*
*
Home
Help
Login
Register
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
September 02, 2014, 10:57:39 AM

Login with username, password and session length
Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.
Search:     Advanced search
275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 88 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
Pages: [1] 2 3
Print
Author Topic: the value or uselessness of a game master  (Read 4329 times)
Doctor Xero
Member

Posts: 433


« on: June 17, 2004, 09:29:49 PM »

In every gaming group, there is always an authority which reinforces the Social Contract and concomitant Creative Agendae, accepted Player Stance(s), game mechanics, etc.

Sometimes that authority is placed primarily in a single individual, generically referred to as a Game Master although many game systems have their own terms for the position, such as Storyteller or Referee or Game Monitor.

Sometimes that authority is delegated piecemeal to different players, with one player the "rules guy" and another player the coordinator and so forth.

Sometimes that authority is the result of group mandate whether by consensus or through ballot vote.

Unless the gaming group has a strong institutionalized game master position, the power of authority usually lies with whichever individual(s) has the greatest charisma and the highest social status.

It seems to me that this is one of the key issues underlying the debate over game-mastered gaming versus game-master-less gaming : the less centralized and institutionalized the authority, the more vulnerable the Social Contract is to manipulation by way of charisma and social status.

We elect representatives so that we don't have to attend to every detail ourselves, and in the same way we elect or conscript game masters.  We want input on areas of personal interest, through consensus and election, and in the same way we voice our interests in the gaming group.  You can see how the issues of game mastery parallel modern U.S. government tensions between representative and participatory authority.

When we design games, we need to take this into consideration.

A game designed with a game master is a game designed to be played by disparate individuals who find a centralized structure helpful in maintaining the Social Contract.  While a highly charismatic player with high status has no need of a game master, we might want to consider less charismatic players as well in our game design.

A game designed without a game master, with authority placed in constant participatory consensus, is a game designed to be played by individuals who already fall into natural accord with each other frequently and/or individuals who enjoy debating any disputes in a free depersonalized egoless freedom.  This latter effect neatly avoids the rare but possible situation of a little dictator game master.  However, the game designer needs to incorporate methods of consensus which do not shortshrift the less charismatic or less extroverted members of a gaming group, or else the authority will default to whoever has the highest charisma and/or social status.

There are other game master functions, of course, but I suspect that this one is a key issue in the debates over the necessity or uselessness of game masters.

I recall long ago joining a gaming group run by a weak game master, with the gaming circle unintentionally dominated by the more charismatic and more extroverted players.  The game master missed playing, so when he found out I enjoy game-mastering, he asked me to take over.  The first thing I did was watch the more bashful, more quiet players and make certain their voices were always heard.  The louder, more magnetic players deferred to the authority they had given me as game master, so within a few weeks, every player was able to participate in gaming group decisions.  A loosely-knit group of people became a genuine circle of friends.  I do not think I could have accomplished that with a game-master-less game.

On the other hand, I am currently involved with a gaming group of friends who know each other's strengths and peccadilloes fairly well, and thus a game-master-less game provides a certain freedom.  While I am the titular game master of our current campaign, in part because the players all want to share in the fun of exploring mysteries together, we share far more of the game master functions.  I can see the advantages of both approaches.

Doctor Xero
Logged

"The human brain is the most public organ on the face of the earth....virtually all the business is the direct result of thinking that has already occurred in other minds.  We pass thoughts around, from mind to mind..." --Lewis Thomas
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 16490


WWW
« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2004, 07:25:32 AM »

Hiya,

That all reads like strong wisdom to me, DX. As you probably know, I think that "game-master-less" play is a chimera. The tasks in question simply have to be performed, and the simplest way is for a certain critical number of them to be placed in the hands of a single individual. And in this case, simplest also means most reliable.

One of the key tasks - if it's not already a given based on the persons overall - is certainly maintaining a "hey, we're all together here" atmosphere.

The risks of centralizing this task are clear: trading anarchy for dictatorship. However, I submit that it's the same phenomenon for role-playing as it is for any group leisure activity, imaginative or not. And spreading some of the tasks around turns out to be quite functional, which tends to surprise people who have, through habit or caution, kept "simple is best" as their GM philosophy.

I think the bulk of the discussions about this issue have taken as a given that the Social Contract is a little iffy, a little at risk, especially if at least one person is "vaguely dissatisfied" with play. Therefore the centralization of this GM-task (that is, the social glue task) is a big deal, and a slightly troublesome one.

