Thursday, June 28, 2012

Martin and Shy Guy

So I was talking to people and thinking about this Martin essay.

In it, I basically lay out this hypothesis that the reason why alotta the people who prefer newer, more focused, game designs with really clear "this-is-in/this-is-out" rules do so is because they are kinda socially awkward and so they like that these games put stuff into rules rather than relying on the players and GM to socially negotiate stuff like "Ok, well how much detail do I have to go into to describe how I am tying some iron spikes together to make an impromptu fish-hook and can I trust you that you'll rule fairly on that?"*

I'm thinking mostly of the ones who are so attached to these kind of rules they can't figure out why anyone sane wouldn't want them.

Now I'm realizing I didn't fully think something out there:

I think it's not necessarily that (or only that) some socially awkward people like rules-as-written because they're kinda technocratic thinkers who like technocratic solutions. It may also be--and feel free to let me know how you feel here-- that these gamers are painfully shy people who see social confrontation in itself (regardless of the subject or stakes) as pretty scary and as something that kinda hurts. Or that at least takes a few of their hit points to do.

If you're them a game demanding (or just implying) that changes to standard operating procedure be socially negotiated is kind of offensive in itself. Like I want to play a leopardperson and I have to ask? And I don't have the rulebook to back me up? Fuck. That is in itself the game kind of harassing me.

In other words, to Shy Guy, the group assuming something as a default constitutes a sort of de facto pressure to go along with it.

"GM's discretion" is a problem not (or not just) because you don't trust the GM but because putting your 2 cents into that discussion is socially risky.

Further, if you were Shy: the Content As Written of any gamebook becomes extremely important (way more important than any DIY D&D person could instinctively understand) because not going along with the assumptions of the game will require some social negotiating and social negotiating hurts. (As opposed to being neutral or even fun, like it is most of the time for most of us because we're talking to our friends--or at least people with common interests--about a topic of common interest.) If there's a scary idea in that gamebook or a rule you don't like, that is going to be way more of a problem to negotiate away if you're a shy person. Shy guy doesn't even want to go near having to ask exactly how rituals in this Carcosa game are going to be handled.

If you're shy "expectations" (of all kinds) are not just things you blandly steamroll ten seconds into the first session, they're things it will cost you something emotionally to violate.

And if you are Shy and assume most gamers are like you (and maybe they are)(and which a Shy Guy or Gal could easily assume because if you're really shy you may only want to play with other shy people or may end up mostly playing in organized things with strangers) then wanting to play a game might seem to you like--of course--wanting to play the standard game. Because changing rules is hard and painful and who would wanna do that?

It might also explain why people get So. Fucking. Angry. about games with some mechanic or setting bit they don't like. If the game has lizard-dogs you are gonna have to confront someone or have lizard dogs, if a game has Vancian magic you are going to have to confront someone or use Vancian magic, if a game has paladins as merely a splatbook class you are going to have to confront someone about it being a splatbook class. It's all scary.

(Things I'm not saying:

Shy= Focused Design Fan
or the contrapositive of that
Not Shy=Not Focused Design Fan
Shy=Not Traditional Game fan
or the contrapositive of that
Not Shy=Traditional Game fan
I'm saying:
Vociferous Badwrongfunists Who Will Shit On Things That Aren't Focused Designs and Don't Understand Their Appeal constitute a subset of Shy People and that their Shyness may explain this part of their behavior.)

Now since I am really really not Shy Guy and neither are my players (they sure as fuck let me know when they don't like something), I am aware how far out on a limb I am going. I am aware how many assumption I'm making and how I haven't tested any of them.

Again: all this is a guess.

So I am asking you all.

Does this make sense? Does it match your experience?

And if you are the shy person and I have missed something crucial, please see this as a serious attempt to figure out what that is. I apologize in advance for my ignorance.

*As I said in the original essay, there are lots of reasons to like newer rules. This is just about one of those reasons and about the vicious partisan zeal with which some people advocate those reasons.


trollsmyth said...

It makes sense to me. Granted, while I abhor confrontation most of the time, discussing/arguing/jawboning about games was always exempt because its fun. But if people feel the way I feel about discussing, say, gender war from a colonialist theory standpoint in Game of Thrones,I could totally see that. And I'll admit, there have been many times when I've chosen to not rock the boat and just deal with the game as printed (or as the most vocal folks at the table prefer to play). If that was my default, I could totally see getting up in arms over such issues.

But if this is, in fact, the case, doesn't it mean that brain damage causes WoD? (Sorry, I couldn't resist! Xp )

TickledBlue said...

It feels like part of the picture to me - I think there's something to the idea of more rules placing power in the hands of the player and that taps into what you are talking about here I think.

It's a bit hard for me to be sure as my groups are pretty comfortable with each others foibles, but I get the sense that some groups have a more adversarial relationship between players and GM and rely on the rules to adjudicate that and keep it "fair". I feel there is some juice in this concept of fairness - I mean, that's ultimately what rules are traditionally all about after all.

That would agree with your hypothesis as I can see a shy player feeling that they are at a major disadvantage when their are no rules to cover a situation. They could feel that they don't have the same power as a player who can be more convincing, funny or just loud enough to get their way in a game that is more about social contracts.

I've seen poor GM's giving the most spotlight to the loudest players and the quiet ones not having the same opportunities as the GM asks them to roll for social situations while the loud player ignores their charisma stat and bluffs their way past the town guards.

Long story short - not complete bullshit no, but I think it's not the whole pie, but rather a meaty slice.

Josietron said...

I definitely know some people that are like this in other areas - every social interaction without a script is a scary confrontation. I can see them being like this in a game, but I haven't gamed with those people in a decade, so I don't have any game-related examples.

Unknown said...

I can think of two experiences off the top of my head that in some ways match what you've said here.

1) One friend joined my recent oldschool game knowing full well what rules and style I was running. He hated it all. But he still wanted to play. Because he wanted the social interaction (not that he would admit it). He either complained loudly or got really passive-aggressive about every mechanic or theme he didn't like.

He does indeed have some social problems, which I won't go in to. But suffice it to say, some of them parallel what you've described. However, when confronted about exactly what and why he didn't like things, he'd just shrink down and not want to explain himself or hash out a solution. Everything about the game was apparently making life hard for him.

2) I used to play and hang out with a very hardline Jehova's Witness. He hated learning rules because thinking was hard. He just liked being asked "what are you doing?". Every time we change rulesets he'd kick up a stink. It took a while but I managed to assure him that it didn't matter what rules we used, he didn't need to know the rules back-to-front. Just enough to get through character creation.

At the time his attitude of "thinking is hard" frustrated the hell out of me. And it still kinda does, but I don't fight with people over it anymore. Just quietly apply palm to face and move on.

Another interesting and related thing about him I remember is when we used to attend an anime club at the uni. Now, when it comes to christianity the Japanese have a pretty...inventive way of looking at it. But to him (being a Jehova's Witness) any time an anime had judeo-christian iconography in it, he'd get up and walk out. It was like blackface to him. It made him mad that they were bastardizing it and warping it in to (what he saw) as an insulting or mocking misrepresentation.

He has mellowed out in recent years. I showed him Carcosa, fully expecting him to be all "Burn the books! Jail McKinney!", but he surprised me by saying "Oh yeah. I get it. I wouldn't play it myself, but I get it."

So yeah. I hope that bit of data was helpful.

Anonymous said...

