Sunday, October 21, 2018

13th Class: Game Consensus

Today we want to look at how some of the material we've been discussing has a practical application.  To begin a brief overview, we began with the question, what parts of the game are absolutely fundamental, regardless of the participants and their impact on the material?  We then discussed the methods by which we prepare ourselves for playing the game, employing research, estimation and planning, resources and education, then practice and rehearsal.

Afterwards, we examined the process by which an uninformed player of the game becomes competent, then how a competent player becomes an expert ~ and linked to that, an examination between subjective and objective evidence and its influence on our thinking processes.  We then discussed methods of determining the values of subjective evidence, as a means of pursuing objectivity where none exists, through conventions, preparations and mentorship.  Our next three classes dealt with popular theories of RPGs: storytelling, heroism and episodic game-play.  Then with our last class, we pursued the fundamentals of meaning-making, in which we spoke about the meanings we make for ourselves, that serve as a stand-in for knowledge, when making decisions about presenting role-playing games.

Our intention today is to show how preparedness readies us to be mentors, through our understanding of the principles, language and distinctions of RPGs, that in turn places novices on a strong footing to apprehend the game and make themselves capable of the social interactions that take place at the game table.  This is not only a matter of creating new gamemasters, but also through improving the comprehension of the game players themselves, enabling them to know more thoroughly the game they are playing, through the eyes of the person running the game.

This is all important.  All the participants, and not just the Dungeon Master, need to understand every facet of what is happening, all the time ~ just as the participants of any recreational joint activity are given full and complete information about all the facets of any particular game, sport or recreation.  We inform others interested in fishing where the fish are, what the rules surrounding fishing are, what lures and available means of fishing exist and we do so cheerfully and without reservation.  Likewise with participation in a team sport, or when we sit to play a board game.  Socially we consider the social process of meaning-making includes full disclosure where the rules and opportunties are concerned ~ we only conceal our individual strategies and tactics.

As individuals, it falls upon us to explain concepts and limits to other players freely.  We do so because the activity is communal and friendly.  We do so because fellow informed players who learn the game we play waste less of our time asking questions, making confused and erroneous choices, failing to take part in discussions because they don't really understand what's going on and ultimately choosing not to take part again, either because they don't "get it," or because they are ashamed to admit they need help.

It does nothing for us not to explain how specific tools, weapons or spells work.  We have nothing to gain by insisting that players teach themselves, to "prove" themselves worthy of our games, as though the goal is to demonstrate commitment to an ideology rather than active participation.  It does nothing for the DM to reserve knowledge about rules from the players, as an "edge" that gives the DM more power to pervert the game in the DM's favor, as though knowing what the rules are exists as a challenge to the DM's power, rather than a means of facilitating easier and better game-play.  A lack of clarity among players and DM is tiresome and destructive to game play.  A social agreement upon the rules ~ all the rules, all the time ~ creates momentum, trust, unified goals and streamlined play.

Where possible, we should take the time explain the terminology used throughout the game, suspending the game as necessary.  If need be, we can invest some time explaining the relationship between the terminology and how the players view the matter being represented - for example, what a "hit point" is in the game we're running, and what it represents.  We need to obtain a consensus on the use of each skill used by the players, what it does, how it works in this campaign, what limits it has ... and then expand that practice to all the aspects of the game.

In some sense, this is like the "session zero" that is postulated by some participants ~ but we really need to go further.  Role-playing games change progressively as more skills, powers and levels of status become available to the players, so orientation needs to be a constant part of the game process.

Where a consensus cannot be reached; where discord repeatedly disrupts the game over a point of the rules or a point of character building, or with role-play, then discard that rule ... disallow that means of character building ... and reduce the use of role-play.  We cannot stress this enough.  Meaning-making demands social connectivity and relative thought processes, in order to produce a symbiotic thinking apparatus that enables all the participants to share the experience.  If discord keeps popping up, it is a system error.  The system is driving the participants apart.  The answer is to change the system ~ either replacing it with something better or removing it's necessity.  Organizing thinking among the participants improves the subjective experience for all, because it is the same subjective experience.

By investing comparatively little time in making all the participants aware of the game's precepts, we reduce opportunities for gamesmanship.  Gamesmen take advantage of conflict, distraction and antagonism to "break the flow" of the activity.  "Flow" is the mental state of operation in which a single person, or group of people, are fully immersed in an activity to the point where they are fully absorbed.  A common experience where flow occurs is when one's sense of space and time is lost.  Hours go by without consciously experienced as one does when participating in activities that are dull, repetitive or taxing.

Breaking flow is the act of disrupting immersion by tactics such as asking questions that have already been answered, demanding approval or attention, making comments or refences to material that are out of context, dragging out a decision that needs making, adding unnecessary noise, giving purposeless or directly destructive advice, speaking out of turn and so on ... all elements which are advantaged by unclear semantics in the rules, practices that spark conflicts and multiple interpretations of the same game element.

When explaining the rules and precepts of a role-playing game to the participants, the least likely person to appreciate the effort will most likely be the player who feels they "already know the answer" ~ which precludes the certainty of consensus ~ or who feels that the practice is a "waste of time."  This last clearly indicates that one participant at least is not seeking the social aspect of game play, but is instead already angling for advantage against the others.  The most troublesome players will most likely resent any methodology, most of all one that brings the less prepared players up to speed on aspects such as character abilities, options and ways to strengthen their character's effectiveness in play.

In particular, many DMs will resist enhancement of their own players on these lines, being themselves anxious to advantage their own understanding of the rules while undermining the understanding of their players.  Such DMs will resist any attempt to gain knowledge from the player's perspective.  DMs of this type should be recognized early and avoided.

Very well.  With our next class, we'll be discussing the group dynamics of play, covering group strategies, learning through game play and the manner in which brighter more experienced players can be encouraged to "apprentice" players of lesser calibre.

Consensus isn't easy.

1 comment:

James said...

When I first started DMing, I was under the impression that one should engage in "gotchas" in order to teach rules.

I realized very quickly that this sucks, and now actively aid players, reminding them of relevant rules they may have forgotten. The benefits have been great: players know the rules better, and can make more informed and quicker decisions, and they feel less cheated when something goes awry.