Social contracts are a popular topic here, and one that I’ve found readers often associate with TT (which is great!). That’s due in large part to Chris Chinn’s guest post, Social Contracts for RPG Groups, which I consider to be the definitive introduction to and overview of the concept of social contracts in gaming terms.
With as often as social contracts come up on TT, I thought it might be interesting to share my group’s social contract. Why? Because like most groups I know, our social contract is largely implicit, fairly informal and has evolved over time.
There was never a time where we all sat down and said, “Okay, let’s come up with our social contract.” And there certainly isn’t an actual physical document involved (signed in blood, one would assume) — that would just be silly.
Instead, we started out with some basics, just like Chris advises. When we first got together (although with a different player mix than we have now), we established:
- When we would game (Saturday nights at around 6:00), and how often (weekly).
- What we would start out playing (Stargate), and who was running it (Don).
- Where we’d be having our sessions (usually Don’s place).
There were also some other elements that went unspoken, but are really just basic social niceties:
- Try not to be late (but if you are late it’s not a big deal, as we always start with dinner and a TV show).
- If you’re going to miss a session, tell the group as far in advance as possible.
- If we get food as a group, kick in for your share.
From there, we developed other elements of our social contract over time. Here are a few examples:
- New players are interviewed before being approved by the group.
- If one player is strongly against a particular game, we don’t play it unless they change their mind.
- If we’re short a player, we usually don’t play.
- Jaben likes to develop his characters during the first few sessions, so don’t push him for lots of background up front.
- A certain amount of metagaming is generally acceptable.
- Don runs character-driven games, so he needs lots of hooks to work with in your PC’s background.
- If you have a problem with the game, share it (politely, and not on game night) and try to work something out.
The key here is that whether or not you ever say the words “social contract,” your group already has one (or if it’s newly formed, it will shortly) — and if you want it to work, be open about the elements of your informal contract that you care about. Don’t assume everyone is on the same page, and if you think something rocks or sucks, speak up.
I don’t think our social contract is perfect, and like any group of friends we occasionally run into problems — but for the most part, it’s led to three years of fun gaming and good times, and at the end of the day, that’s what social contracts are all about.
Has your group’s social contract evolved in a similarly unstructured way? Have you discussed these kinds of issues explicitly with your players? (And for the guys in my group who read TT, do you agree with my perception of our social contract?)