So how do we do it?
|An ordinary, competent gamer attempts to seek knowledge|
"Naturally, to avoid mistakes, the competent performer seeks rules and reasoning procedures to decide which plan or perspective to adopt. But such rules are not easy to come by as are the rules and maxims given beginners in manuals and lectures. Indeed, in any skill domain, the performer encounters a vast number of situations differing from each other in subtle ways. There are, in fact, more situations than can be named or precisely defined, so no one can prepare for the learner a list of types of possible situations and what to do or look for in each."
Here again, as before, Dreyfus insists on the word, "rules." This is a problem where we are discussing a game, where there ARE rules that do need to be kept. The problem is that people tend to rush straight to the definition for rules that states, "A set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere." This is not what Dreyfus means at all, which is clear by the context of the whole document. He's describing another definition for rule: "a principle that operates within a particular sphere of knowledge, describing or prescribing what is possible or allowable." A more precise word for this second definition would be axiom, which we can define as "a statement or proposition that is regarded as being established, accepted or self-evidently true."
The game rules ~ such as, when a character's hit points run out, the character dies ~ are regulations and should be observed as such. The DM's acquisition of knowledge, however, is not dictated by any set of rules. We are simply muddling through the hundreds of situations that might come up as our games increase in complexity, making judgments, or rulings, as best we can where rules are inadequate or do not exist at all. Over time, these judgments cease to be individual calls on the game and become standardized axioms, as defined above. We make up our minds on how to manage new players, or deal with arguments, or present magic items or employ traps, in terms of when and where and how much.
It is not the acquisition of axioms that is a difficult obstacle for our competent DM, but the willingness to make decisions, stick by them and then uphold or take note of that same decision when the same issue arises again. If a DM will insist upon vacillating between two different positions when the same situation arises, then no such axiom will result and the players will perceive that favoritism is in play (as the decision was different for the fighter as opposed to the mage), or that the DM is an whimsical boob who cannot be trusted and may say anything when the time comes. Without a clear and serious sense of responsibility when making a given decision upon a game aspect, our DM, however competent, is likely to forget their previous ruling and the game itself will soon become an unholy mess.
Dreyfus is very weak on this point. He commits much of his argument to the importance of being emotionally invested, but he does not state which emotion is critical here. He attests that we learn from our mistakes, but he fails to note that many people who make decisions, even when emotionally invested, are not aware when they have made a mistake. Many persons must have the mistake pointed out to them, and even then many persons will seek to avoid admitting the mistake, seeking to "put the blame" on some other person, and thereby learning nothing from their error. This is grossly common in role-playing games, as players blame each other or the DM, while the DM blames the players. It is not enough just to be emotionally involved; we must be serious. This is suggested, but not plainly stated, by Dreyfuss' argument that we must "replay one's performance in one's mind step by step ... to let them sink in." Of course this is true ... but Dreyfus' language path to get to that point is clumsy, cluttered and frustratingly prosaic. People all too often refuse to place any importance on their mistakes, and therefore learn nothing from them.
As the decision is usually made under a time constraint, we learn from the decision by reflecting upon it after the game, when time has ceased to matter ~ and mull over the original question without assuming that our judgment was correct. If the judgment seemed lacking, or wrong, then we consider what decision we would make now, after the fact, acknowledging that this might mean beginning the next game with the words, "I changed my mind and I was wrong ..." The process of decision-error-reconsideration-confession strengthens our thinking process and increases the seriousness with which we view decision-making at the start. IF we know we ARE going to confess once we have reconsidered, and not bow out even when it hurts to admit we're wrong, we'll seek choices that don't produce error and eventual confession.
But refuse to admit to error; refuse to re-evaluate the original problem with an mind to ensuring a legitimate decision; refuse to look the original subject of our decision in the eye and admit our mistake - and we learn nothing. We will never be anything but a competent DM.
For some, that's enough. They equate competency with expertise and fail to recognize that competence means little more than "adequate." You have the bare necessity of skill, but that is all. You should not imagine that you're an expert and you should not imagine that you're in a place to give others an education in your subject. That should be left for those who are proficient.
Stage 4: ProficiencyAs we become more serious in our tasks, the axioms we create to manage the complexity of the game are strengthened. This enables us to spend less and less time mulling over decisions that we're making, as we become more confident that we're making the right ones for ourselves and for other people. Note: it is the latter that is most important, as it is the latter that are most affected by what we decide.