I don't think so... at least not across the board. Maybe for some folks? I'm in the shy camp, or at least I have been (have worked hard over the years on the skills for leaving it as necessary), and this doesn't sound familiar to my experience at all. I do prefer a lot of the time to do things as written, but if and only if as-written makes sense. My goal is always for things to make sense. If I avoid trying to freestyle something in negotiation with the GM (as in your example of the impromptu fish-hook), it's not because I don't trust the GM (well... usually ;D), OR because I don't want to confront the GM, but because I want it to be clear to me, the GM, and the other players exactly what's happening. We had a really big fight with, by the end of it, some hurt feelings, in game a few weeks ago because we weren't using a clear-cut system for an encounter we were having - the GM was assuming it went one way, the party another, everyone thought they'd expressed their position... and we didn't figure out we weren't on the same page til players were taking "unfair" damage they thought they'd protected themselves from, the GM got mad at everyone for not listening, monsters weren't showing up where anyone expected them to be, etcetc. Everyone confused and, as it was negatively impacting everyone's characters, angry. Some of this can probably be written off to a bad day for the group, who aren't usually so short-tempered, but a lot of it was because we weren't using a mutually known, agreed-upon system for the encounter. We'd let it happen spontaneously, there was room for interpretation, and we just did not interpret the same way, at all.

I've got nothing against non-standard rules, changing broken rules, playing non-standard characters, etc; we have our house rules and conventions, too. They just need to be set forth as clearly as the rulebook is, or better than it is if the rulebook's crummy on something, and agreed upon BEFORE the discrepancy between systems causes disaster. It is harder to do that off-the-cuff. Not impossible, but harder.

You maybe could boil this comment down as "yes, I like rules because I want to avoid confrontations," but not in the sense that I think you meant in your post. I want to avoid actual fights, not discussions/negotiations, and I want to avoid wasted game time; I want to create an environment (be it rulebook or homegrown) that frees players up to actually play, with confidence that their party can follow what's happening, and faith that everyone's being accountable in the same ways to the same ideas.

Which ties in with TickledBlue's comment, also, that there can be times when a shy person gets lost in situations where more outgoing group members can sway the game. In those groups a good GM can strike a balance between rolls and social contracting - presence of rules can help keep it fair.

NaldoDrinan said...

I think your on to something with this.

I've never been particularly shy, so hacking the game came natural to me even when I was a kid (Though that was less hacking and more butchering, but whatever). My early gaming friends were more or less the same as I was, so this kind of thing didn't come up in till much later on.

About half a decade ago I ran a game with some people who had only played once or twice before. A couple sessions in, one of the players comes to me on the verge of tears so of course I ask her whats wrong. She says to me she likes the game but doesn't really like her character and finally manages to ask if she can make a new one.

I'm just like "Oh yeah, that's cool" which amazed her. I found out later she needed prompting from the other players to even just ask me.

Since then I've made it a point to assure new players that they can really play anything they would like if they don't mind working with me, and I try to be open as possible. Still, I notice that some people are very shy no matter what and its something that's hard to fix by just being nice.

I don't know, these are just one guy's observations but they more or less match your own.

Spitting Trashcan said...

Some of this, yes.

But also: for some people, and by some people I mean me and maybe some other people, "playing the game" is what happens when you're exploring a possibility space delineated by rules. And when a game "supports" an activity, that means more than that the game allows you to do that: it means that when you're doing that, you're coming up against boundaries defined by the rules and thinking about how to make decisions in a bounded context. Like: old school D&D "supports" dungeon exploration in that it supplies rules for deciding what is and isn't possible in the context of that activity, and the rules are complex enough to have emergent properties that are interesting while still being non-taxing to adjudicate. Both properties are valuable to me, the first because it means just running the game as written will naturally lead to some kind of fun being had, and the second because it means I won't have to worry as adjudicator about having to make judgment calls that might be wrong.

Hence 4e being the D&D for me: when inspiration fails, I just throw one encounter's worth of monsters at the PCs, and the precalculated amount of fun is dispensed. Same with story games: the set decoration may vary wildly, but because the rules support a certain scenario, I can be pretty sure that a scenario of that kind will play out. If we're playing Apocalypse World, strife and heartbreak will rule the day. If we're playing Monsterhearts, someone will angstplode all over prom. If we're playing Kingdom, people will make difficult decisions and scrabble for power. And to make that happen, I as adjudicator just need to lay out the rules as written and let their consequences occur naturally. Which gives me the confidence I need to run them in the first place.

Basically, if I couldn't run games with rules that actively support specific scenarios, I probably wouldn't run games at all.

Zak Sabbath said...

Thanks! that was articulate--
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that sort of simple "reliability factor" calculus is dealt with in the original "Martin" post.

Spitting Trashcan said...

Yeah, it is somewhat, but I think - and I guess I didn't manage to tie this in explicitly - that the desire to avoid confrontation pushes people toward reliable games, because the complex negotiation of what everyone would like to see happen gets cooked down to "how about we play this game tonight".

Zak Sabbath said...

a fair and subtle point

Spazalicious Chaos said...

I have gamed with people like this, and seems pretty dead-on. But then again, I very much in the same boat as you- most of the people I play with are not shy and very willing to bend rules that get in the way, if not outright disposing of them.

But I can see this kind of mindset as important in regards to conventions, RPGA, Camarilla and other largely stranger based gaming events, as well as game marketing. I think this is a marketing issue- the shy nerd ragers are the most sensitive followers of a game, thus not catering to them is to risk losing membership/wealth, and the other gamer types are happy to work around their demands most of the time.

Thus, one must conclude that if you wish to market gaming somehow, either as an event or a new game entirely, you must design for the shy people or else purposely exclude them. I'm okay with doing so to my group, who are close friends and as far from shy as you can get, but not everyone wants to edge out people over a game.

Trent_B said...

I certainly agree that for Shy people, sharing their opinions about a given (lack of) option would be confronting... but I don't know if that's so prevalent that it has led to this sort of game design.

I would guess that the vast majority of people play in circles of their friends, around whom they are probably not affected by their shyness. Since they probably discuss with these friends what kind of games they like or want to play, most of the issues are probably opened up for even the shyest of guys to comment. Maybe?

I think you're right about some people being like that, but I'm not confident that it is significant enough to directly affect their choice of game purchase.

We need to do science on this to find out.

Zak Sabbath said...

Well for me a lot of it is:

1. Some people had trouble with old games
2. Then there was the Forge, who scooped them up
3. Lots of new ideas came from the Forge, including important game designers

I have always wondered who the Forge people were and how they (or some of them) got so upset about D&D to begin with. The problems they describe are not problems I understand well. I am wondering if any of them come from the whole shyness/martin-ness thing.

jmk jr said...

I'm very shy and typically uncomfortable in social interactions. I do well in situations where I feel competent and able to talk knowledgably and maybe with some authority. Although I follow your blog regularly and own a number of gaming books (including Vornheim), I have never gamed, and that is primarily because I am intimidated by trying to join what I perceive to be another clique with a bunch of rules and etiquette I don't understand.

I've gone into my local game store a handful of times and only once got a 'can I help you, what're you into' and that chat dried up instantly once I started watching a couple guys play 40k (one of whom was the store's owner). When I imagine trying to break into this 'clique' I'm afraid I'm ripe to get dicked, but if I can go in basically sure of the rules and procedures, then maybe I won't feel like I could be so easily taken advantage of... And with that confidence, maybe I'd actually try to game, and maybe I'd come to find they actually aren't out to get me.

I feel the same way about the music scene. I really like death metal and there happens to be a few good bands in the area, but I was terrified of going to shows because I didn't want to be seen as a poseur because I don't follow what I see as the 'rules' of being a metalhead, because my knowledge of the genre's history is limited, and so on and on.

Just my feelings as a shy guy...

Zak Sabbath said...

Thanks for that, JMK!
If you ever want to play a game on Google +, let us know. I won't let anybody give you any guff.

