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Honest Communication

July 4, 2015

There’s no real new problems for tabletop RPGs.  A lot of the issues people have are the same problems you can read about in old issues of Dungeon Magazine from the early 80s, or even older newsletters.  These problems boil down to trivial problems (things that are a matter of taste and easily adjusted, like small house rules), problems that take a lot of time (“retool this complicated set of rules to support a completely different setting”) and non-solveable problems.

The last category is where a lot of gamers waste an incredible amount of time and once you recognize them,  you stop wasting energy trying to fix what is unfixable.

Honest Communication

If you sit down to play poker with your friends, you understand there is an expectation of how you will communicate within the game – you are totally expected to lie about your hands and bluff and all of that.  That’s part of that game, right?  However, no one would consider it “fair play” to set up a fake call from the hospital telling a fellow player their mom is dying, just so you could look at their hand.

A game can include deception within the bounds of the game, however, people are expected to be honest outside those boundaries.

Here’s two things, which you need honesty from for a game to work:

– What game are we agreeing to play?

– What do I want from this game?

If there is dishonesty here, the game will simply dysfunction. When people can’t communicate with you honestly as one person to another, what can you build on top of it?  The trust around most games is a super low bar to meet.  (Yes, there are super emotional games where trust matters. Most Imaginary Elf games are not it).

Yes, everyone can show up, yes all the players except one player might be playing the same game, but it’s rather like playing a boardgame with a toddler who picks up random pieces or throws their crayons on the board when their turn comes up – no one looks at that and imagines the child is playing the game with you, or that their actions aren’t sometimes disruptive to the actual game being played.  Unlike a toddler, however, you’re dealing with someone cognizant enough who should be able to make a choice to play or not play and communicate it.

Emotional Dishonesty and Intentionality

Now, in nearly every case like this with tabletop games, it’s not like someone showed up and said, “I’m totally going to lie about these things, let me get my story straight”.  Emotional dishonesty is often a reaction that people don’t realize they’re doing, a pattern.  HOWEVER, when you present the differences between what they say they want to do and what they’re doing, there’s basically only 3 options:

“Oh shit, you’re right.  This isn’t what I wanted to have happen at all.  Let me figure out how to change what I’m doing.”

This is the path where you can FIND honesty and create functional communication.

“Well. damn, you’re right.  I guess I actually want this OTHER thing and maybe this game isn’t the right one for me.”

Hey emotional honesty and an end to wasting time on things that aren’t going to change.

“No, that’s not what I did at all!!! Let’s just have fun! Why can’t we just play?”

I’ve pointed out before that when everyone is interested in the same type of play, it’s really easy to make happen.  When someone isn’t interested in actually playing that way, everything “somehow” becomes a problem. And that a lot of this kind of “don’t talk about it” attitude is about the idea of either forcing each other into “One True Way” to play or else trying to avoid the elephant in the room that the group doesn’t actually want to play the same game.

Problems that cannot be honestly described, problems that you don’t have cooperation in addressing?  Those can’t be solved.  This is not a matter of time.  You can’t force any individual to “want” something they don’t want (well, you can abuse and brainwash people, however, that’s certainly not about fun or enjoyment…)

Pretty much after the point where the group has talked to a player or set of players about what the expectations of play are supposed to be, and they continue to be violated?  Then that’s someone who isn’t interested in communicating – they’re not listening.

People don’t want to hear it

You ever have friends in a bad relationship, and you point out obvious A to B connections about behaviors and what’s going on and the one option that never comes up is “just leave” or when you bring it up, they have a million and one reasons including “..but I love them!”?   Yeah, that’s the same pattern when it comes to dishonest communication in a game group.  You can read forums and see this question pop up again and again, “What do I do about X player?” and pretty much it boils down to: “Talk to them, and either they change or they leave.”

The answer they really want is “How do I change their mind? How do I make them want what I want?  How do I change who they are?”

There’s no answer to that.  It’s an unsolveable problem.

Some of it is that people don’t want to admit the difference in goals and that they actually just like different things.  Some of it is that the person in question is abusive or a jerk, and most importantly – never was your friend to begin with.  Self examination can reveal a lot and not all of it is pretty.  “Are THESE people and THIS game giving me what I want?”  There’s a question to consider.  Like a relationship, “Is this even working?” is a question people don’t bring up for themselveses enough.  Being honest with yourself often is half the hurdle here.

I deal with enough unreasonable people in life in general – why spend my time gaming with them as well?

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