As part of a brief series I plan to share some evaluations done of the group dynamics, roles, and conflict styles in game groups during courses at Penn State World Campus. The terms are typically from group communication/group speech and conflict resolution texts. After completion, I will look back at some of the observations and comment on some of the influences that gender roles and expectations may have had.
The group I have been a part of for the longest, aside from family, is my gaming group. We have been friends since early 2010. Before that, I was part of a gaming group for 5 years, but the relationships ended badly, so the new group began with a lot of hesitation and was very slow to become solid. However, over the past two years the new group has developed into very close relationships.
Each member’s role is a combination of parts. Some people double up on roles, and there are some tasks or functions that all group members use. For example, all players support other members at different times, all of us participate in relieving tension by telling jokes, and we all participate in dramatizing. I will explain the six roles in our game group as they are defined in role-playing terms, then detail how they work as task functions combined with our personalities. I have found that most roles in roleplaying groups translate well into group roles.
My husband, John, acts most often as our Game Master, or GM. All but one of our players has acted as GM at some point, but John is the primary GM and assists the other GMs when they act in that role. The GM is responsible for creating a story and a setting – a location, time, and level. The “level” is the difficulty of the game and would also determine what kind of abilities the characters can have. John has the most experience gaming and acting as GM in the group so this role naturally fell to him. In task functions, he often is responsible for initiating, orienting and information giving. In maintenance functions, he will often be responsible for gate keeping and establishing norms. Gate keeping is a means of filtering information and distributing it to other players. Establishing norms is similar to setting guidelines – expected habits, actions, or goals.
Tracey and Rachel act as the support characters. They often play characters that have medical skills, or that can either offer bonuses to players in combat or that create penalties for the enemies in the game. These characters give information, seek information, and give opinions in most cases. They both record information more than any of the other players – taking notes, and then summarizing them. They also prioritize harmonizing the group interaction. This fits well with their personalities, because both of them are nurturing, and prefer to work behind the scenes as they are more passive.
Michael usually plays the problem solver. He comes up with solutions and plays characters like wizards or magic users. He will analyze the situation and try to resolve big problems like riddles or plot challenges. He will often evaluate, seek information, give opinions, and elaborate. In maintenance, he will dramatize, which is very important for setting the stage in the games. Michael is analytical by nature and likes to solve problems in real life. He is less passive than the support players.
Marc usually plays the brute. He acts as bodyguard, and solves smaller problems like crowd control, jobs that require brute force or reduced concern for collateral damage. He will primarily initiate, elaborate, and give opinions. He also is often part of coordinating, suggesting procedure, and establishing norms. When someone goes off in another direction and we have a task to complete, he will often grab attention and pull it back to the task at hand. He is good at dramatization and has a background in theater, but also can crunch numbers very well so he can make us hit hard when it is most vital.
I play the stop-gap. I play more rounded characters that are utility-based, with secondary capabilities. It allows us more options to solve problems. I often clarify, elaborate, coordinate, and initiate. I also evaluate the situations we are in. I will identify the problems, and often am the one to direct the group to where we should be focusing our energy. I also do a lot of gate keeping and dramatizing.
Most of the conflict in the group is between me and Michael, because we’re both focused on solving problems and it can be somewhat competitive. Michael, Marc, and I are the most aggressive members of the group. Marc prefers to solve problems quickly and with gut instinct, so he doesn’t get into the argument and struggle to find a different solution. Michael and I will bicker and over-analyze until John will interrupt us, Marc will release the tension, or Rachel and Tracey will try to harmonize to eliminate the conflict.
In all, we are a pretty cohesive group. There is no real authority except for perhaps John, but he will primarily just try to keep us all together and on topic. He is the only one with true authority to say “no” to an idea, but it is something he rarely does, as the roles in our group can be changed and can be fluid.
The norms in the group are pretty simple. If roles are violated, typically we just have a discussion regarding it and will reassign roles if someone is not up to the task. Below are examples of norms in our game group – I think many groups could identify these.
- Members should arrive at game when it has been planned.
- Members should be honest and address conflict when it arises.
- Members should all try to remain on tasks.
- Members should try to prioritize having fun.
- GM is responsible for preparing the game plan and defining the rules.
- Members who took notes are responsible for sharing information with anyone who missed the previous session or providing a refresher.
In all, I think that our roles are rather well defined for a semi-informal group. We make a large effort to reduce conflict, and everyone supports each other. We are willing to reassign roles when someone is unavailable or not well, and will help each other to learn new roles. Being aware of member roles can increase awareness of who enjoys what part of game, what strengths everyone has, and where there are areas needing improvement. For example, our group doesn’t have a clear in-game leader, which sometimes becomes necessary when we’re trying to finish a quest. When that problem arises, how do we fill the role? I don’t think we’ve learned that yet.
Do your game groups have specific roles? Do people tend to stick to a type of character they like to play, or do they have consistent social habits like trying to ease tensions, or initiate action?