Friday, October 14, 2005

Musings on the Role of Social Contract on Play Decisions

ScottM made an interesting response to Jere's post Musings on Social Contract in The 20' By 20' Room last week.

He wrote:
Your werewolf story reminds me of a similar situation I ran into not long ago. I was playing a character in a Buffy game who was an albino (I know, I know). What was in my mind when I chose that admittedly bizarre characteristic was a desire to explore -- in that foregrounded, metaphor-made-literal Buffy kind of way -- the issue of being physically marked as different, the issue of feeling like you were born an outsider, like you weren't given a choice about your nature, etc. (Said character was also, of course, a Slayer). I ended up pulling out of the game in part because I realized that what I wanted to explore with the character, and how I wanted to explore it, really wasn't fitting in with the rest of the game. Her outsider-ness was being constructed more as a psychological roadblock in her own mind than something which was externally true.

The last two sentences really struck me. This is a perfect example of how Social Contract, in the absence of textual rules concerning the issue, need to feed back into actual play to prevent dysfunction.

Scott had a very specific aim with this character: he wanted to explore character and the issue of being an outsider that has been marked as such by circumstances outside her control. Great! It's an interesting concept, and he's chosen to externalize this largely internal conflict (hoo is this the subject for another post) with a cue that can be used by everyone else at the table to bring the issue into the foreground.

But it fails. Why? As he puts it, "Her outsider-ness was being constructed more as a psychological roadblock in her own mind than something which was externally true."

How could Scott have gotten what he wanted out of this character? It seems to me that the missing component is an understanding by all the other players at the table as to what Scott wanted out of the character, and a commitment to helping Scott explore that in play?

In English: The other players (including the GM), needed to make Scott, as his character, feel like an outsider with their role-play. More than that, they needed to make him, in his character persona, feel like an outsider because she was marked!

Since that didn't happen (and to be fair, I'm only guessing here based on Scott's post) the only way for Scott to fullfill that aim in any way was to imagine it as "a psychological roadblock in her own mind."

This sort of thing cannot be done on one's own, regardless of one's "role-playing ability." It requires the group to come together in support.


Alexander "SquidLord" Williams said...

In my mind, this is likely as much a result of the issue being subverted by the dynamics of a given group as anything, but also complicated by the external perspecive play provides. Like Geannine Garofolo playing the "unattractive friend," you don't buy into it because its patently, obviously, untrue.

Thus, Scott's character came in with the expectation of being an outsider, but no one was buying into the idea of albinism being particularly "outsiderish." And why should they, with demons and vampires perfectly valid hang-out pals?

In a very real sense, the character's expectations felt false to the group, I'm betting, and as a result the character didn't integrate.

Thor Olavsrud said...

Hey Alexander,

I get what you're saying. Even in this case though, I would argue that the onus remains on the group.

Either they need to accept this "patently, obviously, untrue" thing as real, much as the audience is expected to accept the "unattractive friend," or they must tell their friend that his character isn't doing it for them and he needs to refine it.

I think either would work fine.