Trent_B said...

Aah yes... And thus their Martinian sentiments came through in the games they then went on to design/influence.

Yeah, you may be right.

What is the endstate of this? Do you want to use this information for anything?

Zak Sabbath said...

I deal in pure research.

MikemakingStuff said...

I think Zak wins a prize on this one.

Its mostly a matter of comfort zone. This goes all the way from "play style" arguments to "mechanics" arguments. Anything that takes you out of that comfort zone becomes a battle-line in the gaming community. Sure those "shyfolk" out there are gonna defend any ground they stake out as comfort zone, and those "change the rules/reinvent the wheel" folks are gonna do the same for their piece of the pie. And that's where sharp pointy things (albeit wrapped in foam and ducttape) are stabbed and swung at opposing individuals.

You can actually take this further though because I think for a lot of people who are "oldies" the world really began in that "GM vs Player" mentality. The GM wasn't some benevolent Charlton Heston guy in robes, he was trying to F@#$ you up and get you killed.

And that trust/distrust wound runs strong. Lots of therapists are making coinage off scarred gamers I'm sure. The new GM is a huggy-kissy-friendly GM. His encounters are fair. His world is safe. Its like he went to Target, bought out the whole "Child-proofing" section, and made sure his world didn't have any sharp edges or dangerous stairs to fall down. (am I showing my OSR, did it peek out a little?)...

But that's part of the big dichotomy. Safe vs risk. Shyguy remembers risk. It was scary. It hurt. His character that he lovingly crafted died on that save or die thingamabob. Shyguy always suspected that behind the iron curtain/screen, the GM was F#@$ing the dice rolls to try and off him. His trust in GM is tenous at best. He needs the rules. He can't handle a world without rules because then he would be at mercy of GM without any argument or lifeline.

Then the labelling in the hobby began. Min/Maxer, Rules Lawyer, etc... the hobby itself started schisming and fracturing into camps.. this is all long before Skynet went live and we plugged into the Matrix (www).

Look at the social environment of the past 20 yrs. Litigation frenzy. Human Resources becomes a corporate MANTRA of do's and don'ts. Before that best business practices revolved around how to get the most money out of your customers and win. Now its about how happy your employees feel, do they need hugs and recognition and don't actually hug them or touch them or invade their personal space. Political Correctness. URgkk... sorry, I dryheave every time I say that.

I think as social critters, we are a product of our times. Art imitates Life, and Life imitates Art. Though its certainly a discussion for another day calling RPG's art.

Just my 2cents.

The Iron Goat said...

hm...I think it's over-generalization. I'm a very shy person, at least until I know you well enough to become overbearing (Leo/Virgo cusp, yo!), but I can't think of a single game I'd want to play rules-as-written. Not sure if that's helpful, but there it is.

Zak Sabbath said...

I did not mean to imply all shy people preferred the same games, merely that a certain kind of shyness could account for a certain kind of attitude found in the game community

Trent_B said...

More people should.

Zak Sabbath said...

yeah this isn't about that.

The Iron Goat said...

I may not qualify either because once I know you, I don't really STAY shy, although it can be pretty painful on the front end.

My own half-baked theory has always equated the behavior you describe with an Engineering mindset (just to further piss off a different subset of people). If you've ever spent much time around people with advanced engineering degrees of any kind, they really can be from another planet, but a lot of the thought processes are the same.

Zak Sabbath said...

again, that sounds more like the guy in the original "Martin" essay

Gus L said...

Just want to add this post ring incredibly true to me. See I have a pair of gaming groups: My LL campaign and a gang I play those finicky "German" board/car games with. They break down on the Bart/Martin axis pretty strongly. For my own group Old Skool play, with rules only a skeletal structure and everything else settled via few rolls of the dice and my arbitration is the only way to play. They want to ramble out ideas and enjoy an open world - it's almost a collaborative effort (though in a mildly adversarial way), tall tale spinning - they are good sports. They are also largely also people who are professionals with jobs that involve smooth social interaction, consensus building, negotiation, and civil argumentation over massive real life stakes.

The card game lot is more varied, younger, and includes some less socially adept members - the structured, emotionally distant and mechanical play levels the social playing field as well as the game one and everyone has fun, but in a very different way.

Two less anecdotal thoughts occur to me. A) I've always felt that there are two ways of viewing the world "narrative" and "algorithmic". 1st Edition D&D et al is narrative and new school (or Dominion) is algorithmic. There is nothing wrong with either of these styles, which gets to my second point.

D&D in the 80's was a game of a counterculture I will call "burnouts", now "geeks" are the dominate nerd counter culture (none of these words are meant as slander - but we know what they mean so I will use them). Burn outs wanted to sit around in somebody's basement - put on Sabbath live in Paris 1970 and spin a yarn about crazed mystical things with their small circle of drinking buddies. Geeks prefer meeting at the game store with people they know via web meet ups and having a common hermetic language they can playfully fiddle with for a few hours.

To me it's a general drift in culture, the internet, the decay of the creative vs. the diligent, Otakuism etc.

Zak Sabbath said...

Well anything that opposes "the decay of the creative vs. the dilligent" suggests some get-off-my-lawnism I wanna back away from.

I think there are creative people now and were then and annoying cheetoh-stained Forgotten Realms fetishists then and now.

MikemakingStuff said...

But I think that the attitude that the game "must run at the lowest common denominator of skill" level thought isn't so much a shyness factor as it is a fish for me so I don't have to fish myself attitude. Look at the shift from playing kickball in traffic and running around the neighborhood with plastic guns pretending to be soldiers shift to sitting in front of a Nintendo or Atari or whatever. It changed generations of mindsets. No longer was it a matter of "what game you could think up with your imagination" .. now it became a matter of "the new game release is the next dose of imagination spoon fed for me".

I think RPGs have evolved along the same lines. The shift from pen-paper to MMO is a good analogy. WoW is that "rules perfect" system for Mr Shy. Call it PacManElite. He can plug in and the system is there. It doesn't change arbitrary one session from the next (save patches and software)... it is safe. He doesn't have to interact or talk or do anything , and even if he does it is arms-length. tabletop requires real socialization. real interaction.

Heck your Martin theory could be edited to talk about dating and the advent of online dating. It could be made to discuss inter-office social circles and policies. It isn't just a gaming issue. It's a people issue. I don't see it as separate from the world around us.

Zak Sabbath said...

We're not ever going to agree on this, Michael so, y'know, cheers to you and all but ....yeahNo

Higgipedia said...

Im a budding psychologist and long before I've actually formally studied the field, I often speculated about gamer behavior. There is a part of me that would love to do some legit research into RPG psychology and compare MMOs, LARPs, and Tabletops to see where people are coming from. Lots of money to be made there.

Your hypothesis is logical. A simple study would be to have respondents take a shyness metric (I know they exist) and compare that to opinions about different games. That would let us know if there was a correlation.

From there, we would have to look deeper to qualify it and get at the root cause.

Great thinking, though, dude.

Zak Sabbath said...

To me it's less about taste in games than about vociferous attachment to games--like the guys quoted in the other essay. And the web of polemical ideas that tend to accrue around those positions.

Zak Sabbath said...

I suspect basement grog rules-lawyers are no less socially inept in slightly different ways

waywardwayfarer said...

I'm about as withdrawn and socially awkward as they come, but if I were to join an unfamiliar group for a game, I'd definitely prefer a rules-lite game in which things are adjudicated more by discussion. Why? Because questioning a RULE feels a lot more confrontational than questioning a ruling. The rules-lite, discussion-centric mode feels like an invitation to provide input. A rigid rules-heavy system is emphatically the opposite to me.

Victor Raymond said...

