In reply to devil_panda
's recent post.
To begin with, I have three assumptions about role-playing game groups:
1) They are collectives, groups of individuals.
2) The practice of RPGing entails an effort to create, and to negotiate the creation of, a shared object or experience.
3) How a gaming group works is based less on the roles that gamers are presumed to have (because gamers don't always fulfill their roles in the same ways, or even at all), and more on the existing relationships between the members of that group.
If I want to stay true to my assumptions, the question becomes: How do I describe a gaming group in terms of relationships and in a way that will help me to understand how gaming groups work?
That's not hard: when you're looking at relationships, the salient thing is always power. So, now I ask: Who has the power in the group?
In the archetypal gaming group, the game master has authority to manipulate not only the game and the story, but sometimes the pcs, and rarely the players. The players, on the other hand, are authorized only to manipulate their characters and each other. Of course, no group really matches the ideal gaming group, not one hundred per cent. In this view, then, there are a few salient characteristics of gaming groups that might be investigated so as to get an idea of how a gaming group really works:The way these power relationships are discussed by the gamemaster and the players.
What do the participants say
they're doing, and what do they say other gamers are doing? Creating a chronicle? Matching wits? Drama? Sport? A game? We might do well to pay attention to these "native" models of gaming.Real life social relations between gamers.
This could be so many things that it's not even worthwhile trying to discuss them in any broad sense. One player could hate another player. The GM could just be a bad communicator. There may be gender-based, racial, sexual, psychological, ethnic, national, political, religious, blah, blah, blah, blah number of real life factors that affect the ways in which a given group associates. Maybe there's just one black player in the group? Maybe somebody insists on playing flirty characters of the opposite sex? Maybe the GM has a crush on a player?
While this line of inquiry seems like a path to nowhere because of how complicated it could get, it doesn't have to be that way, because most gaming groups have an idea of what the game should
look like and try to adhere to that model. So, where do they get the idea of what a game should be like? In part from their gaming friends, which takes you right back to the proliferation of particularities that I listed above. The other part comes from something that metagamers know about all too well . . . The rules.
Thinking about a gaming group according to the above three points, I came to these conclusions:
a) Rules do not govern the physics of a fantasy world, as that is something that has no physics, exists only in the minds of the players, and is, indeed, the very shared object that the gamers seek to create.
b) Rules do not dictate how gamers should behave towards one another, because very few gamers take ethical codes (such as the Camarilla has) as seriously as they take the game mechanics.
c) Rules do not structure the relationships between gamers. Truly, this is what the rules are meant
to do. But, when the accepted method of gaming is to throw the rules out the window if the situation calls for it - and it usually is - then we are compelled to think a little bit harder.
What do the rules actually do? The rules act as a common object of interpretation for participants in a game.
What do I mean by this? The rules, since they are governed by what the gamers agree on, and since they are actively negotiated in the course of the game, are influenced by the gamers as much as they actually influence the gamers. The rules, then, are the site where power is exerted, where power is realized, and where power becomes efficacious.
This also goes for . . . The story.
The story is another common object of interpretation for participants. It works in analogous, but probably not exactly similar, ways.
With these points ready to analyze, one can track the shifting power relationships in a group, and track the various kinds of "dysfunctional" or atypical groups that can appear.
Being that I understand this community to itself be a collaborative project towards better gaming, I want this to be my first contribution to that project.
That in mind, I'd appreciate criticism.
One thing is obvious in my theory: that every gaming group is different. Thus, to get at a better picture of how power relationships in a game can be understood, I think that some case studies of actual gaming groups would be useful. What is the power like in your group? What affects the relationships between your fellow gamers? Who really has the power, and what determines how they can use it?