We should not imagine that the process of building axioms and adapting ourselves to responsibility for our decisions is an easy one. Our Proficient DM is an unusual entity, with the ability to discriminate among hundreds of slivers within the game aspects we've described (and many others besides). When a decision needs to be made, a wide range of choices is available to our Proficient DM, with increasingly less doubt regarding which decision ought to be made.
On the whole, this choice of decision will exist for virtually any part of the game that the participant has chosen to explore. Given the game's versatility, the number of editions, the number of other like games with their own sets of rules ~ and given that some games will focus heavily on role-playing while others focus on roll-playing ~ we shouldn't suppose that because a given DM is proficient in these aspects, that they are not merely competent in others. A DM may be a highly proficient gamemaster at the table; but a woeful competent where it comes to designing a setting. We may shine where it comes to creating tension or producing successful, believable characters; but hopeless where it comes to sorting out arguments between players or discouraging players from outright cheating. As individuals in any field of knowledge increase in proficiency, the slice of the knowledge field in which they're in gets narrower and narrower. Doctors become specialists. Lawyers choose between business and criminal law. Engineers move into the fields of chemical, mechanical or electronic technologies. It takes a lot to become proficient at anything; it is a little easier when we narrow how much we choose to be proficient at.
But this does create prejudices. Once we become proficient at something, we tend to think that our proficiency is the answer to every problem. It is the old adage, once you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Those who are proficient in role-play want to argue that the game is all about role-play and story. Others proficient at technical details want to argue that the game must be simulationist and accurate. We should beware these statements; the game is whatever we choose to make it, according to whatever effort we give to our particular campaign.
The process of decision making is a matter of heuristics, which I have covered in the link. Our Proficient DM has accumulated axioms which have evolved into available and representative templates, which are accessed from memory and then employed. There is a period of deliberation, though often brief; and where a lack of certainty exists, there's a strong potential to accurate guess, judge or propose a solution which will, after examination, prove to be accurate and effective.
This does enable our Proficient DM to manage many, many more situations than might normally seem possible, as the DM has learned to "roll with it" when something vastly different and unexpected arises. It is difficult to stump a proficient DM; there has just been too much experience with odd and unusual things, and with solving such problems, to produce a complete failure to respond.
Stage 5: ExpertiseWhen it happens that the need to calculate and compare alternatives falls by the wayside, our proficient DM has probably become an expert. Whereas before there was some room for doubt, our Expert will see immediately that there can only be one solution. This is the result of a number of factors, which are not fully understood by the phenomenalogical/psychological community (though it makes for good, heavy reading). Fundamentally, our Expert encounters the material, comprehends the material and reacts to the material as a single mental process.
Many might think they do this, but without examination and hard evidence there's little credence to this claim. As far as we can tell, the expert accurately "feels" the answer rather than "knowing" it ~ while evidence demonstrates that it was the right answer. It is easy to produce this evidence in a game like chess, where those who possess this expertise consistently win against most everyone but a handful of others in the world, even when distracted or forced to play against a severe time restriction. In a game like D&D, it is virtually impossible to tell if a DM is an "expert," since we have no way of knowing for certain what a "right" answer would be or how this right answer might manifest during game-play.
We may, however, posit such a person. Our expert is highly absorbed in the material. They recognize the existence of axioms and conventions, but equally recognize that these will need to be suspended in peculiar circumstances, that are themselves not necessarily prescriptive of future events. For example, a given bizarre and highly unlikely sequence of events in a game might create a certainty that the dice should be skewed, or fudged, in this instance, with the recognition that since the unlikely sequence is not likely to happen again in the lifetime of the DM, the incident does not validate any argument that fudging the dice is acceptable. Put another way, the appearance of a sliver of a particular aspect of the game, due to its infrequency, has no merit where considering the game as a whole.
Conversely, our Expert may perceive that wildly diverse parts of the game also share wholistic characteristics that would not be noticed by a proficient DM. There may be conditions, for example, that demonstrate that "role-playing" and "roll-playing" are, in fact, the same thing, viewed from an intuitive perspective that is not limited by the need to create an axiom to explain how things work, or ought to work, based on their immediately apparent characteristics.
Very often, because experts don't know themselves how they come to a given conclusion, they cannot unpack their own knowledge and as such, make very bad professors. I've had quite a few of them.
With our next class, we'll want to review how some of this material on the acquisition of skill level applies to the content in our earlier preparedness classes. Thank you, this completes our second week of class.