Interesting discussion. Speaking from the perspective of running Empire of the Petal Throne, and specifically with a distinctly Tekumel character to the game, I've found that *some* players really enjoy figuring out the rules of Tsolyani society while others are completely alienated from it. In the latter case, there are players who simply do not want to be reminded of social rules, norms, mores, etc. and games that do that make them ANGRY (as you alluded to in your post).

As a sociologist, I think you are definitely on to something in your speculation. I hope you continue thinking and writing about it.

X the Owl said...

@ Zak: W/r/t pure research, it is worth some time with the old Actual Play forum at the Forge archives, in which lots of people lay down their history and their game frustration in some detail, including many of the designers who emerged form Forge culture. Also of interest may be the discussions that sprang out of the "Social Context" series of the "Infamous Five" threads.

As a datum, as far as D&D/fixing D&D goes, it may be significant that one of the earliest wholly forge-baked games was Donjon.

Zak Sabbath said...

well, having looked at that stuff have you come to any conclusions?

Also, can you provide links?

Also: what's Donjon?

Anonymous said...

I think you're on to something here, but I also think it goes both ways, ergo the socially adept but not rules savvy person would feel equally uncomfortable in a group that plays games with strict rules sets. Also: for a normally shy person it is desirable to attend a social situation where they can "shine", even if it is just a set of game rules they know like the back of their hand.

X the Owl said...

Easiest first: Donjon is a 2002 game by Clinton Nixon, one of the Forge founders, that he describes as an homage to dungeon-crawling. The biggest mechanical thing in it is that resolution allows the player to state facts about the situation, in a limited way. Frex, roll for secret doors, two successes, so there is one, and it's unlocked, and then the DM sez what's there and how nasty. Full cc text here:

Ron Edwards' 2001 (or so) Elfs is a satirical take on D&D cliches, but a workable and fun dungeon crawling game nonetheless. Just also a Paranoia-style pisstake at some RPG habits.

Tentative conclusions (and, well, there is a lot of old Forge stuff, so I don't claim completeness)-some early forgites dislike D&D, but they're mostly talking about 3e and its railroady GM advice, most of the time. The biggest issue at that point is to try to get to story without railroading. Most of the posters don't identify themselves as shy or conflict averse, and one of the biggest pieces of fix-my-game advice given regularly out is "nut up and talk to them, already!"

Some potential threads of interest on this (kinda selected at random, but all specific to D&D. The "Sean" who pops up in these threads is Calithena): Luke Crane on his D&D, 2005:

Calithena on old-skool, 2004:

Vincent Baker on the Red Box, 2007:

Ron Edwards plays D&D with the neighbors: includes links to 4 previous threads. His T&T threads are also of interest re:old-school play:

These aren't all early, but they provide a good spectrum of opinion about D&D from various forgites, I think. I haven't been consciously cherry-picking. Also, I chose threads specifically relevant to D&D.

One more tentative conclusion-D&D, except insofar as it was railroady and Dragonlance-y, was not the biggest thing on the early Forge radar. The big nasty early Forge fight is about simulationism and if it says something bad about the people who enjoy it(to be very bald about it). Lots of threads about that, but I don't think they're wholly relevant to your interests, except insofar as something got tagged as badwrongfun and there was a fight in which people changed their minds.

Here is the "Infamous Five" series of posts, from 2002: I think these provide a datum for your thinking insofar as lots of Forge theory was always (again, IMO) embedded in a critique of gamer-culture, and these threads are one of the places where it started being developed. Lots of data about perception of gamer culture at the Forge and so forth, and relevant to you insofar as they may provide some nuance in terms of what kind of play culture and self-perception some Forge work came from. I think the "Social Context" series helps.


Folmac said...

This jibes with much of my experience. I'm not shy, and I know many people who are shy, or at least quiet, yet seem comfortable playing games with a strong social dynamic, even alongside people who are quite extroverted. However, the Martinesque socially awkward Shy Guy is a familiar type. To be fair, even that type may be more a continuum, and I have to allow that Shy Guy might well consider me Loud Asshole Guy :P

Aside from the natural tendency of Martins to attempt to quantify and regulate their environments, I suspect a fair proportion of the angriest gaming Shy Guys are the result of bad experiences of the sort described in the comments here, e.g. GMs neglecting Shy Guys in favor of giving more attention and flexibility to socially aggressive players.

While some Martins may be happy as they are, I suppose we have a mission to Bartify borderline and traumatized Martins by showing them how fun and "safe" it can be to socially negotiate gameplay with a good circle of friendly people.

Roger G-S said...

In my experiences with shy players, they are not fazed by the social interaction going on all around them, they just don't take part. What you speak of is genuine but I see it more as a function of trust than shyness - not only the ability to pick up on social cues is needed, but the ability to accept them. If a shy player trusts the authority of the GM and the fellow players they can have a good time at the table.

The genius of old-style D&D is that no particular play style is hard-coded into the rules so you can be the straightforward slugger, devious tactician, charming play-actor or the quiet, wide-eyed guy in the fourth rank of the marching order who just might save the day one time. This is harder to do with e.g. Fiasco.

Zak Sabbath said...

I think in theory they are probably helpful but I couldn't make head or tail of the posts. It seemed like disconnected details and ideas unconnected to them. The skeleton room Luke Crane calls a railroad screwjob doesn't look at all like a railroad f'rexmaple, just a standard trial-and-error puzzle trap. But I think i'm missing a lot of context.
Somebody needs to go through this stuff and try to understand it better.
I think the "critique of gamer culture" is part of the alienness of the Forge to me. Like who the fuck plays in a culture? You play with 4 people you know and the "culture" only happens once you have a game going on.

thekelvingreen said...

It may also be - and feel free to let me know how you feel here - that these gamers are painfully shy people who see social confrontation in itself (regardless of the subject or stakes) as pretty scary and as something that kinda hurts.

I don't really think this is a counter-example, nor an exception that proves the rule as such, but I have a very difficult time interacting with people in social situations. There are many and varied reasons for this, none of which are probably relevant to the discussion.

Anyway, even with that social awkwardness, I love loose rulesets and I don't get on at all well with games that have a rule for every situation. I don't want to have to remember the rule for swimming while wearing a bunny hat, and if I can't remember the rule, nor do I really want to remember the page it's on. I'd rather just negotiate a resolution to the in-game conflict or task and then get on with the game.

I'm not sure I'm a Shy Guy by this definition either though, as I disliked D&D4 enough -- and was vocal about it, which makes me look like a bastard, but it was a group decision, honest -- to get the group to switch to Pathfinder.

thekelvingreen said...

Agreed. Get on Google+; almost everyone there is open and friendly and just want to have fun and play games.

thekelvingreen said...

After having a bit of a further think on this, I've got some clarifications.

I don't like confrontation, but it's heated, antagonistic confrontation I don't like. I'm fine with discussion and argument -- in fact, I enjoy it -- as long as it's about the subject at hand -- in this case a rule or game situation -- and doesn't start dragging in all sorts of personal issues.

I do require one rule to be observed or I won't play, and that's "What's Reasonable?" As long as the GM is using that, I don't really mind what other rules he's using, or how many. If I'm running the game, I don't want to have to remember loads of mechanics, and I stick to "What's Reasonable?" at all times.

(Note that while it is reasonable that the players might be able to sneak past the sentry even if there isn't a stealth mechanic in the game, it's also reasonable that if they forgot to check, they might turn the corner and run into twenty ogres with rusty chainsaws, so it goes both ways.)

So I do require that one rule -- and "Is It Fun?" too, but I hope that goes without saying -- so in that sense I'm the socially awkward Shy Guy, but I don't go as far as requiring the stability of a strict ruleset to navigate the specific social situation of a gaming session.

