Saturday, 12 October 2013

"Whatever Works for You and Your Group"

One of my pet hates in online discussions about RPGs is the anodyne advice to "do whatever works for you and your group". Just do whatever's fun for you and your players. Stop worrying about whether one play style is better than other - lighten up! Just do whatever works! Well, duh.

It annoys me primarily because it's meaningless, of course: if anybody in the world needs to be told to "do whatever works for you and your group" they're probably not intelligent enough to operate a computer.

But it is also incredibly low-reaching and unambitious. It is most frequently used to kill any sort of debate over play styles or techniques: "Stop being mean, you horrid bully; everybody should just do whatever works for them and their group". Don't try to discuss matters, improve your GMing, or even think about games in the abstract. Just do whatever works. Keep on keeping on. It ought to go without saying that this is not a mindset that any adult human being should have.

It also simply fails on its face: how do you know what works without thinking about alternatives? Unless you are aware that there are different ways of doing things, and have analysed them in some sense, how can you possibly know what works or what doesn't?

And finally, it implies that once you have a gaming group you stay in it for your entire life - it is "your group". Again, it ought to go without saying that groups are composed of different people, and figuring out what works for one group will require a level of thought about "what works" in general. In fact, gaming with different groups will by necessity require individual GMs to come up with abstract, universal notions about things that tend to work and things that don't, irrespective of the players involved. But no: we all live in our parents' basements and game with our school friends until death.

23 comments:

  1. I thought I'd offer an alternative interpretation of that line of advice: my experience has been that people who offer up that comment aren't really saying anything literal about their beliefs at all, but rather are using it as a polite euphemism to say, "you're over thinking this," or otherwise trying to suggest that the base argument they are commenting on has gone beyond reasonable boundaries of extrapolation. A great example of an argument in gaming I hear often is the linear fighter/quadratic wizard argument, which is is usually the basis for a bash on 3rd edition D&D and seems to affect a certain type of game group profoundly. It's an argument for which I have no reasonable frame of discussion as it has never affected my gaming groups that play 3rd/PF in 13 years, so while I could reasonably say "That guy really seems to have issues here," I can't offer much more than a "Well my group could care less" comment. Of course the real problem with these comments is not that they say anything at all about the intent of the person who wrote it other than that it's dismissive to the discussion and noncontributory....but I think demonizing the commenter by assuming some measure of immaturity in using a comment like that is overlooking the real message behind it: that they don't agree with the discussion in question and even think its gone past the point of reasonable extrapolation toward their own range of experiences.

    Okay...all that said, I definitely still find the comment, when it surfaces, annoying...if only because it being the internet and all, if the guy wants to contribute by saying "you're all wasting your time" in this round-about way he can just go read some other forum instead and stop wasting both his time and our time with his non-comment....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that's part of what irritates me about it. I always feel as if the person typing those words thinks to themselves, in a terribly self-satisfied way, as they hit the "post reply" button and then close the tab, "Well, there's somebody else I've impressed with the light-hearted and laid-back, mature approach I take to life!"

      Delete
  2. It can sometimes be a way to step out of a debate, when you have reached the point in a lengthy discussion where you realize that you have diametrically opposite points of view & no chance whatsoever to find a common ground for discussion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It can, but I see it far more often as a way of trampling over the notion that there is such a thing as quality and that like any activity human beings engage in, you can get better at gaming.

      Delete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You can't find out what "works for you and your group" without trying something new in the first place, and what works now won't work forever. Why not keep trying new things?

    You hit the nail squarely on the head, sir. It's an empty, anti-intellectual statement that adds nothing of value to any discussion (akin to phrases like "Well, personally, I just feel it's wrong"); it substitutes the barest and least useful type of anecdotal evidence in lieu any actual thought or basic reasoning skills. It's nearly as pointless as the amount of time I took in crafting the preceding two sentences.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I agree with porphyre77. While the above statement goes without saying, I think people can be forgiven for thinking it doesn't sometimesbased on how I've seen discussions develop. Too often "one true way" or prescriptive, absolutist terms reign. I don't find that dividing people into playing right/playing wrong camps fosters useful discussion. It merely leads to talking past each other or bad feelings, which preclude people hearing alternatives.

    If you find yourself in discussions where people say this a lot, it's worth looking at how you're communicating your ideas. Now, nobody's required to care about that, but then this sort of comment will continue to be the result.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, it's in every discussion about RPGs. There is always an undercurrent (often an overcurrent) of Tyranny of Fun-style "the only important thing is that everybody enjoys themselves" sentiment. As I said on G+, my standpoint is that I assume fun and enjoyment, and want to explore what comes next.