However, especially as I've aged and especially as I've branched out among wholly-peer role-playing (friends), full-authority role-playing (faculty advisor at club), and commercial role-playing (promotional demos), I've discovered that establishing a completely non-iffy Social Contract right up front is liberating as hell.

A long time ago, I decided that if you want to make X work, it's a real bitch continually to have to convince your partners that X is what they want, along the way. No. Forget it. We're here for X, without one person convincing the others, and once we're all good with that, then making it work is non-problematic - just logistics and details, at most.

It often amazes me that gamer-culture is predicated on, apparently, the opposite - that we only have a decent Social Contract if (and after) the game-experience is somehow satisfying to all of us. The expected causality seems wholly reversed to me.

Best,
Ron
Logged
Henri
Member

Posts: 88


« Reply #2 on: June 18, 2004, 07:36:18 AM »

Quote
Unless the gaming group has a strong institutionalized game master position, the power of authority usually lies with whichever individual(s) has the greatest charisma and the highest social status

I have to disagree with this statement.  In my experience, the GM is whoever decided to organize the game and put the work into creating it.  Usually they are also the most familiar with the rules, but not always.  However, this doesn't have to relate to charisma or social status.  I don't see why the GM must be the "alpha" of the group, especially since from game to game the GM could change.  It's like who is driving.  If I'm on a road trip with my friends and we rotate driving positions so that no one gets too tired, it doesn't mean that the new driver suddenly gets +3 Charisma (so to speak).  It just means that he is now in direct control of the car.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that when the game session ends, in-game authority doesn't automatically translate into out-of-game social authority.
Logged

-Henri
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 16490


WWW
« Reply #3 on: June 18, 2004, 07:40:37 AM »

Hi Henri,

Right - I agree with you, and if I'm not mistaken, so does the Doc.

The point is that someone provides that charisma/social glue, and it's necessary. In some groups it's really necessary that it's highly centralized, and in others it may not be. But it's there.

It seems to me that you're equating "control over outcomes" with the term "GM," and I suggest that no single item or task (of which such control is potentially one) defines or equates with the term.

Best,
Ron
Logged
Henri
Member

Posts: 88


« Reply #4 on: June 18, 2004, 08:05:56 AM »

Ok, when you put it that way, I don't disagree.
Logged

-Henri
Doctor Xero
Member

Posts: 433


« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2004, 02:59:26 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
The point is that someone provides that charisma/social glue, and it's necessary. In some groups it's really necessary that it's highly centralized, and in others it may not be. But it's there.
Quote from: Henri
I don't see why the GM must be the "alpha" of the group, especially since from game to game the GM could change.  It's like who is driving.  If I'm on a road trip with my friends and we rotate driving positions so that no one gets too tired, it doesn't mean that the new driver suddenly gets +3 Charisma (so to speak).  It just means that he is now in direct control of the car.

I'd have to mildly disagree with you both a tad, but only mildly.

At the risk of oversimplification, I would suggest that  there are two basic sorts of gaming groups, both of which have had me as a member.

I have been in gaming groups which are friendship groups which happen to enjoy gaming as one of the many things they do together.  We game together, but we also watch movies together, go to concerts together, picnic and barbeque together, loan each other money on occasion, even group date.  This is the sort of gaming group I prefer, in part because by its very nature it militates against gaming addiction, and I prefer to game with people who have full lives independent of their gaming.

I have been in gaming groups which involve people who really have little in common besides a shared love of roleplaying games (and perhaps of war games and collectible card games as well).  They may not really like each other that much beyond their shared gaming interest.  However, their other friends may not enjoy gaming, or they may be looking to form new friendships with fellow gamers.  Some people have nothing in common but baseball or model airplanes or the weekly bowling league : these people game together.

Like Ron, as I've gotten older, I find I have little interest in such games.  I don't think that such gaming is any less mature, and I am annoyed when I read posters who react to such gamers condescendingly or disparagingly.  However, I simply have less time to spend with friends and less time to spend gaming, so gaming only with friends is a better use of my time.

Now, in roleplaying games, the role of game master is an acknowledged authority, just as we tend to defer to our professors in the classroom even if we know them outside the classroom and treat them as just "one of the guys/girls" outside the classroom.

