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Networking: Going Beyond the Gaming Group

Posted By Patrick Benson On February 17, 2011 @ 12:00 am In GMing Advice | 24 Comments

Warning: This article is not really focused on GMing advice today. Instead it is about shaping the future of GMing and gaming. It is also a request for proposals and ideas.

At the core of our hobby there is the gaming group. The games are not why we gather. We gather to play games with each other. This is what distinguishes tabletop RPGs, card games, and board games from most video games (although this is changing rapidly as technology improves the experience of interacting with others within games). Our hobby is a social activity. The stronger the friendships the more likely that the game will be enjoyed.

The focus on the gaming group needs to change though. My personal observation is that in many cases it is an isolating institution. The group becomes an entity not to be disturbed. Potential new players are suspect – “Will that person fit into our group?” This is not done out of malice, but such an approach to new players can limit the group. This can also hurt our hobby as it may discourage new players from joining our ranks.

Furthermore, there are gaming groups that crystalize even though the current membership does not work. I cringe every time that I hear a gamer say “I know that he is a jerk, but I cannot kick him out of the group! We won’t be able to find a replacement.” Napoleon is credited with saying “The graveyards are full of indispensable people.” meaning that anyone can and eventually must be replaced.

Or maybe you have heard this one? “She has always gamed with us! We can’t boot her from the group! Let’s give her another chance to change.” Giving people the chance to change is meaningless if you never intend to revoke that opportunity. Consider it a form of incentive. In baseball no batter is given a fourth strike.

This sort of thinking is what transforms the group from what keeps our hobby fun to what makes our hobby miserable. When we stop thinking “I game to be with people and to have fun.” and start thinking “The gaming group must be preserved.” we are no longer addressing the right concerns. The intention is noble, admirable even, but the results can be negative.

We as GMs need to keep our gaming groups healthy, and to do that we need to keep our gaming groups fluid. With the plethora of RPGs available on the market today and the diversity of personal preferences amongst gamers I am positive that you will find an RPG that you will love to play and a group that is perfect for you to play it with. I also guarantee that you will find a game that you will hate to play as well as a group that you hate to play it with. My final guarantee is that there are gamers out there who will feel exactly the opposite as you do regarding both the game and the group.

It was the norm at one time to center the group around the game. “This is our D&D group.” or “I belong to this great Shadow Run group.” This needs to change, and has been changing as more and more RPGs that accommodate different types of play styles and desired effects have emerged. The static group is no longer going to work as well as it did before. We need to think differently in regards to the social organization that is at the heart of our hobby. At the very least we need to expand upon the concept of the gaming group.

We need to shift from having gaming groups to having gaming networks. As GMs we need to facilitate matching the right games to the right players, and we should do so by ensuring that when a player is not a match for a particular game that we can help transition that player into another group that is playing the right kind of game for that person. This requires a coordinated effort with not only the players of the games, but also with other GMs.

While the group is focused on sessions and actual play, the network is focused on helping to form and disband those groups as needed. Players and GMs would think in terms of “What kind of game will work for me?” instead of “What kind of game will work for my group?” Using the network GMs and players would find the right people for the events that they want to be a part of. While we will be insulating incompatible styles from each other we will no longer be isolating ourselves into groups. Hopefully this will eventually result in an exposure to more play styles, more games, and more people who could potentially become new gamers and friends.

None of what I am suggesting is new. These ideas are naturally occurring within the gaming community. The problem is that we still think in terms of the gaming group. We as GMs need to shift our thinking away from the group and towards the network. The players will follow (if not join us already since many players are GMs as well).

Why must we begin thinking in terms of the network and not the group? In order to build the right solutions to accommodate how our hobby is changing we must recognize the changes. The tools are already out there. The bulletin boards in the local game shops and the web sites like NearbyGamers are ready to be used. The only thing missing is the conscious shift from thinking along the lines of “I belong to a group of gamers.” to “I belong to a network of gamers with many groups.”