On a perhaps related note, one of the best rules Games Workshop ever came up with was "If you disagree, roll a d6, go with that decision, have fun, and figure out the actual ruling after the game"; I paraphrase, of course, but there's wisdom there.

There are some strong personalities in my gaming group, and on occasion there have been confrontations that have got out of hand -- not as bad as when there was a punch-up in my school gaming group, but we were teenagers -- at which point I have wanted to dig a hole and hide (Shy Guy), but I've made a point of trying to scale things back down and either get the group to agree to a quick consensus, leaving the details for later.

I don't know if there's any useful data in there for you Zak, but I hope I've done a better job of engaging with your original point.

thekelvingreen said...

That should be "but I've made a point of trying to scale things back down and get the group to agree to a quick consensus, leaving the details for later."

Richard Balmer said...

For me (as a really introverted, shy person), I think the thing that attracts me to role-playing is the fact that its a structured social activity; I've never been very good at small talk or circulating through a group of people. On the other hand, if I go to a game i've always got something to say. You avoid the awkwardness of trying to have a conversation with someone with whom you don't (realise you) have anything in common with, you have the opportunity to be in a fun social environment and make jokes and after the game you have something to talk about and you've had time to get comfortable speaking to the other players in a structured way. Its the same reason I like going to the cinema, I think!

In my experience there isn't much of a correlation between shyness and the attachment to rules you describe, but I don't discount it - Its just that all the people I play with are people who only play RPGs because I introduced it to them and we've always played that rules-lite "tell me what you want to do and i'll tell you what you need to roll" style.

Chris said...

Article is true, wise, and full and glossy of beard. Also Zak is far more tolerant of Shy Guy than me.

Yes, some nerds have shyness issues. But then shyness is often just egotism out of its depth.

As Noisms wisely said: you are responsible for your own (metaphorical) orgasm. And willingness to contribute matters A LOT in an RPG: you can either be Shy Guy and sit there warming a chair, or you can stick your oar in and have creative input into this wacky emergent story we're all enjoying.

One option is vastly more fun than the other, so chose wisely.

Related: my own Shy Guy perversity is that I actually find it easier to question RAW than to argue rulings. A written rule can be proven to be wrong/bad/opposite-of-intent for the game being played, and questioning/amending it on those grounds is legit. A GM/group in-play ruling, by contrast, is part of the oil that lubricates the process of actual play.

trollsmyth said...

I think part of the confusion might stem from the fact that the Forge was (and someone correct me if I'm wrong here) more a reaction to the failures of WoD rather than D&D. In the '90s there was a strong feeling that D&D was a horribly broken children's game, hardly worthy of a "real" role-player's time. (This sentiment was largely based on completely misunderstanding what D&D was designed to do, a misunderstanding that appears to have infected even TSR at the time).

The Forge-ites seemed far more interested in how the Storyteller game engine failed to live up to its promise to actually deliver RPG sessions that created a story-like experience. (Attempting to "box" the ingredients that created the occasional success is, I think, where some of the more mysterious aspects of the Forge arise from, such as trying to judo gamer culture or why Dogs in the Vineyard spends so much time being the anti-D&D.)

So I don't think D&D was more than a tangential issue, though its resurrection and triumph as 3e probably stung the pride of those who'd embraced WoD in the '90s and assumed, just as a matter of course, that D&D was childish, monolithic, and doomed to the dustbin of history. In fact the resurrection was probably more annoying to them, as it looked like a step backwards. They were "beyond that" for the most part. Going back to D&D was a distraction, beyond serving as a back-to-basics refresher in the Ur of RPGs.

Alex J. said...

I am a very introverted person. I once scored 100 out of 100 on a Myers-Briggs test on the Introversion parameter. I used to be quite shy, but as I've gotten older and more accomplished, that's less of a problem.

Gaming is, and always has been, one of the domains where I can "let my hair down" and just play (as Richard Balmer says above). I hate small talk and dealing with people in unfamiliar situations where I have to try to figure out the social rules on the fly since I have less experience with them than most people.

That being said, I personally have no problems with rules-light games. I'd play Champions again, but I no longer have the time or the inclination to learn another rules set that thick. Crash City for Car Wars, published in 1983, suggested that situations not covered by the (brief) rules should be handled by a "roll two dice and pray" mechanic.

As much as I am ok with this in theory, in practice it has not worked out so well for me in the past, and not because of shyness. The problem has been more stubbornness and willingness to argue everything to death.

Of course, I would say that it was largely certain other people's problem. No doubt they would have their own opinions on the matter, and I have certainly come to regret at least some of the times I dug my heels in.

As to why we were so stubborn, probably lack of perspective on what was important because we all needed to get laid.

I did a little googling on MAR Barker's perfected mechanic (roll higher and you get to decide) and found that Verdancy here quotes Rick Priestly saying pretty much the same thing.

Anonymous said...

My experience is shy guys tend to be shy outside the gaming group but far less so within the group of peers represented by a gaming group.

Engineers tend to like to problem solve. The more data available the more options. Creative folk think outside the box so thise same options and rules restrain their options.

Timothy Paul Schaefer said...

Just some random thoughts. Disorganized, but hopefully somewhat relevent.
1. I think Shy Guy is one type of Martin. Other conditions or influences could lead to Martinesque behaviour.
2. Some peoples' ideas of game rules are based on more traditional rigid structure, and less on collabrative creativity. They don't realize that you could play tic-tac-toe with hearts and stars instead of X's and O's. Or whatever, you know what I mean?
3. Regarding online behaviour, some people have a different personality on forums and such. They think they can act with less restraint because of the anonymity provided.

So I know I'm a Shy Guy. I suffer from depression and social anxiety. I also know I have been guilty of No.3 above. I am much more comfortable typing to someone that I don't know very well than speaking to them.
My inhabitions are down online and I say things I would not normally say unless I was very good friends with someone. Sometimes stupid things that I think are funny at the time, but at least I'm never bored.
But I don't think I'm a Martin. Or hope not.
I enjoy creating a game atmosphere with my friends, even if it's not the exact same game every time. It is more like a party than a tournement, even if the game does get competitive.
( I do need to start playing sometime on G+.)
I just don't see the point of getting all bitter about the way other people want to have fun.
And that's the whole point. Have fun with what *you* do and let others decide for themselves.

Anonymous said...

I like the rules and procedures to be spelled out so that when we do negotiate it can be about things that are more interesting to me.

I'm not painfully shy and don't mind conflict.

Zak Sabbath said...

This entry is about
"X can lead to an unreasonable attachment to Z"
and you have said
"I very reasonably like Z. also I am not x"
So in that context your statement is no doubt true but not terribly germane.

Gus L said...

That was just an aside regarding 'nerd' culture as a whole and flippant admittedly. The question i was trying to approach was the narrative creativity of minimalist rule sets feels 'old fadioned' to many who enjoy analytical creativity of more rules heavy games. Is this simply a product of Bart/Martin personality, the result of change in gaming (the influence of structured rules absolute video games say), and or part of a larger change culture moving towards placing higher value on structured abalytic thinking.

I honestly thinks its all three but give the last considerable weight - especially compared to the personality argument. As personality typed seem constant. It may be moot given that full bore AD&D a la Gygax stands out as drenched in fiddly rule bits.

Zak Sabbath said...

Yeah I think you are flat out wrong and there's no evidence to support either of these things:
" the result of change in gaming (the influence of structured rules absolute video games say), and or part of a larger change culture moving towards placing higher value on structured abalytic thinking."
It, again, just sounds like get-off-my-lawnism.

Zak Sabbath said...

