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:
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!