During the years I have been active in the RPG scene (offline and online) the topic of “social contracts” has come up from time to time. In the light of recent events I’ve been thinking about this particular subject a lot.
A social contract is a set of rules, an agreement among the members of a group that defines and limits the rights and duties of each member. In the RPG hobby its understood at the mostly unwritten rules at the game table which are not actual game rules. It covers things like “Is eating allowed at the game table?”, “Does the GM fudge rolls?”, “How is out-of-character speech handled?” and similar questions.
Over the years I’ve played in many different gaming groups and in most cases the terms of the social contract were pretty much the same and in no case they were actually written down. But I just had a case where I wished I had thought more about a social contract in the first place. There’s a player in my group who is actually a very nice guy, but sometimes mutates into “That Guy”. He likes to play extreme characters who tend not to fit well into the party, is extremely enthusiastic in a very tiring way, tends not to bring any dice or writing utensils to the game sessions and is generally unorganized.
Perhaps I’m getting old and grumpy, but his behaviour is driving me nuts at the moment. Recently I wrote him a pretty long email in which I told him what I was annoyed of and that I’d like him to change certain things. He hasn’t replied yet, but I actually don’t expect him to do so anytime soon, since he tends not to read his emails. Sigh
Some of you might think why I am even bothering. I guess it’s because I don’t think he’s doing it on purpose and I think that everyone earns a second choice. Some of you might think I am overreacting. Perhaps I am.
Let’s get back to “social contracts”. Currently I wish I had written down a social contract before. In that case I could just point to the rules we all agreed to, which could have included simple rules like “everyone brings their own dice and writing utensils”. The problem with unwritten rules is that some members of the group might just not be aware of all the rules. This never has been a problem before because I usually played with people that I knew for years. But in recent years I started playing regularly with people who I actually don’t know that much outside of gaming. Perhaps it’s time to write down a couple of rules – just in case.
What are your thoughts on social contracts? Do we need them. Do you have one at your game table? Do you actually write down the rules and what do you do if someone at the game table chooses to ignore them? Please share your thoughts below!