The comments from Google+ put here for public consumption. Each bit is a different author:


Maybe this would explain why some players take my stupid little chargen docs so seriously. I expect the players to push back but few rarely do.

My friends and I are the "newer" generation of gamers, and I've noticed that most of my DM peers favor the "more focused" rules. I think it's because most of our gaming influences are based off of new video games, and when we write sessions we play within the rules of a video game- there's only one way to solve each puzzle, there's only one way to get to point B, sometimes there's no alternative to getting captured, etc. A couple weeks ago I introduced some of my friends to Lamentations of the Flame Princess and they seemed utterly confused.

(Zak Smith)
Well thats a different thing. I mean, there are lots of reasons to like newer rules. This is just about one of those reasons and about the vicious polemical zeal some people put behind those reasons.

I think your description is pretty accurate overall, Zak. My girlfriend used to be almost exactly what you're describing as a Shy Player. 

I find the idea that someone wold want clear rules perfectly understandable.
I find the idea that someone would find the lack of them abusive or so terrible you would get mad about it and shriek all over the internet or objectively worse or rape-fantasy-enabling a sign that, for some (not all, some)(not all)(some)(not all) people, these systems appeal to a different and more visceral need than mere convenience.
I see that second opinion a lot.

Is it bullshit because it doesn't fit my personal experience? Er - maybe? I've never been entirely comfortable with Ron Edwards GNS theory - primarily because I have no fucking clue where I'm supposed to fit in that little schema. I mean - I've got a shit-ton of Advanced Squad Leader stuff on my game shelf resting next to my copy of Freemarket and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. By the metric laid down by GNS I'm some sort of schizophrenic, or I would be if I tried to rationalize myself with it.

In my personal experience, most of the socially awkward people in my gaming circles tend to avoid story games like the plague - the reasons aren't universal. One guy in our regular group (the dude who I'd consider the most socially awkward) despises the expectation of shared authorship involved in many story games. He prefers games which have clear lines drawn between what can be narrated about his character and prefers a clear delineation between GM and player authority. I've seen him completely shut down when these lines get crossed in something like Panty Explosion Perfect, for example.

That said, the majority of the people I play with mostly stick to story games with an occasional foray into traditional gaming, and I wouldn't label the majority of them as socially awkward. The ones who do come across as lacking social intelligence tend toward traditional gaming. At least that's what I've seen in my own circle - I'd hesitate to draw a generalization from it.

Zak Sabbath said...

more G+ comments:

Probably sometimes, yeah.

For some games, I look at it like painting a picture, but for other games I look at it like carving a block of marble.

When you paint, you can just throw whatever shit you want on there. You start with nothing and add until you're done.

When you carve, you take what is there and remove until you have what you want. It's fine-tuned, it's more thoughtful, and it requires a bit more effort.

Not to say painting can't be difficult and complex, but when you're carving, you better not fuck shit up or you'll have a pile of dust.

Some games don't have many rules, so I paint.
Some games have a ton of rules, so I carve.
Either way, I want to be happy when I'm done, but they're very different approaches and I like each for what it is.

I love having retarded amounts of 3.5 D&D books so that I can carve away what rules I don't want to use in a particular game.
I also have a grand time painting a game like Paranoia.
Speaking only about what I like. Sometimes I like narrowly focused games because I like to explore a particular theme. Sometimes I like other games because I want to explore the world.

For me games with a narrow outline are not unlike the old school dungeon crawl. You've got a set area with a defined border. You know that the game is going to take place within this boundary. Anything can happen in there from a bunch of kobolds to a fire breathing dragon, to failing your save vs the gelatinous cube.

Other games have a more philosphical? Meta? Emotional? boundary. For example take something like Fiasco. In Fiasco the "dungeon" is the playset, and you're exploring the idea of a clusterfuck happening before your eyes and the poor characters can't stop it and all they can do is get out of the way and hope they don't get too much crap on them.

In a game like Technoir, the idea is to explore what the noir genre is all about. It's cyberpunk, but you can port the system to Western or Fantasy or whatever else and keep the same feel. In this case the dungeon is actually the conspiracy and you're trying to figure out where the boundaries are.

That's from my perspective at any rate. Now I have known gamers who were the Martin (he was the rules lawyer guy), and I have known gamers who were Bart (one of the best role players I ever played with). Both of them are much more about the old school games, than the newer more focused ones though, so I don't know if that helps any. 

Zak Sabbath said...

This describes me and my group exactly. Perhaps why I find so much of osr discourse intimidating.
I was terribly shy for first 25yrs of my life, to the point of social disfunction in most situations. So will have a think and maybe post on blog. I think something in what you're saying

I'm socially awkward (I manage, but it was worse when I was young), but I don't like games that are too focused or limited. Even in D&D I always wanted to play stuff that wasn't supported. I've proposed new races and classes for WFRP and got to play them. I like games that let me do what I want instead of forcing me into a straightjacket.

Though maybe I'm an exception. I have other socially awkward geeks in my group, and many of those do prefer to stick to the rules as written.

Zak Sabbath said...

i would call myself a shyguy. also, i don't play RPGs, though i would like to -- and the fact that i don't is partly out of shyness. but as far as i'm aware i've understood your point, my own experience is in complete disagreement with this generalization.

i wrote a bunch about this in a comment to your 'do you have asperger's syndrome?' post.

it partly has to do with my attitude toward fiction. i haven't actually liked fiction since i was about 15.

i call it shyness around people who like fiction.

this adds up to part of my brain switching off and making a rude hand gesture whenever someone uses a word that patently sounds fictional.

this does not include history, mythology, or folklore, even though these are all subjective types of narrative; they seem like things that contain soul to me, whereas fiction just doesn't.

(also, there is one novelist who for me actually transcends this distinction, and that is the way haruki murakami writes about modern japan. when i read kafka on the shore, i feel i am reading something utterly factual. i don't feel as if i am suspending disbelief. and it's got ghosts and infinite forests, but that just feels like mythology or folklore to me.)

i would like less fiction which in my book equals less rules, which gets compensated by a kind of implicit contextual fabric (because everyone is on the same page about the setting, or because improvisation is built-in), and more freedom.

this doesn't seem to exist in RPGs, which is why i don't play them.

they're not austere/abstract/improvisatory enough.

they just don't feel human to me.

and yeah, i'm an aspie, and i think that has a lot to do with it.

nevertheless, i'd like to have more social outlets, and i like the general idea of people sitting at a table imagining things together (even if i don't like the basic premise that gave birth to modern fictional narrative), which is why i'm sort of on the fringe.

and since part of me would like to be able to play them, so i've sort of got this hazy idea in my head (consisting of the set complement of all the reasons i don't like RPGs) that i hope to someday write into an RPG.

but that game would probably be either highly abstract and weirdly mathematical (idea number 1), highly fluid and involve people's own actual dreams (idea number 2), kind of based on sketching and rorhschach blots (idea number 3), or a mix of those 3 ideas.

finally, i feel it's worth mentioning the disagreement between jung and freud regarding culture.

since freud saw all culture as belonging to sublimated expressons of repressed sexual urges, jung was inclined to disagree with the absolutism of this theory.

i would describe jung's approach to psychology as being something like 'neurosis is the result of archetypal cultural urges.'

i agree with both of these statements, and will use both of them to characterize why, as a shyguy, i don't like RPGs, and why i would not want to play games that had a lot of rules:

modern fiction, with few exceptions, seems like a sublimated sexual urge to me; the more made up words and settings, the more elaborate the plot, the more turned off i am by it.

it just seems fake to me.

rules-light indie games, are different.

even though i don't like any RPG i've ever played or heard of, it seems like the idea that games can be just empty frameworks, could lead to a type of game that could be designed to contain human cultural material in a way that is deeper and more interesting to me.

anyway, all of these thoughts are disorganized...

