I am at once compelled to rant and rave, frothing at the mouth over the state of our hobby, the lack of real representation or leadership, and the constant perception of roleplaying as, if not a weird pastime, still a less-than-acceptable one. Yet there is that small part of me that cautions restraint. It tells me that my experiences and perceptions are limited; that the world is a big place; that there are people out there who “get” my hobby in a way that is understanding of its significance, not just to me personally, but to hundreds of thousands (possibly more) of other players.
That small part of me also says that I shouldn’t call this guy a total fuckwit, but then again, there’s a reason that part of me is small.
I refer you to the 5:41 mark in this video. I recommend watching the whole thing, if for no other reason than to have a better grasp of the overall context:
“The only thing you really need to know in order to succeed with a group of players, is D&D has a social contract. The social contract is: the DM is going to create a story and try to keep the game moving forward and make it as fun for everybody at the table, and in exchange the player part of the contract is, they’re not going to act like a bunch of – door knobs and just try to tear everything apart.”
EDIT: It seems that this video is no longer available through YouTube. Not surprising, given the need to monetize and control the flow of information. If anyone knows where I can find a good copy, holler at me and I’ll update the link.
Now, I do not doubt that his intentions are noble. He has been playing the game for a long time. He has had some career and financial success – hell, he gets paid to write and play Dungeons&Dragons! So of course we want to know what he thinks about it. Unfortunately, this means it’s all the worse when his mediocrity shows through.
No, Chris, there isn’t just one thing you need to know in order to succeed at D&D. There are several. And you may or may not need to know all of these things in order to succeed; I cannot quite comment on what all of these things are, but I know they are things that have been explored by professionals in fields like psychology, business management, sociology, politics, etc. And I’m quite certain that these professionals would scoff at the notion that a team’s dynamics can be boiled down to simply, “well, there’s a social contract that we have to agree to and follow.” Hell, the concept of a social contract is debatable in-and-of itself.
Let’s assume that it exists and that we’ve agreed, explicitly or implicitly, to follow its conventions. Fine.
The DM does not create a story.
It’s this one element that makes me want to spit. Are we on the cusp of a new age of roleplaying, that although the hobby has been around for 40 years, we’re just now beginning to examine it for what it really is? Or is it that there’s just too little critical thought being applied? I cannot spend too much time shouting this into the void – the DM does not create story! If you want a creative story-writing or storytelling game, then go play one. White Wolf has several game lines that are quite good as far as storytelling games are concerned. But they are not roleplaying games; they never were and never will be. And D&D is a roleplaying game.
It is this sort of feel-good, paper-thin, mental-calorie-“lite” sound bites that supports and encourages this type of discourse amongst the hobbyists. Sure, Chris presents a pretty picture: he’s well groomed, polite and articulate. He looks and acts like a normal guy. But he gives himself away, at least a little bit. He refers to poor players as “lame-Os” and “door knobs” and doesn’t explain what he means, at least not in terms of defining these bad players. Or at least, he doesn’t define them explicitly. He does imply, however, that the bad player – the “door knob” – is one who “tear[s] everything apart.” Because according to Chris’ paradigm, the DM creates a story and the players go along with that story. Those that don’t are guilty of violating their contract.
Fuck. That. Shit.