From there we need to formalize the networking process. How would you do this? What are your ideas for helping gamers find the right people and games in their area for their tastes? Would this sort of network benefit you? And the most important piece of all – how would such a network sustain itself?

I look forward to your comments, and I am eager to read what you think about the matter.

About  Patrick Benson

Patrick was born in 1975, and is more or less your typical American male for someone of his age. Except he is a tabletop RPG gamer and a damn fine game master! What else matters?




24 Comments (Open | Close)

24 Comments To "Networking: Going Beyond the Gaming Group"

#1 Comment By DNAphil On February 17, 2011 @ 6:34 am

Good article, with a lot of good things to think about. In the past I had a few players that we always included not because they were great players or that we really enjoyed playing with them, but rather because they had been part of the group for years. Eventually they were worked out of the group, but it was neither easy nor fun to do.

Today, our gaming group is actually a pool of people that are split over 3 games. Some players play in all three games, and some play in just one or two games. When a new game comes up, the GM decides how many players he wants. The people in the current group are given first dibs at a spot and then after that people from the other groups can take a spot.

All of that sounds good now, but it was very hard to fold in new players into the group, and with much angst from the core players who made up the original group. I am glad that we did it, but it was not easy.

Another place to find a Gamer Network is MeetUp. Here in Buffalo there is actually a pretty active Meetup group. I don’t know how fluid player movement is through it, but it is active and social, so opportunities are there.

#2 Comment By lomythica On February 17, 2011 @ 7:27 am

“As GMs we need to facilitate matching the right games to the right players, and we should do so by ensuring that when a player is not a match for a particular game that we can help transition that player into another group that is playing the right kind of game for that person.”

This reminds me of G. I. Joe or M.A.S.K.  We have a new game.. Let us choose the operatives right for the mission..

On a serious note, my group started a new campaign with a a lighter, story oriented mechanic.  Some scheduling things didn’t work right for one of the players that is, shall we say ‘pro DnD’ (which was a problem when we played any non dnd and serious campaigns).  In the past, we have found him to be an instigator of problems.. Needless to say, because of the scheduling problem (and unfortunately not due to me being a skilled negotiator), he isn’t playing in the current campaign.  I have personally found it to be quite a refreshing experience so far, with no one complaining of the system, or not liking some bit of the story or whatever the complaint of the day is. Others have commented similarly.

So I fully understand the point of the article.  I will say that it is much easier said than done.  I would think that going Into to each game with a charter that explains the game style and kind of players being looked for would be helpful.  I have done that sort of thing before, but my group tends to look at it as some form of red tape or unnecessary bureaucracy that shouldn’t come between friends… This, despite the fact that we have had our share of difficulties concerning roster over the years.

One thing I am doing moving forward, is shortening my campaigns.  I am an over planner/over thinker as a GM.  That often results in my campaigns to be longer than I think my group of players (oops.. ‘My group’… ) are sometimes desiring.  I have went from year long (30+ sessions) to six months (12-8 sessions).. My next campaign will probably be limited to 6-8 sessions, plotted more like a tv series season.  Hopefully this will help me modulize the player roster and add more flexibility to what kind of games we play.  I must admit that it would kind of suck if the players you game with switch to a campaign or mechanic you don’t want to play, and then you are out for six plus months….  But I guess that person could always try to find other players to play with.

 

#3 Comment By Patrick Benson On February 17, 2011 @ 10:05 am

@DNAphil – MeetUp is a great resource as well, and thank you for pointing that out.

Do you think your group’s transition to your current method of arranging games and organizing groups would have been easier if the concept of a gaming network were a part of the culture of our hobby?

@lomythica – You are absolutely right that it will be difficult to implement as we don’t know what the solution is yet. I believe that it can be found though, and generating an awareness amongst other GMs helps to bring us closer to that solution.

#4 Comment By lomythica On February 17, 2011 @ 10:18 am

@Patrick Benson – If you domt mind I will reply in regards to the comment about it being easier if the network model were part of the hobby.