Zak Sabbath said...

I think something to keep in mind is that anxiety provokes a fight or flight response. That some of us with varying degrees of social anxiety (from self-aware awkwardness all the way to full-blown clinical disorder) react differently shouldn't shock anyone.

And sometimes you get both with one followed by the other: flight to a safe distance followed by vociferous aggressive display. Is that maybe what we're looking at here? 
I wouldn't call myself Shy as I really have no problem being a loudmouth. That said I do like to keep the various bickerings down, but for purposes of efficiency.

I want to confirm +Zak Smith (as I can no longer read the article at work) that the point is somewhere along this line:

"Certain games (doesn't matter which) are loved by certain people(shy guys/girls), and they are opposed to screwing with it/tinkering/rules changes because they don't like to have to get into a discussion about the rules to ask for modifications (either adding or subtracting things they want/don't like) because that causes anxiety."

I hope I have that right, if I don't, ignore the following.

While I think those people definitely exist (if the Internet has taught me anything its that every kind of person exists) I don't think they are the majority of the cause of I have hatred because of changes since reasons that you see who get quite angry at rules they could hack out.

A larger group (from my super accurate anecdotal evidence) behaves that way because they have an obsession with efficiency. I empathize with that group, in their case they want rules to handle things because time spent debating if you can have leopardman PC's is time not spend smashing things heads in and taking golden idols.

There is a group (or maybe I just have a lot of overlap with this group) where you have exactly 2 hours and 59 minutes scheduled for gaming and not one second more. When that is done you have to stand up and get back to your kids soccer practice/lawyers office/back to the office/video conference etc. Again, I work in a crazy high stress, always working field in a city full of people like me so maybe I am just projecting here.

But I believe its not just shy people, its people who don't want to spend one second discussing something, because they literally don't have a spare second (and if they hit snooze this morning they are already down 5 minutes)

Zak Sabbath said...

(response to that)
But wouldn't those folks have better things to do with their time than argue about how other people are playing the game? This issue, as I understand it, isn't so much what's happening at the table of the angry, but what's happening at other people's tables. Though I suppose that could follow for similar reasons, specifically, if nobody even floats the option, then we don't have to waste any time arguing about it.
Nope. Much of those types of jobs (that I run into) aren't often a "4 hour solid block of action" even if the 4 hours is locked down in your calendar. You have 5 and 6 minute breaks scattered through the damn thing. Enough time to post an angry rant, read an email, look at a web comic etc, not enough to do anything fun though.

Zak Sabbath said...

Zack I would agree with the gist of what you are saying, and think that it's one reason, maybe the largest reason, for the phenomenon we see. I have a guy in my group who is painfully shy and is definitely a likely candidate for aspergers. He is a super nice guy but when he is on the spot to do anything in character socially he literally freezes. Nothing comes out of his mouth though his lips are trying to move. He answers in as few words as possible when he is actually able to. But when you get talking about game mechanics or deal with an issue related to mechanics, he is totally fine and in his comfort zone. I think the structure of the known gives him a sense of power and control over situations. Though he is about 40 and started with older games, he likes and is totally comfortable with 4e as well, which makes perfect sense to me. 

Zak Sabbath said...

I love to houserule, but I know that some members of the group would demand explanations and try to provide a reason why not. Not out of malice but just because of this feeling of unease that the rule-book will no longer be 100% accurate. Cue... confrontation (by my weedy standards) and my heart starts racing and I start getting the fight/flight response. So... We play by the book mostly.

Zak Sabbath said...

(Google + being Google +there was also some off-topic chatter which has been left out)

joe said...

In my experience, the more a group is familiar with each other and the game system, the less rules being spelled out means.

By the time that my original gaming group split up, we would sometimes have impromptu roleplaying sessions, no dice, no character sheets, no pencils. Just a bunch of dudes lying around smoking cigarettes and narrating character action, the DM deciding everything else and describing combat.

I think very cut and dry rules are good starting point. I also think that the game should evolve and mature into something more free and open that can change and adapt.

The greatest trick that game designers ever pulled was making us think we needed their rules in the first place.

Unknown said...

Not saying you are wrong about Shy people avoiding conflict but I believe you are wrong when used as a reason for prefering highly structured games. I believe that the people who enjoy the newer rules heavy style of game is because they are Type A/anal retentive personalities and the lack of structure is the cause of stress not social conflict. As a Shy Guy the social conflict/bartering you talk about affects whom I will play with, but among friends, I dont give a shit about rules. When it comes to which rules style someone prefers I think it depends on whether the person needs an ordered world or not. These personality traits get entertwined but to use extreme examples an OCD person would more likely want a rules heavy game than an Aspergers person.

Zak Sabbath said...

I think you are wrong.

People do not "prefer new games" because they are anal.

I think people might very well wage insane gamer warfare about them because they are anal though. Or shy.

Anonymous said...

Disclaimer: I enjoy both trad and indie games.

That said, as a dude who [i]is[/i] shy, but who does not have it to where it breeds social anxiety:
no, I do not find that playing more structured games alleviates any stress. In fact if I'm feeling really shy there is no amount of mechanical wiggling that will enable me to participate better, because most story-game mechanics put you on the spot in a way that traditional games don't. I [i]do[/i] like them because they encourage different types of behavior among people who are already comfortable with one another in a way that a lot of traditional games don't -- I've played many games with several groups of friends, and most trad games settle into the same rhythm when it's the same people regardless of the system because the social dynamic always overrides the game, which is Cool and Fun but is something Different. I like Different things because they're Fun, the same way that I like both Diablo and Skyrim, one being super-focused and streamlined and the other being relatively wide-open and full of surprises although sometimes clunky.

I mean, if I'm feeling shy with a group of people, I feel like I could turtle and be comfortable playing a helluva lot better with a trad game than I ever could with an indie game.

X the Owl said...

@ Zak-I agree regarding the lack of a defined focus to the treads-I think it's the lack of a consensus about D&D or what's satisfying about it that is the biggest deal. In Luke's thread, he's not happy with the kind of competition D&D play had for him & his friends, and Nev comes in on the 2nd page to make something like your point. The best I've got for a consensus, based on my reading, is that many people make wild over-generalizations about D&D, then get brought back to earth and reminded there are lots of fun ways to play.

I think the strongest takeaway from early Forge D&D attitudes is Donjon, which sometimes seems to serve as "our D&D" for some purposes. That, and the "Hard Look at D&D" essay, parts of which seem to have more or less become conventional wisdom.

I don't think anyone needs to care about a critique of culture, and it's probably valuable only insofar as it helps to blow up bad things among people who self-identify as part of gamer culture. I think those threads offer your pure researcher self a lot of data about how folks self identify and present themselves as gamers, and that may have some relevance to your concerns about "Martins" and shyguys.

@ Trollsmyth-I don't really disagree with you, except to be wanting to say "it's more complicated"-again, Donjon and the "Hard Look" essay point to a largely positive take on some kinds of D&D play.

Spazalicious Chaos said...

Reading through the comments I'm starting to notice some bizare connections between barbaric and civilized social structure as a way to understand this.

Civilized stuctures are very heavy on rules and regualtions to facilitate interaction with people you don't know. When a civilized person wants something done, he follows a script of rules, performs a set of actions, and if done correctly but without the desired results he has written rules somewhere that he can refer to to ensure that what was supposed to happen does.

Barbarian cultures, on the other hand, are close knit but smaller groups that live by vague but understood codes of honor. If one behaves dishonorably he is dealt with. If ones honor is challenged the challenge must be answered or accepted personally. And if there is a dispute, it is settled by direct confrontation and possibly a mediator.

