RPGs – An Art? A Game? No, a Sport

I was reading and discussing various gaming related topics with people lately, like “how do you set attendance expectations” and “is it everyone’s responsibility to make sure everyone has fun,” and I kept thinking “Hmm, I’ve heard solutions to these problems before…  Oh, that’s right, from sports.”  And then it came to me; the closest analogy to how a RPG game functions is a sporting event, and the gaming group resembles nothing more than a sports team.  And that realization opens up a lot of extremely time-tested best practices for us to use.

For those of you who only dimly remember sports from enforced gym classes back in high school, let me explain.  RPGs are very dissimilar to board games, card games, and other pastimes of that sort because they require a “team” to play.  Just like a baseball or basketball team, you have a small group of people, who have somewhat specialized roles (instead of “center” we have a “fighter”) that have to work together to achieve victory.  Some computer games have gotten to this point, where within them you have leagues and ladders and whatnot. You have some competitive board game etc, leagues but those are mostly individual. And there are other relevant groups we could pattern our dynamics after, like an acting troupe – but I figured “being flaky and having sex with each other a lot” isn’t the direction I wanted to go with this.

I think refactoring the way we think about our gaming groups as a sports team adds a lot of healthy insight and clarifies a lot of the group-dynamics problems we tend to have. The human race has put huge money and effort into team sports and a lot of wisdom has emerged from that.  To a degree we have trouble figuring out how to conduct ourselves and our gaming groups because it’s such a fringe, uncommon thing, we’re not sure what to model after. There’s a lot of default expected behavior relative to sports teams (that translate across teams and even across sports) and it would be nice to have more of that in gaming.

I’m going to post separately about various aspects of this, but here’s a teaser list of topics where sports brings some good knowledge to our gaming.

  • Game Attendance – pickup game or league play?
  • Gaming Sportsmanship – being a good winner and loser and showing consideration to others
  • Players as Teammates
  • Player Behavior – show hustle, shut the hell up when the coach is talking, etc.
  • The GM as Coach – the GM’s other responsibilities
  • You’re Off The Team – why, when and how do you disinvite a player?

So meditate upon this truth.  What if my gaming group was, say, a city league soccer team?  What would we be doing differently?  Share insights here, I might pick them up for an article down the road.

7 responses to “RPGs – An Art? A Game? No, a Sport

  1. What if my gaming group was, say, a city league soccer team?
    Hmm, I wonder if I could complain about the “lack of ambition” in my group, sniff around some other groups, then get a massive pay rise as an incentive to stay?

    (Topical and unfunny football joke)

    I’m looking forward to seeing more on this subject, as I think you’ve hit on something here.

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  3. I have been thinking about this as well, and wrote a few entries that touched on the subject – but more from the point of view of a ‘family routine’ or ‘calendar event written in pen’ than a sport. I think the comparison to a sports team carries more weight and clarity, even if the reader is not interested in athletic pursuits.

    I suspect, however, that there will be those who will cry foul at the suggestion of GM as coach, preferring to relegate that member of the team to the position of professional shopper, or perhaps therapist.

  4. I have no idea how adult amateur sports teams manage to get players out, so I will find this series interesting.

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  6. If you haven’t watched Gold the Series, you should check it out. It’s a hilarious web series about professional RPG players much in the same vain as professional athletes. Great stuff.

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