In such cases, when a person has "direct control of the" game, he or she has a level of authority which can often trump even charisma.  This is particularly strong in those gaming systems which encourage the game master to dock experience points to players who are cruel to other players or otherwise disrupt the harmony of the gaming environment.  In a gaming-only group, in a game-mastered game, the game master can even determine who speaks when.

In friendship groups who game, the role of game master has only minor bearing on the group sociality, because it's usually been set (as much as such things are ever set) independently of the game, and more importantly because the feel of friendship and shared affection renders moot the need for a game master to lead socially.

In a gaming-only group, the game master has far more responsibility for the maintenance of the Social Contract than he or she does in a friendship group which games.

Thus, in a gaming-only group, a really good game master is someone who uses whatever authority he or she has to ensure that everyone has fun and that the Social Contract remains intact -- as well as trying to run a fun game.  A really poor game master will abuse the authority given to him or her, but unless there is only one gamer who is willing to game master, most gaming-only groups will oust a dictatorial game master.

In a gaming-only group, a game-master-less game therefore lacks any position to support the Social Contract and to stand up for the less charismatic and less extroverted players.  A game-master-less game can be a problem in such groups, it seems to me.

In a friendship group which games, a really good game master is someone who can run the game well in a way which everyone enjoys, with the authority only necessary to run the game smoothly.  A really poor game master will try to abuse authority he or she doesn't have, and the friendship group will seldom stand for that (or humor/indulge him or her out of pity, on occasion).

Quote from: Henri
In my experience, the GM is whoever decided to organize the game and put the work into creating it.  Usually they are also the most familiar with the rules, but not always.

Actually, in my experience with both types of gaming groups, the game master more often is conscripted or commissioned.  I have been in gaming groups in which the players have purchased me a game book and then asked me to learn the system and run them in it.  I have had several groups tell me, "We want to game, and we want you to run the game -- we don't care what the system is or what the genre is, as long as you feel we would enjoy it and you feel you would enjoy running us in it, because if you enjoy running us in it, we know we will enjoy playing in it."

I have found that to happen far more often than the reverse.

Doctor Xero
Logged

"The human brain is the most public organ on the face of the earth....virtually all the business is the direct result of thinking that has already occurred in other minds.  We pass thoughts around, from mind to mind..." --Lewis Thomas
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 16490


WWW
« Reply #6 on: June 20, 2004, 07:31:38 AM »

Hiya,

I totally agree with that, Doctor X.

Best,
Ron
Logged
Doctor Xero
Member

Posts: 433


« Reply #7 on: June 21, 2004, 03:03:28 AM »

Quote from: Doctor Xero
It seems to me that this is one of the key issues underlying the debate over game-mastered gaming versus game-master-less gaming : the less centralized and institutionalized the authority, the more vulnerable the Social Contract is to manipulation by way of charisma and social status.

So, how ought we take this into consideration in game design?

Quote from: Doctor Xero
In friendship groups who game, the role of game master has only minor bearing on the group sociality, because it's usually been set (as much as such things are ever set) independently of the game, and more importantly because the feel of friendship and shared affection renders moot the need for a game master to lead socially.
In a gaming-only group, the game master has far more responsibility for the maintenance of the Social Contract than he or she does in a friendship group which games.

And how ought we take into consideration in game design the differences between gaming-only groups and groups of friends who game?

It seems to me that those game systems which advocate a heavy degree of game master control over even Social Contract issues are those which assume a gaming-only group rather than a group of friends who game.

(I also wonder whether this varies along the G/N/S lines . . . )

Doctor Xero
Logged

"The human brain is the most public organ on the face of the earth....virtually all the business is the direct result of thinking that has already occurred in other minds.  We pass thoughts around, from mind to mind..." --Lewis Thomas
Callan S.
Member

Posts: 3588


WWW
« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2004, 04:28:20 AM »

On a side note question thingie: Would a friends only group sort of group force down the amount of social contract policing the GM is allowed to do. I mean, in a group of people rounded up for a game with no links and with a GM one can never see again if one don't want to, I can imagine giving over more policing power. But when its a friend its like 'Nah, I know you, don't expect to be able to take up the authority figure with me'. Basically you already have a certain contract between you as friends in RL, and some of this is applied to the gaming social contract. Which means the GM friend can't police it any particular way...he's under the same RL contract that the game social contract is mostly comprised of.
Logged

Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 16490


WWW
« Reply #9 on: June 21, 2004, 05:07:21 AM »

Hello,

A lot of this stuff got discussed in the Infamous Five series of threads, especially the Social Context material. Have you seen those, Doctor Xero? Check out the sticky post near the top of the Site Discussion forum.

