Tag: relationships

RPG-ology #2: Socializing

This is RPG-ology #2:  Socializing, for January 2018.


Gamers have, or at least not so long ago had, an image of being socially inept.  Many are thought to suffer from high-functioning autistism or Aspergerger Syndrome, to be highly intelligent but have difficulty identifying and expressing feelings, entering into relationships with other people.  The “unwashed masses” once referred to immigrants coming to Ellis Island; now it perhaps describes GenCon.

I have written a fair amount about role playing game theory.  I participated in discussions with (Sorcerer author) Ron Edwards, (Dogs in the Vineyard author) Vincent Baker, and others, in the late 1990s at Gaming Outpost and later at The Forge, as what began as “GNS” (for “Gamism, Narrativism, Simulationism”) expanded into something Ron calls “The Big Model”.  My own explanations of that are still at Places to Go, People to Be as Theory 101:  System and the Shared Imagined Space, The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast, and Creative Agenda (also appearing in translation on the French version of the site and in print in Jeu de Rôle), and I would like to think I contributed at least a little to the development of that theory.

What The Big Model had at its root was the recognition of something that is in one sense completely obvious and in another completely overlooked:  game playing is a social activity.  It is a way in which people interact with each other within a structured setting, and thus we can reasonably say that it is a structured social situation.

This intrigues me, because I have recognized about myself that I do not do well in unstructured social situations—parties in which people mingle and eat and drink and chat, for example, or that social hour that’s really only about fifteen minutes after the church service.  I don’t know what to do, how to interact, in a sense what my role is.  I do well in classrooms, whether teacher or student, because I understand the roles and play my part.  I similarly do well in worship services, in discussion groups—any situation in which the roles are generally structured and everyone knows what to do, how to act and interact.

What is more interesting, though, is that a role playing game is itself a structured social situation, that is, a gathering of people interacting with each other following an agreed set of rules for that interaction, which itself is about creating a social situation—the interactions of the imagined characters within the game.  Thus people like us, people who have trouble relating to other people in unstructured social situations, enter into a structured social situation in which we are cooperating in the creation of a story about people interacting with each other in an unstructured social situation.  We are, in a sense, teaching ourselves how it’s done by simulating such situations and relationships and interactions between imaginary characters.  We learn how to socialize by creating characters who do that, and we do so by social interactions.

Thus as we come away from our games into the real world, we bring with us this picture of how people converse, how they relate, how they interact, from having attempted to reproduce that kind of conversation, relationship, interaction, in microcosm.  We then begin to become more like our characters, more able to be like other people, to socialize in unstructured situations.

I still have trouble with multi-party conversations—I never know when it’s my turn to speak, whether to hold on to that thing I was going to say and say it later when it’s no longer apropos, or drop it and hope that whenever it’s my turn to talk I will know it and have something to say.  I never have that problem during the game, because the rules, the fundamentally social rules, provide the structure that informs those questions.  But gradually what I have learned about character interactions has worked its way back into my life, into human social interactions.

We the geeks of the world have created our own therapy, a social activity that teaches social interaction.

Who would have guessed.


For what it’s worth, I have written about social interaction in games before, notably in Faith and Gaming:  Fundamentals and other articles in that series.

Previous article: Near Redundancy.
Next article:  History of Hit Points.

Faith and Gaming: Miscarriage

Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil.

These words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 14:16 are cause enough for us to tell the world that role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons™ are a good thing which Christians can and perhaps should embrace, enjoy, and use to the glory of God, and to answer the calumnious misinformation spread by others. Yet the question is still asked why it matters if fantasy role playing games are wrongly accused of being evil. What harm is there in this mistake? Shouldn’t we be taking our stand on more important issues, and just letting the people who fear and condemn role playing games live with their error? It isn’t that important, is it? It won’t really make a difference in anyone’s life if a few pin-headed Christians are confused on a matter of a silly game and no one bothers to put things right, will it? Read more

Faith and Gaming: Friends

As I write this, my wife is off rescuing one of her friends. This particular friend has lately found herself stranded in various places far from home; we aren’t quite clear how she gets to these places, but on more than one occasion of late, my wife has given her money to get busses or buy gas or otherwise arrange to get back to her currently somewhat distant home at the shore. Tonight she is stranded in a bar, about half an hour from us and an hour or so from her home if she had a car, which she does not. She expected to meet someone there who did not show; with such money as we can’t really spare but have in hand, my wife has headed out to rescue her, uncertain whether she is going to drive the added distance to the shore, put her on an expensive bus, or bring her back here. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Sex

In the earliest articles of this series, we were looking at what might be considered the issues in role playing, those areas in which Christians might have concerns. We started with some fairly simple ones—the implications of various types of mechanics, the matter of creating settings which were different in any way from the world God created, the inclusion of bad things in our worlds. Then we started to get sidetracked, perhaps, into answering the many objections raised against role playing games, beginning with the weaker brother argument. We took many sidetracks and then started to talk about how we might actually involve our faith in our games in specific and intentional ways with the idea of playing the good guys, the first of eight generally on that subject, which included things as diverse as playing the bad guys and using Christian imagery. Then, abruptly, the focus changed when we talked about Pagans and whether modern Christian treatment of them was at all appropriate or Biblical. This opened up a new direction for the column—or perhaps merely returned us to the old direction, back to those matters which might be issues to us as gamers, such as battle and war and making deals with the devil. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Making Peace

In recent months we have drifted away from the central purpose of this series—that of examining how our faith and our gaming hobby may be integrated—into responding to the criticisms of other Christians. This is in some ways a necessary part of what we are doing. If well-intentioned Christians think that our hobby is wrong, we need to examine what they say and what we do very closely. But to some degree, the critics have derailed us, pulling us away from the basics of our discussion. It’s time to get back on track. To do this, we’re going to travel back to the fundamentals, where we began.

And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
—James 3:18, UNASB Read more

Faith and Gaming: Fundamentals

The following article was originally published in May 2001 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.

As I pondered where to begin our discussion of faith and gaming, I wanted to address the most fundamental aspect of our games; but I then had to debate with myself exactly what part of a role playing game is that most fundamental aspect. I decided immediately that it wasn’t the worlds in which we played; as basic as these are to the make-believe play of our youth, these are rather a layer on top of the basics. Characters, similarly, are part of the game, but an added part. Did that mean that mechanics were the fundamental aspect? After all, all games have mechanics; role playing games are most defined as games because of mechanics. And so I was preparing to write a page about Christianity and game mechanics.

And then it occurred to me that I was looking in the wrong place. Read more