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“My Players” and “Your Players,” Not “The Players”

Posted By Martin Ralya On September 16, 2009 @ 1:08 am In GMing Advice | 24 Comments

There is a vast gulf between the phrase “my players” (or “your players”) and the phrase “the players” when used to refer to your gaming group, or to another GM’s group.

It’s not just semantics — it really makes a difference in how you think about GMing, how you approach the games you run, and how you treat your group.

It can be hard to break the habit of saying (or writing) “the players,” but there’s a reason you never see me write it here, or hear me say it anywhere — because it’s a completely bullshit approach to GMing.

A Completely Bullshit Approach to GMing

I think of “the players” as a distinctly old school thing to say.

Not old school in a good way, like retro-clone RPGs and hearkening back to the days of dice you had to ink yourself, but old school in a way that smacks of adversarial GMing, sticking it to your players, and generally being a giant cock as a GM.

I’m not saying that if you use the phrase “the players” regularly, you’re a giant cock. I used to do it (I still slip occasionally), and I have friends who say it. While the jury’s out on whether or not I’m a giant cock, my friends are not — there’s no direct correlation.

But — and it’s a big but — anecdotally I see a pretty direct correlation between GMs who use “my players” and “your players” and a style and philosophy of GMing that focuses on making the game fun for everyone at the table, treating your players with respect, and generally not being a giant cock.

“The players” are interchangeable, just guests at your table. They can be replaced with other players, and they certainly don’t know as much about the game, or how to play it, as you do.

There’s a sense of stewardship, of a personal connection, and of a drive to run a fun game that’s implied by “my” and “your,” and it’s completely absent from “the players.” Those three things — stewardship, connections, and a drive to show everyone a good time — are three hallmarks of a good GM.

GMs who think like this are the ones I enjoy gaming with — and that’s also the kind of GM I try to be.

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Don’t believe me?

If you’re a) not a giant cock, b) have excellent taste in RPG blogs (check!), and c) say, write, and think the phrase “the players” in reference to your own gaming group, you qualify for a free trial.

For the next month, shift gears. Stop using “the players” and use “my players” for your own group and “your players” for other groups — and see how it affects your mindset.

It had a huge effect on my mindset. This is the cornerstone of my philosophy of GMing (if you want to call it that), and while it may be a small thing in many ways, in some ways it’s not. It really does make a difference.

Whether you agree or disagree, or try this technique or not, tell us about it in the comments (and try not to picture any giant cocks on the way to the parking lot).

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.




24 Comments (Open | Close)

24 Comments To "“My Players” and “Your Players,” Not “The Players”"

#1 Comment By Rob Lang On September 16, 2009 @ 3:31 am

I always use the phrase My Player but it does not stop them from being sheer evil.

#2 Comment By ChattyDM On September 16, 2009 @ 6:30 am

Great post, glaring in simplicity but ohhh so true.

I think that this slight distinction brings a world of difference. By saying ‘my players’ and by extension ‘our group’ opens the way to conceiving the gaming group (GM included) as a Team… and that I think is the first step to reaching a level of RPG enjoyment that are unparalleled.

From the Team concept, you can define fun as a unit and then play to achieve it.

I wrote a whole series on that (The 5 stages of a RPG Team development). If you’ll allow the shameless plug, you can find it here .

#3 Comment By wampuscat43 On September 16, 2009 @ 6:32 am

I was expecting you to add “Giant Cock” to your trademark list at the bottom of the page.

I’m in the “My players” category, although that’s affected somewhat by the fact that the group has been remarkably stable over the years. People with large, high-turnover groups might be less inclined to use this phrase, or feel this way.

#4 Comment By Thanatos1442 On September 16, 2009 @ 7:28 am

I know that I’ve noticed this difference in the past. I always use the term “my players” when I talk to other people about the game because I feel responsible somewhat for them, while I leave them free to make bad choices by themselves I’ve seen GM’s in the past go out of the way to try and have players make bad decisions. If the game’s not fun for everyone involved, then its not worth playing.

#5 Comment By Cole On September 16, 2009 @ 7:57 am

Keep it “the players”, unless they start paying you to care.

#6 Comment By Patrick Benson On September 16, 2009 @ 8:07 am

I completely agree with your philosophy, Martin. It is spot on, but as for the terms I disagree.

“The players” can imply “the enemy” or “the VIPs” depending upon how you use it. “My players” can imply “my friends” or “my bitches”, and “your players” can imply “your team” or “your problem”.

Words can be used for both good and evil. :) Are you implying comraderie or ownership when using “my” and “your”?

What is really important is that the GM respect the players and consider them to be peers if not customers. Treat the players with respect, and consider it your job to keep the players happy.

Now I use “the players” to provide a buffer on purpose. When I think in terms of “my players” I am one step away from thinking “my players Steve and Ted”. This can lead to “My player Ted is acting like a dick tonight.” and that can lead to “I hate when Ted acts like this.”

By thinking in terms of “the player” I take a different approach. “The player is behaving in a disruptive way.” which leads to “Find out what is bothering the player and address it.”

It is a different approach, but it works better for me because I am not letting my personal feelings about how Ted behaves interfere with my role as the GM. Like at work, I might be good friends with my fellow employees, but in order to deliver the best quality results to them I have to think in terms of “the department” or “the staff”.

This approach works well for me, and it may not work well for others. The point is that I think what this article really gets at is that GMs are not overlords, or opponents, but they are members of a team. Your decisions as a GM should be for the good of the team, and not yourself.

To sum up: Just don’t be a giant cock. :)

#7 Comment By John Arcadian On September 16, 2009 @ 8:26 am

That’s a brilliant and simple way to look at it Martin. I’ve always thought of it as my group, even when I’m running games at conventions or playing with complete strangers. To think of it as “the” group definitely implies a modicum of disconnectedness.

