Expectations management and the social aspect of gaming

Mostly, when I do RPG play, instead of design work, I am doing it very specifically for the social interactions. While system can (and does) matter, what I really want out of gaming isn’t usually to play GURPS, or D&D, or whatever.[1]

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Over at the Contessa blog+Sarah Richardson interviews four players about how to be a good player. 

The following discussion is nearly all about the social aspects of the game, with a few nods to mechanics, because a playdate isn’t a playdate (in my daughter’s lingo) unless all parties are actually playing and having fun.

As much as I get into system and mechanics and design on this blog, and while sometimes I will shake my head and even chafe against system issues, the reasons, I think, that I and others will walk away from a table – figuratively and literally – is because expectations are not being met.

This might be game expectations – I wanted to play a game about killing owlbears and taking their stuff, and this isn’t it. But it can also be about social expectations and in-character goals. I had issues with a Gumshoe/Trail of Cthulhu campaign in the past for two reasons – I didn’t understand the system as well as I’d have liked, but the biggest was a total miss in what the campaign segment was about. I assumed the prequel we were playing was how each of us got interested in looking for conspiracies and finding out threats to sanity and the world. The actual campaign assumed we already cared about that stuff and were deeply invested. I was quickly disinvited to play, since my actions were not synchronized with the group mission. 

Expectations management and clear communication? Not achieved. 

The discussion led by Sarah shows that this responsibility is multi-directional. Rather than keep executing actions that irked the crap out of our GM (and I could tell) in character, I should have spoken up the first time, saying “am I supposed to do X here, because my character is acting on Y assumption.”

No, he would have likely replied. You need to be interested in taking the initiative and pursuing Z, because your assumption Y is inverted.”

Railroading! Fie! A pox on your first born, thou wart on a salamander’s tongue!

Not railroading. If I describe a game where everyone’s supposed to be an ass-kickin, gun-totin’, warrior for hire, and someone comes in wanting to play (say) a sociologist that simply wants to study things passively, that’s expectations mismatch. It’s not the game I want to run, nor the game the other players want to play. That way either lies total failure, or total awesome – but the second one is reserved for groups that either self-assemble or purposefully decide how everyone’s going to have fun with such a misfit in their midst.

Original image from “How to be a good player”

Anyway, read it, and heed the advice. RPGing – at least for me – represents three to five hours of fairly scarce time with my friends – often on video cameras because the odds of putting many people in my house with two small children in it, late at night when I can spare the moment(s), is basically zero. So it’s all about the social interaction first, and the mechanics or system second.

Sarah’s interview/round-table is chock full of advice in this situation, and worth reading.

[1] This isn’t always true. I very much want to play in a short-lived mini-campaign using each of Night’s Black Agents, Fate, and Savage Worlds – ideally with an existing, enthusiastic, and experienced group willing to put up with me for 3-5 sessions – to get a better feel for how these games play at the table.

One thought on “Expectations management and the social aspect of gaming

  1. Thanks for calling out Contessa's post and your thoughts. On reflection I think the mismatch between my players preferences and mine is probably the reason I can only run the group for 12-15 months at a shot. Tasty food for thought.

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