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An example in broken Social Contract

June 28, 2010

Today’s Penny Arcade gives a funny, but accurate example of someone breaking social contract.

I talk a lot about people needing to buy in to playing the same game, and you can see where this kind of thing would be the opposite of that.

Consider that these are vastly different games:

1) “We’re playing a campaign of D&D, set in this world, where we’ll beat Tiamat at the end of the campaign!”
2) “We’re playing a campaign of D&D, set in this world, and we go find our own direction/do what we want.”
3) “We’re playing a campaign of D&D, and maybe we end up in different settings.”
4) “We’re playing a campaign in D&D, but maybe there’s a switcheroo and we end up in Gamma World or Paranoia!”

If everyone agreed to any ONE of these understandings, consider that comic again and think of whether that kind of hijinks would even happen.

Then, consider, if people are coming to play without a common understanding, is the problem really the Deck of Many Things, Wish Spells, or whatever in-game fiction or mechanic? (See also: “I develop gunpowder in your fantasy game!”, “My knight of the round table is a Ninja from the Far East!”, etc.)

Design vs. Culture

Modern rpg design tends to deal with this in two ways. Either:

a) High levels of specificity – in terms of design, setting, color, etc. The game does one thing explicitly, or;
b) Expectation of Social Contract – leave it unremarked and hope the group has enough social contract understanding to work it out.

You could see most of the “how do we work with this game?” conversations online, being broadly under these two categories with a common issue of, “Does your group have a functioning social contract and are you playing the same game?”

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