There are a substantial number of people in the world who view their friends in terms of how much stroking can they offer. They wouldn't use those words ... but I can see the point of that. We were once simple tribal people, and the majority of the clan was made of those people who picked your fleas and didn't mind you pressing your back against theirs for warmth. We're hard-wired to want friends who stroke us.
Only, the habits of civilized folk had to change as things grew more complex, what with a lot of systems and ideas being advanced to solve problems, and then systems and ideas being put in place to handle the advancements.
With the complexity of all this, there are reasons to question the value of stroking. Perhaps, stroking isn't quite as "ideal" as its proported to be. Perhaps stroking only promotes self-esteem, and perhaps self-esteem only becomes narcissism and a reason never to change.
Now, 'tis to laugh that I would dare use the term 'narcissism' to describe anyone but me ... as clearly I am the poster boy. But I propose that the real trouble that comes from surrounding yourself with people who agree with you all the time only means there's less and less reason to change.
David Wong over at Cracked.com - no doubt the premier writer at that rather juvenile little site - wrote something earlier this week called 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person. It's been true for sometime that if I wanted to say to someone, "See, there are people like me in the world," I could point to Mr. Wong (or Mr. Pargin, if we're using his real name). The principle difference between us would probably be that he seems to be a nice guy; he writes in a patient, nice guy style. But he admires assholes.
If you haven't read the article, I highly recommend it. I highly recommend following through with the recommendations therein.
Part of the premise of Mr. Wong's article, unstated, would be that your friends, the ones that are agreeing with you that there's no need in the world to do all this shit to make your life better, are doing their very best to kill you. They are not only stroking you; they are smothering you.
It is not merely that you should distrust people who like you, because they may not really like you, it is that you should distrust people who like you for no apparent reason whatsoever. If they can't tell you why they like you're D&D world, for instance, that's a warning sign.
You won't think it is ... because they like you. And being liked is nice. But liking something without reason - or for reasons that have no actual value to anyone - is as cheap and easy as it gets. The clan doesn't huddle together out of love. They huddle together because everything else in the world is terrifying.
To put it another way: They like your world because it's all they have.
It's pretty easy to hold onto people like this ... so long as you don't scare them more than the thought of having nothing to do Saturday night. And where it comes to a lot of players, that's a real issue. Better your world than television. Better your world than another night at home, like the six other nights that week.
Don't get caught up thinking your world is a wonderful thing because its better than television, or that it's a Mecca for people whose social lives have a low expectation threshold. The argument that people keep coming back every week is not much of an argument.
On the other hand, if you scream at them every week and they keep coming back; or they all have money and wives and a lot of other options of what to do and they keep coming back ... well, that's another thing. But if this is the case, then you are probably following Mr. Wong's advice and providing something USEFUL for people.
Take my word for it: whatever you might think from running to running, the best player in your world is the thorn in your side that annoys the living shit out of you. She's the girl who never finds anything you do very impressive. He's the guy who points out that two months ago you said the opposite of what you're saying now. She's the girl who argues with you for half an hour that prostitutes are not sleazy cows, but women practicing an art form. He's the guy who wants yet one more firm, clear, unqualified rule about his mage's lightning bolt spell and the properties of water. It's the rules lawyer in your world; it's the carping voice that won't shut up; it's the two chatting players who won't stop comparing notes.
Why? Yes, because they'll force you to push yourself to make a better world that will answer their questions, and you'll readjust your thinking to include prostitutes that aren't sleazy whores, etc. But also because it will stop you from stroking them! It will stop you from thinking that at least you have players, whatever slavering, sychophantic thing you have to do to make them happy just so they'll keep coming back and not leave YOU alone on a Saturday night. Because you're the problem. Not just because you haven't worked hard enough to make a world good enough for them, but because you haven't realized yet that you deserve more than having to make a bunch of annoying, over-rated strokers happy. Fuck them, buddy. Stand up, get a backbone, point at the two chatterers in the corner and roar loud enough to ripple the wallpaint, "ARE YOU HERE TO PLAY OR WHAT?"
Your world gets better when you try harder. Your world also gets better when you stop stroking them so they'll go on stroking you.