, it's polite to stay away from the cracks.
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"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
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Supplanter
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« Reply #9 on: December 05, 2005, 08:21:27 PM »

Someone shoot me down, but I'm seeing 'bang' of a different kind here. Particularly the way he was actually satisfied with his character being killed, like he'd gotten something out of that event and the other character(s) involved.

I'm not saying they were socially healthy nar bangs. But it is kinda like the kid who horribly teases a girl to get a reaction out of her. Horrible interaction, but stemming from a deep interest in her (in the analogy, romantic interest, in this game, narrativist interest in the other PC's).

You mean he was a socially dysfunctional narrativist pushing the other PCs to find some "there there" in terms of what the characters and their players cared enough to be moved to action against him? Maybe. He could have been a socially dysfunctional simulationist pressing the plausibility fault line until it broke - IOW, engaging in Destructive Denial not in the hope that the fiction passes the test but that it fails. But I think Fred's characterization - he was looking for any crack he could split wide open - is all we can conclude based on the info.

I can totally relate to Fred's situation based on what happened in my Nobilis Campaign Mark I. We ran this as a GM's Night Off game during our ongoing Amber campaign, and started from the little pink POD hc rather than the yet-unpublished Great White Book from Hogshead. In selling the group on trying the game I overenthused re the Domain system that "It could handle anything." I got a Power of Cold, a Power of Time, a Power of Drunken Excess, a Power of Accidents and . . . a Power of Evolution. This last player was the problem.

The LPB didn't, IIRC, advise you to work up a sample miracle chart for each domain in advance of the game, and I hadn't thought of doing it myself. We dove in and decided we'd figure it out as we went along. Four players got the hang of using miracles reasonably quickly; the GM - me - wasn't too far behind them. Three players enjoyed the game and campaign - I see on Findplay that one of them lists Nobilis as one of his three favorite games, and that was the only time he ever played it. One player decided he just didn't like it at all, which is cool.

Evolution was a special case. He had trouble figuring out what kinds of miracles he could work. We talked about it. At some point the GWB came out with its better organization and detailed advice and I drew up a sample chart. I showed it to him and we talked about it, but the play didn't change much - classic "I'm not into it" warning signs in terms of body language and demeanor during the sessions continued, general lack of energy and focus.

I wish I had a better recollection of the sequencing, but at some point I asked him, by way of getting a handle on how to help make his domain work for him so he could do cool things in the game, "What was it that attracted you to 'Evolution' in the first place."

You said the game could handle anything, and I didn't think this would work, so I figured I'd see.

The other guy, who just didn't like the game? Hey, he gave it a shot and it wasn't for him. But this made me mad. This guy's entire relation to the campaign was, "I bet I can break this." He set us up to fail by picking something he didn't think would work and then not, in the spirit of true inquiry, trying to make it work anyway. He just sat back and let himself have a bad time and marginally drag down the atmosphere for everybody else. And I called him on it. I didn't rip him, but I did say, "You set yourself up to not have fun." Of course, fun for him, of a kind anyway, was proving that my pitch hyperbole was . . . hyperbole. (Though a Power of Evolution could totally work.) That this couldn't possibly be fun for the other players, or me, didn't enter into it.

It's not like I was God's gift to Nobilis GMing - far from it. I was feeling my way around and trying to figure things out as I went along. But at least the other players were trying to figure out things with me.

The next time I ran Nobilis, I made sure it was for people that wanted to play the game, and wanted to take some responsibility for their own enjoyment. That worked much better. But I see the situation as similar to Fred's "find the crack" thing - in this case, pick the tough choice for the "can handle anything game" and "prove" that the game can't handle it. Definitely an "antisocial agenda."

Best,


Jim
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: December 05, 2005, 09:11:02 PM »

Hello,

I'm with Jim on this one. Looking for some kind of real Creative Agenda to describe or justify this guy's actions is a lost cause.

Best,
Ron
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Neal
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« Reply #11 on: December 05, 2005, 09:48:27 PM »

Callan, yes, I believe that he got a reward out of jamming his wedge in, opening the crack, and watching the bits fly when it broke.  After that... well, he had demonstrated the weakness, and he was done.  Whether it was an act of petty vandalism, social dominance, or gaming sophistry I doubt I'll ever know for sure, but I would lay my money on all three.

This sounds like me in every game where I've ever been a player.  As a player, I upset people; I tend to twit folks where they are weakest.  As a GM (my accustomed role), I've been successful as long as I've been playing.  I'm not sure what that says about the value of the Creative Agendas theory or its cross-application between Player and GM roles, but there it is: my players tend to love my games (and I don't mind bragging about that; to do otherwise would be to disrespect their taste), and my GMs tend to rub their foreheads and wish I were elsewhere.

