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May 2, 1997: Communicatins Breakdown (it's always the same)

Greetings and Salutations,

I wish to say clearly, without malice, that gamers are all incredibly self-involved, egotistical people. No, wait! I mean that in a good way, that we're all able to be introspective and look at our own motives, and adapt to the world around us as a result! And, we have good self-confidence! Really that's what I mean!

It seems odd that such an interaction-rich hobby would be so prone to communication breakdowns. But they occur at the gamer level, the organization level, and the company level with equal aplomb. Not that I'm saying RPGers are poor communicators. Rather, we are very tied up with our wants and desires, and sometimes take things too personally.

A recent essay by John Mack on "The Tigger Syndrome" has prompted a good Usenet discussion on what players say, versus what they want. Often, players will say whatever makes their GM happy, and GMs will cater to what they think their players want. But being non-specific or passive can lead you into being mis-caste, and being overly polite in such cases can actually make for a poor game. On the other hand, if you bluntly tell the other person "I don't want X, I want Y", well, if they like "X" you've just annoyed them. It seems a no-win situation.

Fortunately, games aren't competitive, and you can be both direct yet polite. Saying "I'm really looking for a game that has X" is far more productive than saying what you don't want. And a GM's opinions on, say, your character concept should be heeded as useful advice, not meddling. You want to build an atmosphere of trust, not of competition or clashes. We're in it to have fun, after all, not to best each or prove who's best. Animosity and Ego need not get involved. Be direct, be clear, be polite.

Now, by the time you reach the club level, where the labor is all volunteer, ego often looms as the controlling breakdown factor. In fact, relying on chutpah and ego is about the only way to get things done. This makes sense, since you're usually producing a product for little or no reward. You're not just running a game, but making a newsletter, recruiting a membership base, or running a convention. And being volunteers, the only payoff is fame and credit. So you take your work personally.

This is good, to a point. But it can interfer with growth. Outside ideas are seen as threats, or insults. After all, if someone says they can improve or expand on your project, isn't that a direct slur against what you're done? Well, "NO!!!!". Because, after all, if you hadn't built it already, there'd be nothing to improve. Science and technology moves by building on previous works, art technique advances on the new methods of the previous generation, and musicians cheerfully plunder past works to make new creations. But ask to take over a volunteer's project to take it in a new direction, and *wham*, you're flamed. Politics dominates, new ideas are squashed, the organization becomes stagnant and boring.

So the connecting theme here is, suggestions are not threats. They are simply new ideas, and we shouldn't fear them. Of course, there's also the kin of new ideas-- different ideas. Conflict between these is legendary. Tabletop gamers sneer at Larp "posing", Interactive theatre fans scorn the antics of boffer fighters, boffer types laugh at the pathetic inaccuracies of tabletoppers. In the contest between idiologies, though, the three universal truths of gaming are forgotten:

  • Even united, gamers are still a niche hobby compared to the unwashed masses
  • Concepts and ideas from tabletop, larping, boffer, miniatures, and the other "schools" of gaming can often be applied to other schools to (*gasp*) improve them, if you keep an open mind
  • Gamers are still superior to the rest of the world

Well, okay, maybe that last truth needs a little work. But it's a nice thought. Now, the question remains, is communication difficulty endemic to the industry as a whole? Well, if we look at the industry level, we find breakdowns occur quite frequently. Some organizations (CAR-Pga, for example) are there just to provide unbiased information. Similarly, the GPA exists to share information and experience among small publishers and game companies. But sharing experience is difficult to do. The easiest way is to listen to someone, and then tell them what they did wrong. But of course people then take this personally. Often people forget that what they do is first and foremost a business, and only secondarily about issues like art and creativity. Because, you can have great art and creativity without having to publish. But as soon as you want other people to see it, you need to become a business, and approach it like a business.

So at the player level, we have gamers forgetting that they're there to have fun, and to put egos aside. At the small company level, we have owners forgetting that they're there to distribute and sell, and to put egos aside. At least that leaves the "big guns", like WotC and TSR, to run things in a firm, professional manner... right? On second thought, given their reputations for alienating gamers who don't favor their particular niches, maybe I'd best not comment on how they run affairs.

So where does this leave us? Well, with the internet, we have many more channels of communication. There's email, Usenet, web forums, mailing lists, chat rooms, 'zines, and probably a few I'm missing. We have many potential avenues of communication, and it's important that we use them thoughtfully, clearly, and without flame. Otherwise, murgimble defranc lekostmacat.

Until next month,

As a last-minute note, we have our first contest winner! Herko ter Horst is the first to solve our Hidden Contest (announced last month) and win a prize! He chose "The Rigger's Black Book" for Shadowrun, but there are still four more prizes from our list of a dozen to give away! Act now, before they're all gone! Simply find the five hidden pieces of the contest somewhere on our site, send the complete quote they contain to the secret contest address, and you've won!

TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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All Soapboxes

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  • The Path to Atrocities by Sandy Antunes, 06mar03
  • Cattle Mutilation: The Game Design by Sandy Antunes, 06feb03
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  • How To Be An Industry Poser, Part 1 by Sandy Antunes, 05dec02
  • all i game with, i learned from kids books by Sandy Antunes, 19nov02
  • TCG: The Total Cost of Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 10oct02
  • Game Publishing & The Law by Sandy Antunes, 06sep02
  • Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Sandy Antunes, 01aug02
  • Buying Time by Sandy Antunes, 04jul02
  • April 10, 2002 13 New FAQs
  • March 1, 2002 Give Me A Closet
  • January 2, 2002 Let's Go Shopping?!?
  • December 13, 2001 Conflict, Ethics, Winning, and Money
  • November 13, 2001 Secret RPGnet Operations Document Leaked!
  • October 16, 2001 Leadership and D&D
  • September 4, 2001 Leading Industry Site Reports Secret: Sex Sells!
  • August 7, 2001 Any, Anyone Can Be an Internet Success-- Why Aren't You?
  • July 3, 2001 Fine Print, Part U
  • June 5, 2001 Fine Print, Part I
  • May 8, 2001 Pushing Limits
  • May 4, 2001 RPGnet State of the Union special feature
  • April 6, 2001 The Other Magic: Niche Hobbies and Other Markets
  • May 9, 2000 Running a Business as an Old Style D&D Party
  • April 14, 2000 First to Market
  • March 20, 2000 Labor Pains
  • February 15, 2000 One Trick Pony
  • January 6, 2000 Creativity is Bad, Hard to Sell, and Great for Business
  • December 14, 1999 Oranges versus Bananas: Entertainment Costs
  • November 2, 1999 Why Editors Lie
  • October 5, 1999 How to publish a quality game, accept criticism gracefully, and lead a happy life: Pick Any Two
  • September 7, 1999 It Takes a Village (to publish an RPG)
  • August 3, 1999 All Gamer Money Isn't Equal
  • July 6, 1999 Tides of Cash Flow
  • June 1, 1999 Ad-itudes
  • May 4, 1999 Who, What, Give me a Guiness
  • April 6, 1999 The GAMA Trade Show '99
  • March 2, 1999 Roleplaying would have saved Millions
  • February 2, 1999 Games That Won't Suck
  • January 5, 1999 Dangerous Games
  • December 1, 1998 Making Gamers the Old Fashioned Way
  • November 3, 1998 The $1K Company
  • October 1, 1998 So You Want to Start Your Own Company...
  • September 1, 1998 Holy Grails and Marching Morons
  • August 4, 1998 Gamers Must Die!
  • July 7, 1998 Profit versus Prophet
  • June 2, 1998 Acquire! Acquire!
  • May 5, 1998 Power
  • April 21, 1998 The GAMA Trade Show Report, Part 2 (eventually)
  • April 7, 1998 Schroedinger Games, or, the GAMA Report
  • March 3, 1998 Culling the Herd
  • February 3, 1998 Horatio Hornblower's RPG Company
  • January 6, 1998 Double Feature (Us and Them/A Clash of Images)
  • December 2, 1997 "How to Scam Games for Free"
  • November 4, 1997 "Women in Gaming?"
  • October 2, 1997 "Fear of a Gaming Planet" (Welcome to the RPG ghetto?)
  • September 2, 1997 "Rush" (fame and adoration in lieu of pay)
  • August 2, 1997 "For the Money" (convention mating rituals)
  • July 2, 1997 "Good Deeds" (the dearth of evil game companies)
  • June 2, 1997 "Dirty Laundry" (copyright and slander on the net)
  • May 2, 1997 "Communications Breakdown" (company and player schisms)
  • April 2, 1997 "The Quick and the Dead" (dying companies versus new ideas)
  • March 2, 1997 "It's All in the Timing" (on hype and late deliveries, and on genres)
  • February 2, 1997 "Insiders and Outsiders" (who's who and who uses the web)
  • January 2, 1997 "Fits and Starts" (web presences, print runs, live roleplaying)
  • December 2, 1996 "Procastination Season is Over" (delays and new products)
  • November 1, 1996 "Best of Times, Worst of Times" (on rumors, survival, and larps)
  • October 1, 1996 "Post-Con fallout and not that many new games"
  • September 1, 1996 "Our launch, news from GenCon, demos, new LARPS"
  • Our reason for existence

    Other columns at RPGnet

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