I think one difficulty, is that stereotypically, gamers are a shy lot. Networking doesn’t always come naturally. Also, there is something special about a gaming group being made up of ‘friends’. The network model seems to me to focus more on adults or more outgoing gamers that also have a mindset for optimizing play, and focusing a bit less on the friendship aspect of gaming.

It is almost a somewhat watered down version of friend, like facebook ‘friendship’. More like a business relationship. Do we need a match.com for gaming?

#5 Comment By lomythica On February 17, 2011 @ 10:19 am

Somebody make a gamist matching app for facebook.

#6 Comment By Patrick Benson On February 17, 2011 @ 10:30 am

@lomythica – I disagree. Some gamers are shy, but I think that we are also genuinely enthusiastic to meet other gamers. Plus the network is not used like Facebook so that we can communicate, but instead it is used to get people to actually meet and play games. It would be more akin to a perpetual convention of games.

Many of us Gnomes are now very good friends, and all of us met online. I have acquired many new friends who I meet with regularly now via networking resources.

What makes something feel like work is your perception of it. Other than that, how is getting together to game much different from a 4 hour meeting? The logistics are very similar, if not the same, but it is our desire to be at the game table that changes everything.

#7 Comment By lomythica On February 17, 2011 @ 10:49 am

@Patrick Benson – I did not mean to insinuate that networking was work, or difficult. I suppose that I may have a clouded view. I am the oldest in my group, and I am by far the most outgoing toward trying new things, adding new players, talking the difficult talks. That doesn’t make me think I am better. It makes me think that younger gamers are not as outgoing or leadership oriented. That is my experience.

In regards to the ‘watered down’ comment. I suppose that was an inappropriate way of referencing that in my own experience, the gamers in my group are close friends, which is one of the hurdles to networking. The point is that in work, you make connections based on needs, resources, etc. You don’t always have to like the people.. You just have to be able to work with them. Workers are resources. (Similar to the previous note to G.I. Joe). Gamers become resources to be matched to other resources with like interests. I am not judging this right or wrong (I actually think it could be useful), but just pointing out that it is not the same as friends around the table.

#8 Comment By Roxysteve On February 17, 2011 @ 10:59 am

@DNAphil – Agree with the Meetup thing, though there seems to be a movement afoot to alter the basis upon which they work.

I use a meetup established in conjunction with my LFGS. My attitude is “If you’re old enough (my games often have an 18+ limit due to horror content) and there’s a seat at the table (the game store has an 8 person per table limit) you can come and play. If you fit with the group as it stood before you turned up, you’re welcomed as a regular.

I made a concerted effort to relocate my games to this store as it was a good central location, had lots of clean room to play in (my house is small and cluttered) and most importantly gave me access to a much larger pool of players.

I’ve gained a reputation for running a kick-botty Delta Green game and a halfway decent Dresden Files game, and people are also beginning to realize that my regular Call of Cthulhu game has its moments too.

My only problem is in finding time to run these days, when before I couldn’t scare a game up without lots of effort that would have been better used prepping the scenario.

All because I moved my games to where the gamers were instead of continuing to run for “my group”.

#9 Comment By Patrick Benson On February 17, 2011 @ 11:21 am

@lomythica – Thank you for clarifying what you meant. I still feel that the model works, because while we develop networks with people who we may not like for professional purposes we also have networks that address our needs for fun. A gaming network would not be designed to run games, but to find friends who share the same interests in games that we have.

@Roxysteve – Awesome example of how the shift from group to network is the way for our hobby to move forward. Thanks for sharing that!

#10 Comment By black campbell On February 17, 2011 @ 12:19 pm

I will admit that we tend to screen people before inviting them into the group, more to see if the personalities will mesh. Recently, I had a gaming group break apart due to my divorce. In addition to the wife, a few other friends left the group; the rest stuck it out.

I had been worried about the group dynamic, and how it would be affected. There was a sense of loss, but surprisingly, the games seemed to take on a new, refreshed life, even though the rump group had been gaming together for years. There had been a lot of negative energy for years that we hadn’t noticed. With the addition of a new member, we’ve seen the gaming group and the games themselves take on a much more lively and fun quality.

