“Indie Roleplaying Destroyed My Group!”

September 10, 2011

Every so often on forums, I see some version of this kind of statement. (Sometimes, “Forge theory destroyed my group!”).

Here’s what happens:

A lack of honest communication

You have a group of people roleplaying together, with a long term commitment either established, or as the goal. A part of this commitment is the plan to play a particular game, or gaming style. All of that would be fine, except, like too much of the rpg social scene, this group doesn’t have honest communication.

Now, here’s where the problem comes in- did anyone communicate and agree to the specifics of the game/style? Or is it just assumed? Or is it just a compromise everyone is willing to accept? (“Well, everyone will put up with playing D&D, so D&D it is…”)

If you have a clear agreement, then there shouldn’t be confusion. But if you wanted a poker group but simply said, “Let’s play cards!”, you can’t be angry if someone decides they want to try out Spades or Rummy.

So the real issue that usually shows up is that some of the group is committed to a specific game or style, but it wasn’t made clear.

So someone shows up with a new game, or idea about gaming. Things that can often happen include:

Battle to try it out

The suggestion of a short run, or even a one shot is met with harsh resistance, by either a few people, or the whole group.

Often, this is also tied into two things.

The idea that there’s One True Way to Roleplay means that any other ideas are dangerous and will lead to Bad Roleplaying which will make you a Bad Person.

The Geek Social Fallacy that you must like what I like, or you don’t like me, in which case, the suggestion is treated as an insult.

The new adopter(s) will be perplexed at the resistance, and try harder, which will be taken as greater insults by folks, and instead of, you know, actually talking about what you’re all looking for, it becomes a pit of festering resentment… which makes the next part more ugly.

Possible Sabotage?

The group finally tries out the game. It’s already going to be hard enough to try out a new game or style, with a learning curve that probably should take 1-3 sessions.

Not uncommonly, the most resistant folks can decide to try to break the game, or grief the session in an attempt to “show how bad it is”. Sort of like peeing in a new dish then saying, “See?!? I told you it’d be terrible!”

Naturally, this behavior will also be taken as an insult to the new adopter(s), since it’s basically throwing a fit.

If the social situation is extra toxic, the griefers will then attempt to talk to members of the group outside of play, in an attempt to convince them how terrible that was and that they should all lobby together to return to the “normal game”.

And, a divide

Assuming play survived any of that, some of the group may find they like the new game or game style, some may not. The resultant discussion and desire to play different games falls into the Geek Social Fallacy I mentioned, and people treat it like it was a failing marriage – rather than saying, “We’ll play this, you guys play that” and amicably remaining friends.

Destruction and Ruin!

At the end of it all, the drama spirals into the group changing, and possibly friendships lost along the way.

The question to ask though, was it the new game or gaming style that did this, or the lack of honest communication?

I game with a lot of different folks, and have had a couple of long standing groups- where we try out different games, we play for a while, do other things for a while, and come back. Sometimes we really like a game, sometimes we say, “This isn’t for us.”

The games don’t destroy our group, because we’re not committed to only playing a single type of game, or feeling that there’s only One Way to Roleplay.

To be sure, we have preferences and interests…but there’s still a lot of different games that fit within our overlapping interests, and each of us is willing to go a little out of our comfort zone to try something new.

It’s not really a game, or gaming style that destroys a gaming group – it’s the fanatical belief that the group must stay together, forever, that you have to play a certain way, that you must like the same things or you don’t really like each other.

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