So Goes the Game Group

The Geek Social Fallacies, formulated by Michael Suileabhain-Wilson, outline “ideas about human interaction which spur their holders to do terrible and stupid things to themselves and to each other.” Geek Social Fallacy No. 5, for instance, says “Friends Do Everything Together.” This becomes problematic in a variety of circumstances, but today, I’m thinking specifically about how it applies to the context of playing games.

Primarily, I’m thinking about the notion that a game group requires constant unanimity, that everyone must like and participate in every game. In the context of board games, this can particularly problematic as the styles of play, and individual’s tastes for those styles of play, span a very wide spectrum. Some people go for regimented games of building economic engines, other people go for wacky, random “take that”-a-thons and still more fall at different points between the extremes. Variety of preference is good, but it can make finding mutually acceptable common ground in a group difficult. In my experience, insisting on picking a game everyone likes to play often leads to a very limited selection of choices. There are, generally speaking, two main ways of dealing with this.

Opt Not to Play

At the weekly board game night I attend at the local game store, if we rigorously insisted that everyone agree on what game to play, our options would be limited to Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride. Fortunately, we have the luxury of numbers. Enough people come that the odds are good of everyone getting to play something they like, regardless of taste. And if someone can’t find something they want, there’s no hard feelings if they leave, because one person fewer won’t shut down anything down — in a significant way; sometimes a two person group will have to switch to a game that better supports head to head play.

The traditional closed game group, where the same set of friends meets regularly to play games, is slightly different. The “opt not to play” technique can still work, with some planning for those nights when one game will dominate the whole session. Nobody likes to make the drive or walk just to find out the game they loathe most is on deck. For shorter games, there’s always playing a video game, reading a book or surfing the web. The key is to get everyone on the same page in understanding that opting not to play a particular game is an agreed-upon disagreement, rather social ostracization or condemnation of play style. Besides, there’s also the benefit that the people playing the game really want to; you don’t have to jolly along the unwilling person who condescended to humor the group.

There is another tactic that tends to work better in small, stable groups.

Work to Achieve Compromise

When participating in a group where the same people attend week after week, social bonds can grow to the point that someone opting not to play can feel exclusionary and uncomfortable. In that case, it may be time to take to horsetrading. Some very explicit quid pro quo can help grease a reluctant player’s wheels. “If you play Economic Engine Game with us, afterward we’ll play a couple hands of Wacky Random Card Game. How about that?”

In some ways, it seems like you’re giving in to Geek Social Fallacy No. 5, working to include everyone, but I think it’s different in that the members of the group recognize what is going on. Their time and participation in one thing is literally being exchanged for the same in another thing.

Again, I think compromise really only works when the same people show up week after week and the night becomes as much about the socializing as the games played. In looser, more flowing circumstances, like those at the local game store’s open board game sessions, where people come and go at random, it’s hard to build and keep the kind of rapport needed for quid pro quo to be effective.

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