Shaking things up is occasionally good.

#11 Comment By Patrick Benson On February 17, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

@black campbell – I’m not saying that screening of people should be avoided, but that some groups put more emphasis on protecting the group for the wrong reasons. Are you screening to keep the group static? As in you want new players to be just like the old players. Or are you screening to find a new player who may or may not shake things up with new ideas?

It is unfortunate that you had to go through a divorce, but I’m glad to hear that you were able to recover part of your gaming group following it. That is a good example of how a network can help following big life changes that impact a group.

#12 Comment By Lee Hanna On February 17, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

My general experience is that I’ve belonged to one group of my oldest gaming friends and their spouses, which is exclusively D&D; and another group that plays anything but D&D. The membership in the latter group has shifted over the years, even shutting down at times. I’m also in some boardgaming groups, also of varying duration. That’s pretty much my network.

My oldest son is now 12 and has formed his own group of same-age kids. One of them is the son of two of my gaming group. Sooner or later, I expect we will start mixing kids and adults in games.

#13 Comment By lomythica On February 17, 2011 @ 1:25 pm

@Patrick Benson – I must be saying all the wrong things. I actually think that a gaming network is a great idea. I just think it is a definite shift in the thinking of many gamers. Gaming style can feel so personal that it can be intimidating to bring in strangers. I know. I have had, and in some cases brought in my share of horror stories for new comers joining the group.

Horror stories of a bad mix of players can definitely put groups on the defensive. Just noting another hurdle in the path to change culture.

What I strive for now is to periodically check to see if there is someone that may want to join. If so, give them a session or two to play with the group, amd if it works out, great. If not, well, it just isn’t working. I won’t claim to be doing it that often, but that is the way we do it now.

#14 Comment By Patrick Benson On February 17, 2011 @ 2:12 pm

@Lee Hanna – I think that is great that you are looking into bringing your kids into the fold with the one group.

@lomythica – Don’t worry about it. I think that points that you are bringing up are very good ones that we need to address. These kinds of discussions are how we will empower people to make the shift from groups to networks.

And once we gamers are fully networked we will rise up against the status quo and begin our reign of terror!!! Or at least play some really cool games. :)

#15 Comment By lomythica On February 17, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

YAY!

#16 Comment By Nojo On February 17, 2011 @ 4:28 pm

I suck at screening people. When I started my Rogue Trader campaign, I met two prospective players at a coffee shop and talked about what I liked in gaming and if they would be good fits.

I met them through Yahoo Groups: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/pdx-gamers/

Although I invited both of them, I almost didn’t. And the one who I almost passed on turn out to be a great player and has really stretched the game in new and fun directions.

For me, I have to game with the person for a while to really know if I will enjoy the experience or not.

On the other hand, I had met a third person on the same Group site who I didn’t have to meet. He sent me lengthy emails telling me why my approach to GMing Rogue Trader was wrong. No coffee shop meeting for him!

#17 Comment By Patrick Benson On February 17, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

@Nojo – I agree that the proof of whether or not a person will fit in your game comes from more than one session. The screening process should just be to ensure that both you and the new player have the same expectations going into that first game.

#18 Comment By recursive.faults On February 17, 2011 @ 7:43 pm

I think this is great. I think as GMs we need to be open to a world bigger than one particular group, campaign, or system.

Wait, as gamers we need to be open to those things.

As GMs we need to encourage group dynamics and games that encourage things to stay fresh, exciting, and welcoming to new things.

As players we need to be the people who are not only welcome once, but are welcome every time at any table.

#19 Comment By Patrick Benson On February 17, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

@recursive.faults – Well said.

#20 Comment By Roxysteve On February 18, 2011 @ 8:20 am

I’d like to share a true story on the subject of screening people:

I once ran a Villains and Vigilantes game, a very light-hearted thing, for a bunch of 20-somethings and a 16 year-old wanted in. For weeks I put him off because no-one wanted “a kid” in the game – me least of all.

I finally relented with shamefully bad grace with the idea of getting rid of the persistent little swine by GMing hiom out of the game.

