Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gaming as a Social Occasion

It was suggested in the comments to another post of mine that I run a "tight ship" when it comes to my gaming sessions given how much we accomplish each week, but the reality is quite different. As I explained, most of our gaming sessions run about six hours, of which no more than half of that time is spent sitting at my dining room table and rolling dice.

There are many reasons for this, but chief among them is that our gaming sessions are an adjunct to friendly get-togethers. Because we're all adults with other distractions and responsibilities, our Sunday afternoon meetings are our only occasions to see one another face to face. Consequently, a goodly portion of our time is spent simply talking, whether it be about our mundane activities or our gaming-related ones. Likewise, we generally start play after dinner, which I make while I talking with my friends about this or that. It's a long-standing ritual going back many years and I can't imagine a more "business-like" arrangement where my friends arrive and we simply start gaming right away. That would feel wrong to me.

But that's because, especially as an adult, I see gaming a social occasion, a time to indulge in some much-needed conviviality with dear friends. Even once we're playing, our sessions are broken up with digressions, interruptions, and other "frame-breaking" events that we simply accept as part of the way we game nowadays. Looking back on my experiences as a younger person, this isn't really much of a change from the way we used to game in the early days. The main difference is that we usually got together for much longer stretches of time and we generally didn't make our own food. We often did have lunch or dinner together before we gamed. Such gatherings often involved my friend's older brother and/or father playing with us, so they were especially well liked and remain powerful memories of the best that this hobby offers.

So, in truth, my sessions tend to be rather rambling and unfocused, because we treat gaming as but one part, albeit an important one, of a larger social occasion. I suspect the reason why it seems we accomplish so much is that we're all of a like mind when it comes to the campaign and what we want out of it. Consequently, the exploration of the dungeon is done fairly efficiently, with a designated leader and cartographer both setting the pace for how things proceed. Likewise, we're all very experienced roleplayers, so we quite easily fall into extended in-game conversations without the need for much prompting, which helps move along most sessions as well. In short, we've all been gaming for nearly three decades and that makes it possible to get a lot done despite the distractions of its also being our only occasion to see one another each week.

Of course, none of us would want to give up those distractions; they're half the reason why we get together at all.


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  2. Most of my groups are hardcore wargamers. We are only happy when we are slaughtering mobs, trouncing through dungeons, and generally causing unmitigated mayhem on the battlefield.

    As such we joke and kid around mightily until combat starts, then all fun and games go out the window and you see several grown men become arm chair generals that could rival Rommel on his best day.

    For us we like sitting down and discussing ideas, thoughts, sports, and general banter up until we start gaming, then it's game on till the DM calls it quits for the night (5-6hr games, 12hr powerthons are not unknown when we have the following day off). All of us are mid to late 20s, early 30s with wives and Gfs. They'll never understand why we do it, but that's half the reason we game.

    Thanks for the great blog, I took the last 3 days to read it from the beginning to here and now.

    /hate no edit function.

  3. If I didn't see gaming primarily as a social function, I wouldn't do it. I rarely see most of the people in our group outside of our sunday sessions, and some of us have been friends for longer than we haven't.

    Sometimes, there's even cake.

    This all reminds me that I need to fire up the barbeque next session.!

  4. That's how our group handles it as well. I've heard of groups that were more focused, but IMO, something about the social aspect of the game itself gets knocked crooked if we can't break from the game on occasion.

  5. a goodly portion of our time is spent simply talking, whether it be about our mundane activities or<

    You're in Canada, right James? So I imagine there's a lot of beer drinking, smoking, back bacon/Jelly Donut eating, and moose-goosing? Hmmm...I was making fun, but that actually sounds good to me. Nothing to do in L.A. anymore.

    From high school to the early 90's, an hour of pre-game party was the order of the day - and yeah, some drinking and smoking of substances. But lunch/dinner and maybe a BBQ and such were a fun part of those 6-8 game weekends.

    But with the current campaign going down on Wednesday nights and being about 3 hours long, we don't have a ton of time for shit-shooting. Plus I am actually only truly close friends with my player from the old days. The other folk are all good people, but I don't really hang out with them outside of the game. We pretty much get the partying out of the way and get down to business. I miss playing on a Sat or Sun afternoon...

  6. My old games were a lot like this. We would sometimes BBQ, order out or cook major dinners and play while the food was cooking. One afternoon we smoked a good sized roast and watched Japanese Game Shows, played and had an all around good time. I'm going to have to do that again.

  7. One group I gamed with often twice or three-times weekly last year would bring a veritable feast: deli sandwiches, multiple bags of chips, celery/broccoli/cauliflower/carrot packs, green and red apple slices with caramel dip, soda, and alky for them.
    We would eat and shoot the breeze for a good hour before settling in for whatever game we were playing.

    These days, my players often arrive hours apart, and unless I take that into account and show up 'late' we normally have several meal breaks, as well as giving patronage to the FLGS with snacks.
    Last week, however, we all were together relative soon and settled upon one place to get all of our chow (NASCAR-themed grille-food), and then ate in relative silence around our big table until only the hot-wings-eaters were still slowly munching.
    It was a much nicer, more 'family' sort of feel that I think I'd like to institute.

  8. I rarely play with friends these days, and I prefer the table to be pretty tightly focused on the game. Ease-in and ease-out periods at the beginning and end of the 4-hour game session are important, though, and there may be a break around the 1.5-2 hour mark.