#8 Comment By farfromunique On September 16, 2009 @ 9:10 am

Quoth Hook: “Me me me mine mine mine want want want now now now”

These are MY players, and nobody gets to screw with them! they’re MY players and when they get a massive case of ADOS[1], it’s MY problem, because it gives ME a headache!

They’ve always been my players wen talking, The PCs when I outline my adventures.

[1] Attention Defici– OOooooh! Shiny!

#9 Comment By Knight of Roses On September 16, 2009 @ 9:34 am

I tend towards “My (Gaming) Group” in casual conversation and “The Players” when writing online about gaming. But changing it to “Your Players” would not be too difficult, I will ponder.

Though, I also agree with Patrick Benson above.

#10 Comment By drow On September 16, 2009 @ 9:57 am

can’t we compromise a little? how about “my victims” and “your victims”

#11 Comment By Rechan On September 16, 2009 @ 10:10 am

While I am not going to disagree with the message of the post, I do want to make a point:

“The players” are interchangeable, just guests at your table. They can be replaced with other players

It’s also possible that you just don’t know your players. I rarely have the same group for more than a campaign, because I’m moving around. The same with DMs who run RPGA games, Convention games, games online, etc – you simply do not know the people you’re playing with all that well. So, they may FEEL like interchangable guests because that’s how they behave. You may just not have the same people at the game the next time you play.

Just because you have an attitude that your table is a revolving door does not mean that you wouldn’t have a desire to ensure fun. But it would reduce the connection/stewardness, given that you just don’t know the people.

#12 Comment By Patrick Benson On September 16, 2009 @ 10:12 am

@Knight of Roses – Agreed. I do have to admit that Martin’s logic in the article appeals to me, and changing to “your” instead of “the” would be an easy adjustment. My big gripe is the implication of ownership as I mentioned before. Yet the article does have me thinking about my approach and questioning how I do things. Even if I don’t change my approach I’ll have a better understanding as to why my approach works for me.

#13 Comment By Rechan On September 16, 2009 @ 10:15 am

Another potential wrinkle of the language is that “My” and “Your” could also mean “Us” vs. “Them”.

“These are MY players, and those are YOURS, and that’s why it’s different”.

#14 Comment By scrumpy7 On September 16, 2009 @ 10:56 am

I hope you’ve seen this Penny Arcade comic.

#15 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On September 16, 2009 @ 11:48 am

Big but, giant cock… What kind of AdSense placements are you hoping to get, Martin?

This is a pretty simple but profound article. I try to use “the players” as a generic “mine, yours, theirs, everyone’s” replacement, but I can’t really find a reason not to use “your players” instead.

As Patrick mentioned, it’s not so much the term as it is the attitude that its use can reveal.

Like Chatty, I think of my table as a team in search of fun, although I’ve never described it as such. “Team” does resonate, though…

Well done, guys!

#16 Comment By Rafe On September 16, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

I’m wondering if I’m the only one who caught Martin’s “Clerks” reference.

#17 Comment By Nojo On September 16, 2009 @ 4:30 pm

The Players figure out the clues and solve the adventures as written.

*My* Players run around like crazy monkeys and make me laugh.

#18 Comment By ptevis On September 16, 2009 @ 8:34 pm

They’re not my players. I don’t own them. They’re the people I game with.

#19 Comment By Martin Ralya On September 16, 2009 @ 10:05 pm

@ChattyDM – Good point — “our group” is also an excellent marker.

@Cole – I’m not sure if you’re aiming for humor — and hey, we’re tossing around giant cocks here… ;-) — but this just doesn’t seem constructive. Getting paid to GM is not the norm, and not getting paid is kind of part of the deal.

@Patrick Benson – That makes a lot of sense, particularly the bit about depersonalizing things so you can approach a problem objectively. That’s a situation that requires some distance — definitely an exception to my sweeping generalization. ;-)

@Rechan – I’d argue that even with genuinely interchangeable players, they’re YOUR players while they’re playing in your game. Less powerful, maybe, but still useful here. :-)

@scrumpy7 – I’ve read them all, but Christ I’d forgotten all about that one! Wow. Nice catch!

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – The spam queue was…interesting today. ;-)

@ptevis – Well, sure. But are they really JUST the people you game with?

#20 Comment By Swordgleam On September 17, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

I’ve only ever said “my players,” as in, “my players are totally insane.” I don’t know anyone who ever says “the players.” So this post confuses me a lot.

#21 Comment By DocRyder On September 17, 2009 @ 11:44 pm

I’ve been doing this for years. The only time I use “the players” is when I’m one of them, as in “the players in our game…”

#22 Comment By Martin Ralya On September 18, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

@Swordgleam – I tend to see it most in print and online. I don’t currently game with anyone who says it either.

#23 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On September 18, 2009 @ 7:54 pm

Here’s my issue, and it’s been mentioned a few times before, whenever I say “My players”, or hell, even “My game” I always feel akward, like I’m implying some kind of possession. And since no more than a few years ago, I was the guy slavishly arguing that as DM, it is indeed, MY game moreso than the player’s game, as I’ve started to loosen up the ol’ grip on the world and learn to enjoy making it “OUR game”,I’ve become conscious of the semantic slip back to “mine”. Still, there has to be some easy way to connote camradery without ownership.

#24 Comment By Martin Ralya On September 22, 2009 @ 7:39 pm

@Matthew J. Neagley – I view “my game” as shorthand, since there are multiple GMs in my group, and we usually have two games going at once. But I agree that there’s a difference there, and “our game” is better if it doesn’t lose any clarity.


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