We gamers commonly use a movie or theater analogy to describe role-playing, either to non-gamers or even amongst ourselves. You know the one: ‘the players in a game are like actors, and the characters are the roles they play’.
But where does that leave the GM? He traditionally writes the adventure, but he isn’t exactly the writer. He plays the supporting cast, but is oh-so-much more than that.
The GM must be the director, right?
Wrong. It’s tempting to describe the GM as a director, after all, he controls much of the script, the scenery, the additional actors, etc. But unlike the director, the GM does not control the lead actors, the editing, or even the final product.
A better analogy is to describe the GM as the producer. A producer is a behind-the-scenes individual who coordinates and organizes, who provides the resources necessary for the film or play to take place, but then (hopefully) steps back and lets the talent do their thing. (Yes, some producers will insist on family relatives in roles, or fight the director for creative control, but these are bad examples.)
Why it matters
I’ll readily admit that I’m quibbling over the semantics in a throw-away analogy.
What really matters is not the term that you might use to explain an RPG, but the approach that it implies. A director controls the action; a producer facilitates it. The difference is tremendous.
Do not be the kind of GM that controls events or forces a certain outcome, because you’re taking that ability away from your players.
Be the kind of GM who provides all of the raw material for the events to occur, puts out fires when they erupt, and gives things a nudge or two when they need it.
Facilitate, don’t control. Produce, don’t direct.
Me? I’ll be in my trailer…