Social contracts. The concept isn’t new to gaming, nor is it a foreign entity to the great gnome stew readers. While most of us are familiar with the concept, it is one that benefits from being brought up and discussed regularly. I’m hoping that this post will outline social contracts and point people to other sources that delve much more deeply into the subject. An outline and paraphrasing as it were. So lets skim the top and get this Social Contract 101 class started.

  • Concept
    In their most simple form, social contracts are implied agreements between groups of people. They are the unspoken rules that we all agree to in certain groupings. In the field of gaming, a social contract can be considered as anything implied about the game and brought up amongst the players. The subjects can be anything about the playing situation, about the game itself or even what happens amongst the group outside of the game. By sitting down to play a particular game, everyone has agreed that they are all going to play by the same rules and work within the parameters of those rules. This is a social contract.
  • Why Social Contracts are important:
    What is the benefit that you can get by defining or taling about elements of the social contract in your group? It can help the structure of your game and can define exactly what it is that everyone wants out of the game. How much player narrative should there be? What kind of themes does the Game Master want to address in the game? What do the players think would be cool? Defining these elements can get everyone on the same page. It isn’t necessary to write any of the points of a social contract down but to bring them up so that they can be discussed by the group.
  • Samples Social Contract Subjects:
    Some sample elements of a Social Contract that relate to the game could be:
    • Are we using any house rules?
    • Where are we playing, and when?
    • What is the theme, mood or tone of the game?
    • What kind of things would the players like to do in the game?
    • Do the players provide their own snacks, or do we share?
    • Where and when do we game?
  • Where they came from (AFAIK):
    The first place I ever saw Social Contracts in relation to gaming was in a post by Chris Chinn, an incredibly talented game theorist. However, the concept and theories regarding social contracts were (probably) first discussed in relation to gaming in the forge forums. According to information from Ron Edwards, one of the people involved in these forge discussions, there were many people involved in discussions, but the original posts are no longer available and so it isn’t possible to credit everyone.
  • While I know the concepts of social contracts have been brought up many places (including here in more than a few places:
    Definition, Discussion, Mention, Another Mention) this is one of those gaming topics that every gamer should know.

So, does your group currently use social contracts? How does your definition differ from mine or others? What would you add to the social contract discussion, or what new light do you think they should be viewed in?