This matches up well with Martin/Shy Gamers vs. DIY Gamers. If you are shy or like Martin you need to be in a civilized setting because you do not necessarily indentify with or even know people directly, thus you need the protocols and rules to make that interaction easier. You need civilization. But barbarian like me prefer to get close and personal, as I only really game with close friends and family and can trust them, or at least know where I stand. And even with others I have my honor, and feel a need to defend by my own means it when it questioned, and prefer that others do the same.

Needless to say I am not popular with the RPGA as a result.

X the Owl said...

@ Zak, re: someone should really go through all this stuff.

When the Forge closed, Ron & Vincent both indicated that they were planning to put up a big ol' wiki at the URL, with links to lots of relevant discussion. So that may help a lot.

In the meantime, the threads here, ( especially Moreno's, provide some good archiving, although I don't think any of them address the stuff you're thinking about directly.

BigFella said...

I think shyness unfettered by the AAA principle (Anonymity + Audience = Asshole) may have a effect on tone or timbre of a person's internet gnashings, but I think the motivations are more a result of humanity in general's deep seated need for consensus.

Not giving a crap what somebody else is doing is a modern way of thinking that lots of folks have trouble internalizing, and would be totally alien to our close knit, plains ape ancestors.

I guess introversion could have the side effect of lacking the empathic/visualization of alternate views that causes someone to throw a snit's revenge over ascending vs. descending AC.

I don't know if I'm a shy extrovert or a gregarious introvert. I'm one of those guys who talks to much and probably bothers folks who don't have the social jets to tell me to shut up. I do have enough imagination to envision the possibility that someone can get their honest jollies playing WoD or 4E and that's okay.

Ya can't eat another man's lunch, so shut up about what condiments he puts on his sammich.

DaveL said...

Not go go too far off on a tangent, but, it makes me wonder if the whole "Edition Wars" issue is a bunch of anal retentive guys not wanting to be "wrong" for liking this or that edition, rather than any particular aspect of that edition being some way superior to previous or other editions.

So betting back to the topic (sort of) is there a "gamer psychology" that can be defined and analyzed, and is there a department at WoTC that meets to discuss this? As in what kind of person bought what edition and why, and how do we get them to do it again??

As a somewhat socially awkward outcast, I found D&D was something I could actually have some control over (I was the DM in our group) in a life where I had little control over anything. I don't see the DM's role as "enforcer of rules" but rather the facilitator of the groups good time. Some times more effectively than others. Having been on the receiving end of and adversarial DM (read "dick") I vowed to never BE that guy.
Over 60 replies so far, Zak, fascinating stuff.

Gus L said...

Mayhaps you're right it's personality - I am not coming from a get off my lawn mentality, as I enjoy both kinds of games I think (haven't had the opportunity to play 4e - but like German cards), I'm just curious if there's a larger cultural explanation for these trends beyond personalities of players.

Indeed mine is a rough hypothesis at best. I do think video game RPGs must have had an effect on tabletop RPGs and that culture has changed since 1980. I wonder how these have effected gaming?

Steve Johnson said...

This is a little tangential and completely anecdotal, but the theory helps explain (or is at least related to) something I've seen a lot. I do a lot of convention panels with the Hex crew, and our usual format is to spend about 20 minutes talking about our ideas on subject X and then spending the rest of the panel in Q&A/Discussion mode.

Nearly every time--even if the panel has nothing to do with group dynamics or problem players or whatever--somebody asks about how to deal with a member of the group who's Not Having The Right Kind of Fun. When this comes up, you can tell from the types of solutions they've tried or seem to be fishing for that they want some way to "fix" the bad player within the context of the game---a rule or game event that will render the character incapable of continuing the bad behavior, a storyline object lesson to teach him the error of his ways, etc. The solution we always give, "why don't you just talk to them about it?" is either something that never occurred to them or something they're trying to avoid except as a last resort.

I can't say for sure that these are consistently players of more structured game systems, but it would seem to fit. If people need some kind of game context to handle basic interpersonal interactions that might be confrontational, it makes sense that they'd prefer games where everything is nicely spelled out and there's less potential for confrontation when a ruling needs to be made.

Zak Sabbath said...

yeah, i noticed that on the recent All Games Considered gming roundtable discussion

Stefan Poag said...

There are 75 comments right now and I haven't read any of them -- sorry in advance --- but will at least address your original thesis (as I understood it at least) to say, "from my experience, no, I don't think rules are a social mask for the shy/self conscious to use, at least not in my experience." The players I have known who prefer more comprehensive rule sets where there is a rule for every possibility seem to like to have more predictable outcomes. They don't want to 'make their case' and hope the DM sees it their way --- they want to have a very good idea of the odds before they roll the dice. So I would describe them as the "imaginatively risk adverse." I don't intend that to sound mean or critical, just descriptive.

Zak Sabbath said...

hey SP,
the post explicitly says I am not saying

"Shy= Focused Design Fan"

anonimous, emperador en el exilio said...

Zac, I'm your Mr. Shy Guy!!!

"they are kinda socially awkward and so they like that these games put stuff into rules rather than relying on the players and GM to socially negotiate stuff" --- check

"these gamers are painfully shy people who see social confrontation in itself (regardless of the subject or stakes) as pretty scary and as something that kinda hurts" --- when a kid, I used to be scared of people; but after I did the army my attitude switched from fear to mere disgust.

[inserting a quote from Zac's "Martin" assay] "I think, essentially, this social dimension terrifies a lot of people" --- check, but again it is more like loath than terror.

"a game demanding (or just implying) that changes to standard operating procedure be socially negotiated is kind of offensive in itself" --- check,

but I'd rather rewrote the previous quote as "a game demanding (rather than merely allowing) changes to standard operating procedure is kind of offensive in itself".

"to Shy Guy, the group assuming something as a default constitutes a sort of de facto pressure to go along with it" --- check

"the Content As Written of any gamebook becomes extremely important" --- check

"social negotiating hurts" --- checked it already,

plus the mere sight of other people confronting each other is enough to upset me,

"may end up mostly playing in organized things with strangers" --- ckeck,

I mostly have played RPGs with total strangers. I was so hunger for playing RPGs that I left my fears apart and started meeting with people. On the long run, the experience was frustrating. It was like going to weddings because of the food and everybody else is having a big time, but the food itself is scarce and tasteless and sucks.

"changing rules is hard and painful and who would wanna do that?" --- check,

if I was able to made up rules myself, why should I be playing somebody else's game? I've payed my good money to have the dirty hard work of ruling done for me.


I have Asperger's Syndrome (which in this case may be pretty relevant).
And also, I can't talk in real time. Each time I say something I must: (a) make a mental draft, (b) edit it, (c) memorize the script, and (d) drop my lines by heart.
In stressful situations I lose the ability to talk.
As a result, I've spend entire sessions without saying a word, neither in-character or off-character.
Just throwing dice when I was told to ("everybody check for Perception").

Zak Sabbath said...

Are you able to respond to inquiries? Like: "What color is your PCs hair"

anonimous, emperador en el exilio said...

"It's blonde." This one was too easy.

anonimous, emperador en el exilio said...

For further clarification: Actual Play example.
It was me playing "Vampire: The Masquerade".

ST: "Is your vampire carrying any weapon?"
me: "A shotgun."
ST: "Where are you hiding the shotgun?"
me: "Er... Forget the shotgun. I no longer want it."
(cue vampire throwing shotgun into trashcan)

First question was a no-brainer (like asking about character's hair).
Second question was more tricky than I could deal with.

(BTW, if asked today, my answer would be "In my asshole!".
Cheer me, it only took twenty freaking years for me to came out with that!)