Best,
Ron
Logged
dewey
Member

Posts: 30


« Reply #10 on: July 02, 2004, 03:31:18 AM »

So, back to the topic: value & uselessness of GM

One of my favourite words about roleplaying is ADVENTURE, which simply means CHALLENGE for me.

(How ) can we rescue the princess from the claws of the dragon?
(How) can we reach the planet in time to prevent the destruction of a culture?
(How) can we find the book to build a magic castle?
(How) can we ...?

As far as I can tell, the only solution for this is to have a GM. Without a GM, players know most of the secrets of the game world, and the thrill of succes-or-failure is gone. A GM knows what qualities the dragon has, what qualities hyperspace has, where the book is, etc.; BUT THE PLAYERS DON'T!!!

So I propose that one of the values of the GM is to provide this excitement for the players, who can then face the CHALLENGE through their characters.

This does not mean, of course, that challenge is important for every player and, therefore, 'Because of Challenge, a GM is crucial'. It only means that to have an exciting adventure, the group needs a GM.
Logged

Gyuri
contracycle
Member

Posts: 2807


« Reply #11 on: July 02, 2004, 03:34:45 AM »

Quote from: dewey

So I propose that one of the values of the GM is to provide this excitement for the players, who can then face the CHALLENGE through their characters.


I would restate: "To alienate and thus objectify the shared imaginary space".

Edit: this IMO is the purpose of dice too.
Logged

Impeach the bomber boys:
www.impeachblair.org
www.impeachbush.org

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci
dewey
Member

Posts: 30


« Reply #12 on: July 02, 2004, 03:36:52 AM »

Sorry, I'm new, and this forum is enormous.
What are you talking about?
Logged

Gyuri
contracycle
Member

Posts: 2807


« Reply #13 on: July 02, 2004, 05:17:15 AM »

What I mean is this: if you relinquish possession of something you are said (in certain contexts) to ALIENATE it from yourself.

Hence, inalienable rights - rights than cannot be alienated from you under any circumstances whatsoever, even your own consent.

Similarly, property held in fief from a lord was often 'inalienable', the nominal posessor had no rights to alienate the property to anyone else.

--

Thus my argument is that by relinquishing control over the imaginary space - alienating it into the property of the GM - the player then experiences the imaginary space as objective in relation to their character.  It does not conform to their wishes and expectations.  IMO, only under those conditions can Challenge exist.
Logged

Impeach the bomber boys:
www.impeachblair.org
www.impeachbush.org

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci
pete_darby
Member

Posts: 537

Will dance with porridge down pants for food.


WWW
« Reply #14 on: July 02, 2004, 06:04:32 AM »

That, to me, implies several things that I'm fairly sure I don't agree with, mainly through playing Universalis, where many traditional GM roles are granted to the players. I can guarantee you, conflict with self created elements of the SiS is entirely possible.

You could argue that the dicing of the conflict resolution is an alienating factor, but the posts so far are all still predicated on a high identification between player and character with an assumption of identification between Gm and all non-PC elements in the world: given that set up, which includes a natural "My guy vs your world" element in it's construction, the play tends towards the confrontational attitude inherent in the idea of RPG's as a series of challenges ot the PC's.

Now that's not a bad way to play, by any means, but it's by no means the only way.

Dewey, have a look through the actual play reports of Universalis, or for that matter, Sorceror or other games that break with the traditional "party of adventurers" model.

If you feel like it, have a look through the GNS essays: it sounds to me like you're describing a very common form of gamist play, but it's by no means the only way to play. Consider that it's quite functional for players, even in a conventional game, to contribute elements to the shared imaginary space that may hinder their ability to face a challenge, in order to up the risk deliberately, or to add depth to the SiS (dependent NPC's, frex). Or consider gaming where the PC's have no common goals, or are rivals, providing challenge to each other. Challenge need not come from the GM, PC's need not face challenge together.

Gareth: Back to alienation... would you say that Universalis alienates the SiS as a group controlled entity outside of the individual players? and shouldn't this be a new thread?
Logged

Pete Darby
Pages: [1] 2 3
Print
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.11 | SMF © 2006-2009, Simple Machines LLC
Oxygen design by Bloc
Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!