This was easy because in V&V your first character was “You” and the GM assigned your stats. I’m not proud of what I did.

The kid’s power was Super Strength (randomly determined) which I “knobbled” by telling him t only worked if he was three feet or more below the local ground datum.

And this is when I got well and truly served (and serve me right).

The kid (even more shamefully I cannot recall his name 30 years on) immediately declared his persona was “Mole Man” and enlisted the help of a local “Reed Richards” type to build him a hydraulic Mole Suit with huge claws. He then went on to be the most inventive player of thegroup, and proved to have RP skill equal to the best there. He took the lemons I gave him and made champagne, then made me drink it and it tasted *good*.

I still have his drawing of the team, giant hydraulic mole standing at one end and so many spot-on caricatures of the other players (in character) that it brought me to tears of laughter (and still does). Yes, not only was he a great player, mature beyond his years (and, as it turned out, mine), with a wry sense of humor that was the very soul of the game, he was also an extremely talented artist who documented the group’s adventures in comics.

We should all be so lucky as to have such people want to play our games.

Moral: Maybe the best “screening” is to play a session with a new player, *then* make an assessment.

#21 Pingback By Ravenous Role Playing » Blog Archive » Friday Five: 2011-02-18 On February 18, 2011 @ 11:24 pm

[...] Networking: Going Beyond the Gaming Group [...]

#22 Comment By CrimsonFist On February 19, 2011 @ 9:40 am

Great article!

I too have had some experience with this topic. My last group had 5 members and 3 of them were “that” guy. All are good friends and quality people but when it came down to gaming, they had a host of problems that disrupted and unwound every game we played. I let this go on for 3 years! When they were on, lots of fun, but campaigns would stagnate quickly with their issues.

So first I did a mini migration and changed the local and a couple of the players. No surprise still had problems. As I had always gamed with these guys and they are good friends it was difficult to cut the cord but I did and it has worked out great.

I relocated the game to my home as an excuse. I live 30-45 minutes from were I had been gaming before. I kept one player and set out to find more. I too used meetup and found a great player who happened to live 1/2 a block from my own house! Never would have known or met him otherwise. I posted at every game store within 1 hour of my home and got 2 more great players. I have also used nearby gamers but have yet to find anyone there. The point is I worked hard to find new blood and to my surprise it worked. I have a great group that is enjoying Dragon Age right now.

I had worried that I would need to screen the players heavily or that I would get the odd or dangerous guys no one else would game with but that has not been the case at all. I would suggest that GM’s stay active, and continuously recruit to keep things fresh. I would not advise keeping friends as players if you are having issues, it ruins the game for everyone. Get them out and hang out with them elsewhere. Change the game and start over and if you work to recruit and put yourself out there, I’ll wager you are pleasantly surprised as well.

#23 Comment By Volcarthe On February 19, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

Currently I play in two tabletop games (what a break for me) and I’m running a game online.

The two games I play in are 6-man groups +DM, alternating weeks. For the most part, it’s the same 7 people, though we have cycled through a few who decided they were not interested in continuing and picked up some people who were. All of us are coworkers, though, and no feelings have been hurt when someone decides to stop playing. Thankfully, nobody sees the need to “preserve” the group other than to keep the games going for as long as everyone is having fun, but we keep it small and invite-only on purpose.

My game online is a chat-based open-to-everyone style game. I describe it as vaguely text-based MMO. We’ve had to eject people for being asses, but for the most part people come and go as they see fit and the story continues.

I guess I never had the luxury of keeping the same X people all the time, so being stuck in a group like that is a little odd. I’m more at home letting people cycle through as they want/need and finding more people who enjoy playing.

#24 Comment By Justin Alexander On February 19, 2011 @ 8:21 pm

A big part of this is to not think of gaming as “something I do with gamers”. Personally, I don’t go looking for gamers to game with. I go looking for friends and invite them to game.

Making that happen becomes easier when your games are structured in a way which makes them as easy to start playing as a typical board game.

This is something I talked about recently in Opening Your Game Table.


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