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The Gamer Hurdle

February 21, 2008

So we’ve got this hobby that’s been around 30 years, with a dedicated group of gamers, lots of advice, ranging from old gamer ‘zines in the 70’s, Dragon in the 80’s, advice in just about every game, and on the forums and online, right now…

Should be smooth sailing, right?

But, why are we still plagued by “How do I get a group together/keep a group together?”, “How do I deal with problem players?”, etc.?  Why is it easier to get together and play something just as crunchy or complex- World of Warcraft, Arkham Horror, Warhammer, etc, just not a roleplaying game?

Well, there’s one big difference between those other games and roleplaying games.   In those games, everyone knows that the game is where you’re meeting as a group of friends.  If we get together to play Monopoly, we’re going to play Monopoly, possibly with a couple of house rules, but for the most part, the game is pretty clear and decided.

If we get together to play a roleplaying game, suddenly it’s a completely different affair.  Unlike all those other games, every time you start a new campaign, try new rules, or form a new group, this strange thing happens that doesn’t happen in any other type of game:

The rules are completely renegotiated based on the individual desires of everyone playing.

In no other type of game does it work like this.  “Oh, you want to play Monopoly?  Well, you’re going to have to have pieces capture each other like in Chess, or Jim won’t play.  Mary doesn’t want to deal with the rules for rent too much, so try to limit how much that shows up in play.  Frank wants to use D8’s to roll, he hates D6’s” etc.

For most games, provided you know the rules, you get right to playing.   In roleplaying,  you can end up spending sessions working out what the rules really are, and then trying to figure out if those rules really work for you.   (You know when people complain, “Learning new rules is hard”, even when it’s 2 pages long?  It’s not the rules in the game that’s hard, it’s renegotiating and finding a happy spot amongst the group)

Ever notice how much of all that game advice deals with types of gamers, what kinds of play they like, and how to satisfy those needs and trying to find a happy middle ground?  It’s about trying to play the game of politics of the group and disparate goals to keep the group together.

No one does this shit when it comes to Chess, Uno, or any other kind of game, you don’t have to juggle the personalities of the people just to get the game off the ground.

Only in roleplaying is the culture built around the idea that each player has the right to insist, demand, that the entire rules structure, the style of play, change to meet their needs, instead of looking at the rules as the place where the group meets.   And that a functional game can be built out of such an attitude.

So yeah, gamers who get past that hurdle?  They have a good time.  Everyone else?  Keeps asking why they have “problem players” or why their games keep falling apart.

ETA: See the Same Page Tool as a possible solution.

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