I don't mean to fling anything jagged at Ron, but if the notion of Creative Agendas can't account for the ubiquitous "antisocial gamer," then I'm having a hard time understanding what purpose it serves as a predictive model.  Perhaps a new model (or a modification of the old model) is in order.
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John Kim
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« Reply #12 on: December 05, 2005, 10:20:38 PM »


Well, I think the primary barrier to it was a strong commitment to never objecting to anything that was entirely IC.  I should mention that this player's disruptions were never on the OOC level.  "It's his character, he should be allowed to play it how he likes.  After all, I wouldn't like it if someone else told me how to play MY character."

As other people have commented, I'm not sure how I see that it is an "anti-social behavior" by itself.  That is, having a PC who is rebellious and clashes with other party members can be good for a game, if the other players accept it.  Many of my PCs have pushed the limits of the background and/or the system.  So how, specifically, was his play anti-social on a player level?  

Now, I'm not sure, and I'd welcome some comments on your part.  It seems to me that you (and probably several of the players) assumed a social contract that the party should and indeed must remain unified, whereas he treated that as just an unquestioned habit that should be broken.  This made his behavior anti-social because it was in violation of the social contract which you assumed.  Does that make sense?  Or was there something further he was doing?  


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- John
Arpie
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« Reply #13 on: December 05, 2005, 11:13:12 PM »

Thinking about what John has said, and wondering a bit on my own, would stating your social contract up front help you build your group?

In practical terms: what if you prefaced each game with a requirement that the players find some way to fit in? As in - "this campaign works best if you work as a group, please think of an excuse for your character to support the others - an excuse that you, yourself accept."

That's a stated contract, right? I've tried it before on two occasions (which I mention only in the spirit of this forum.) In a Falkenstein game where the characters were highly competent servants to a very lucky, but very stupid Mr. Magoo/Inspector Gadget/Bertie Wooster - type Victorian MP (they had to think of reasons to remain loyal to the bumbling central character who continually got all the glory) and in an Unknown Armies game where the players all lived in an apartment complex built on an Indian Burial Ground (they had to think of reasons both to help eachother with weird business and to stay in their poltergeisty pads before play began.) I had some pretty disruptive players (guys who were very new to the group and not real popular with one another) but they worked together because they'd made up their own excuses.

It'd make me think twice about maintaining solidarity before freaking out about groupthink (which is, I think, both the advantage and disadvantage of a good social agenda style game. Remember that groupthink helps decisions run smoother and bonds people together with camaraderie, even though it is often used as a negative term. It's a powerful tool in social settings.)

As a side note, my finances force me to move around a lot, so I don't have the luxury of picking and choosing players who "fit" - I constantly have to new find ways of helping the group coalesce and fast.

One last thing: To be fair, this trick didn't work all that well for a game a group of old friends and I tried. We were playing retainers to some characters using the Munchkin rules as a gag and I wanted it to be a semi-serious horatio alger-type gag while everyone else took the hack and slash to slapstick extremes.
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #14 on: December 06, 2005, 04:14:51 AM »

Neal, the "social agenda and and anti-social agenda" material I am presenting here is not an attempt to supplant, remove, or add to the "creative agenda" theory.  They really aren't creative agendas.

What they are is an attempt to nail down what it is about roleplaying games that make them fun for me, and (when I'm in a delusional mood) for most other people as well.  The "social agenda" seems to me to be the core of what roleplaying games should be about: people gathering together to help each other achieve fulfillment.

Incidentally, I use the term 'fulfillment' because 'fun' is too limited.  I have had some heartwrenching experiences in roleplaying that I found tremendously fulfilling... and definitely not fun.  They are gaming capsaicin.

It seems to me that you (and probably several of the players) assumed a social contract that the party should and indeed must remain unified, whereas he treated that as just an unquestioned habit that should be broken.  This made his behavior anti-social because it was in violation of the social contract which you assumed.  Does that make sense?  Or was there something further he was doing?

No, that's pretty much it.

Arpie (and John),  this game was the one that taught me the lesson of bringing certain elements of the social contract into formal acceptance by all participants before starting a game.  When I run DnD now, I always preface it with the question, "Why does your character support this group?  Which members of the group does he respect most, and why?"

Of course, I don't use the same preface for a game like Amber.  For Amber, in fact, the game works BETTER if the players DO NOT have a unified "party ethic".  So the preface there is, "Who among this group does your character despise most, and why?  How much suffering on the part of your character, can you stand as a player?"
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"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
                                     --Vincent Baker
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