      Delete
  6. What works for me and my group is looking down our noses and laughing at how everyone else plays D&D, and then getting on with a cracking good game.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How do you know how everyone else plays D&D?

      Delete
    2. And since when is two mirrors and a Teddy Ruxpin a _group_ ?

      Delete
    3. Through Blogs and Forums. Here's some guy whose adventurers look like this

      http://odd74.proboards.com/thread/8638/black-fief?page=2&scrollTo=129167

      All of my players have PhDs in Maths-Physics or Engineering which doesn't speak for their creativity but we wouldn't settle for the shit I read, and they refuse to read on Blogs and Forums.

      Then there's this guy who plays only with women who haven't read a book in their lives and are easily impressed.

      Delete
  7. I will add my two credits here...I feel that people often put that in (I know I have) because if you don't, the ultra-sensitive of the internet (i.e. a large number of people on the internet) think you are disparaging their style and telling them they are badwrong. If I suggest an alternative to your way of thinking I am looked at as an idiot if I don't brace you or coddle you with, "But if you are having fun, your way is cool too".

    Trust me, as someone who really doesn't like D&D I find myself saying something akin to the above statement fairly often just so I'm not ignored outright.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I agree that it's a bullshit, cop-out statement in most online discussions, and it makes me pull my hair out most of the time. There are two exceptions. First is as a reminder that the rules should be open-ended. That a GMs job, to an extent is to cater to a specific group at a specific time, in the name of fun. What works for my Wednesday group doesn't work for my Saturday group, and so on. Of course, that's not how it's being used in your example. It also doesn't suggest the experimentation and adjustment that's necessary to get the rules just right for a specific group.

    The second place I think it's justified is to shut down the RAW table pounders when they say "you can't do that, because it says on page XX that XXX happens when blah blah blah". Yeah, I own the rules too, I just don't give a shit. So in that case, maybe RAW works for them, but it doesn't for me, and I'm happy to bow out of the discussion with a "whatever does it for you" line. I guess it's really a case of civilized, progressive discussions where ideas are banded about in the spirit of progress, and uncouth forum drivel with people who are so dead set in their ways that they know best, always. The "whatever works" line has no place in the first, and is a nice, quick out in the second.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I agree completely.

    But I find that it is often used at the end of an argument by well meaning people, sort of to be polite, as in: "Capping Hobbit Fighters at 4th level is absolutely and utterly essential to maintaining overall play balance, but of course if the contrary works for your group, then..." It's partly a sort of code for saying that despite the fact that you gave an opinion, you're not actually a Christian Fundamentalist or Republican. For myself, I like ending a claim with "and if you disagree, then you are going to Hell." But I always soften it with, "but if that works for your group..."

    ReplyDelete
  11. IMHO, after you've given whatever it is you are going to give, and it is rejected, it is an acknowledgement that (1) your advice isn't going to be the best advice for everyone, and (2) you aren't going to argue about it.

    I.e., "How can I get off the roof" "Try using that ladder." "But using a ladder is hard!" "Well, then, do whatever works best for you." Who knows? Maybe you're talking to Peter Parker.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's not quite the context to which I'm referring. I'm talking about occasions where somebody raises a question, somebody else offers an opinion, and a third party comes along with the sole intention of shooting down that opinion by blathering on about how fun is the only important thing, just do what works for you and your group, blah blah. There are people out there who honestly think that having a view on something is somehow transgressive and bullying.

      Delete
  12. Whatever works for you? Well, for me its:

    1. Have fun.
    2. Keep it simple. (For those of you who are more sophisticated, be efficient.)
    3. Roll with the punches.

    I don't get upset about things on the internet, especially comments on gaming. Life is too short. My advice? Do something. I suspect most folks with opinions on gaming rules and styles aren't actually playing regularly. Don't dream it, do it.

    Or, in the immortal words of Yoda, "No. Try not. Do... or do not. There is no try."

    I don't agree that "...and your group" implies a lifelong relationship. If you're not having fun with your current group, it's ok to join or start a new one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that's precisely what I'm talking about.

      Delete
  13. I 've heard this kind of answer called "the night in which all cows are black", so general it obscures the substance of the entire conversation.

    As you point out, if you try to wrest any kind of sense from it, the little it does say is wrong. You don't always have a single group, you don't even always have a single way of playing. It's just silly rhetoric.

    ReplyDelete