Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Cultural Differences

I've talked before, a little bit, about British and American approaches to fantasy.

What I've never written, much less read, about is the difference between British and American gaming groups. All regular groups are unique, of course, and every session is different. But is it possible to make any general statements about how cultural differences play out in play (no pun intended)? 

We need hardly limit ourselves to just cultural differences between Americans and Brits, of course, but they would make an interesting comparator because they share a language while being, in my experience anyway, culturally very different. Americans are much less like British people than are Germans, Danes, or the Dutch, for example. Given that language is basically the same, how might cultural separation reveal itself in what happens at the table?

Stereotypically, I would imagine Americans to be more at ease acting and doing voices (less reserved), more at ease getting in touch with PCs' feelings (more touchy-feely), and more involved and engaged (less likely to filter everything through arch humour).

I have no real idea whether this is true, but it would be an interesting thing to study if one could come up with a method for doing so.

The mystery to me is how Japanese gamers are at the table. I lived in Japan for a long time but never got involved in the Japanese TRPG scene. On the one hand, Japanese people are famously reserved. But on the other, as anyone who has spent time among the Japanese will tell you, when being unreserved is socially sanctioned and the shackles are off, you discover they're not very shy at all. Indeed, where being outgoing is expected, Japanese people will as in all things rise to the occasion. 

26 comments:

  1. If there were ever a place to let a certain regular commenter, the one who shares a name with this place, speak his mind freely, this comment thread would be that place.

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    1. No one wants to give vent to his mind unfettered, trust me.

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  2. Huh. I would have figured you'd have had SOME experience with Japanese gamers when living there. My understanding is that it's kind of a Big Deal.

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    1. Not really - much less so than here. I know people do play TRPGs in Japan but I never personally saw hide nor hair.

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    2. I never encountered any either, although I saw plenty of RPG books for sale. I spent all of my time at the gym because I was fighting competitively at the time, so that didn't help. But it would be nice to sit and play with a Japanese gaming group when I'm back in country . . . but I don't know even a single TRPG gamer there.

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    3. I have one Japanese gamer friend from college, but didn't live near her while I was in Japan. I also never got involved with, or even heard about, a Japanese TTRPG group.

      The Magic: The Gathering kids in Japan were impressive in their obsessive interest in the game, but they were too focused on tournament style games for me to have fun with them.

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  3. Coming originally from continental Europe (now in the U.S.) I'm not sure what to make of the comparison on Americans are more touchy-feely than Brits. In my experience, Americans are quite closed off physically, though this all may just be perspective.

    My only experience with Spanish-speaking gamers was introducing a few to RPGs for the first time, and while the plural of anecdote in not data, I can say that once they understood the game, they got into it pretty enthusiastically, but didn't give themselves over to voices very much. Instead, they got a good sense of what their characters wanted and played that out, but in the third person.

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    1. I think Aemericans are more closed off physically than, say, Italians or Greeks, but British people are much more so!

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    2. I'm calling the U.S. Æmerica now. Something about it just feels right.

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  4. With all due caveats when speaking about people, I've lately drawn a certain possibly paternal similarity in the manners of English people and American southerners. Namely, it's when you're treated with a certain arch sunniness that you know you've really earned their contempt.

    Likewise I have little to go on beyond my own circle in a small corner of a big country but I would suspect gaming groups in the UK are often a bit more self-organizing. When it comes to "what's your stance on called shots," or "that scenario objective is really bad for my army list," the American process is probably a little more agonized, the solution chiseled out only after a certain number of remonstrations and appeals to fairness. I suspect on the other side there's more of a social cost to special pleading and an impetus to keep things moving. There is something in the contractual and clinical language that has become ubiquitous in gaming materials of the last 10 years ("session zero," "discussing expectations,") that has probably metastasized out of the American situation.

    I'm also quite sure you're right in that, when acting out a world which at least takes some cues from the imagery of our history books, Americans are quicker to put on and perform cultures that are to them little more than costumes and postcard impressions of distant places.

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    1. "There is something in the contractual and clinical language that has become ubiquitous in gaming materials of the last 10 years ("session zero," "discussing expectations,") that has probably metastasized out of the American situation."

      Well put.

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    2. It does seem to me like social interactions within the American bourgeousie are somehow fraught with tension, like everybody is worried that everybody else is going to take what they say in bad faith. That may be a totally unfair impression but that's how it seems to an outsider. It might be related to this desire for "contractual and clinical" approaches.

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    3. Yep, very sound observations here.

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    4. From my perspective this particular phenomenon is mostly about American nerds often being groups of people with poor social skills. In nerdish fashion they/we have attempted to address difficult group dynamics (which are enhanced because the group is a self selected collection of people who aren't good at being in groups) by putting together a goofily clinical set of "rules".

      I don't think this phenomenon extends to the overwhelming majority of US social interactions. Maybe also academics?

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    5. I think that's largely right--without an intuitive sense of how to navigate novel social sitiations, some folks resort to more explicit engagement with "social contracts" and the like.

      In my experience, academics don't do this, though, perhaps because the social expectations between academics are fairly transparent and well-internalized.

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    6. I also wonder if it's just a result of lots of people now having desk jobs which are very managerialised, so we end up parroting manager-speak uncontrollably.

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  5. Hmmmmm, been gaming a long time with expats in Korea. Not sure I notice any big trends by nationality.

    Right now in my group the guy who always does voices is a Brit for example.

    Maybe Canadians tend to be more chill and take things a bit less seriously?

    Americans (including me at times) tend to be a bit more gimmicky with their characters?

    Hard to think of more...

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    1. Do Koreans play TRPGs, and are there any native ones being published?

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    2. Not much, board games are much bigger. Some 5e though. The ones I've seen published have all been made by expats...

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  6. My long-term online gaming group (we've been playing for ten years) is about 50:50 Brits and Americans.

    Our gaming styles are very compatible, which is probably why we're still playing after a decade. I usually run games like WFRP and Call of Cthulhu while the American who sometimes GMs tends to go for Shadowrun, which seems to be according to type. Purely anecdotally, the Brits are much more happy talking in-character than the Americans.
    There is also perennial confusion about where the 'first floor' is.

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  7. Well, what did you think of the Doom & Tea Parties games, lo these many years ago?

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    1. I enjoyed them a lot, but I do remember pissing one of the other players off because I wasn't doing it right...

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  8. My experience has been:

    French - very easy going and outspoken, lots of voices and in-character banter. Improv theater as an essential basis.

    US - more gamey, straight to the point, voices a distinct possibility but acting is not "the point". Wargaming as the basis.

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  9. I understand British people sometimes play in pubs. I don't think I've ever heard of that being done in the US.

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    1. Yeah, done that quite a bit. I suppose it's that pubs still have a kind of community centre feel to them despite that feeling having diminished a lot in recent decades.

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