Sometimes the worst part about multiplayer gaming (tabletop and video games) is the multi part.
I know it sounds strange out of context, but hear me out. Sitting down and playing a game with others can be downright infuriating, especially when cooperation is necessary. Hell, the same could be said for any endeavor that involves multiple people. Dealing with coworkers, doing group projects in class, and multiplayer gaming can all be as difficult to navigate as a minefield in some cases.
I can’t say that’d I’d be a font of knowledge or wisdom on the topic of cooperating with a group consisting of people with different skills and opinions, so this post may come off as a bit ranty. Regardless, I need to at least get some of this off my chest, and hopefully folks have some good advice to share.
What Brought All This On
My wife and I started playing D&D (5th edition) sometime in 2015 with a group of people my wife met through her work. In fact, I even touched a bit on the subject with my post Dungeons And Dragons Is My New Addiction. It started pretty well, with us creating our characters and learning more about the folks that we’d be playing the campaign with. We’d go on to complete one campaign, start another with the same group, and even begin a second with another set of folks.
But one group has taken off, where the other has faltered. One would think that the older group would be the one to continue going well, but that wasn’t the case.
Our inability for our first group to function cohesively came to a head in the form of a confrontation that Jennifer had with our group during a session that I was not to able to attend. An important moment in my character’s story took place, and Jennifer didn’t want me to miss out. So at 4:45pm (15 minutes from our normal ending time), when the group was gearing up to go fight a dragon and make an important character decision for me, Jennifer said she wanted to stop. The group had other plans and looked incredulously at her, as if she just offended them.
Our DM invited Jennifer and I to dinner so he could tell us that we need to compromise more with our group. That asking them to stop when they wanted to keep playing was unfair to them.
Were we being unreasonable to expect a little compromise from them? It was a thought that I struggled with for a while, until just today. One of our group members commissioned an artist to create a group picture for our DM to celebrate a year of playing D&D together, and he presented two layouts for us to vote on. My wife and I preferred the closeup, so naturally some of the others liked the other option better. Even before everyone got their votes in, two of our group members chose to individually text Jennifer to try to get her to change her mind, one of whom refused to make a decision because he supposedly liked both. Eventually he conceded and chose the first option, but we were eventually left with a tie.
We couldn’t even come to an agreement over a picture. The only thing that resolved the situation was me changing my vote to placate them.
Contrast this all with our second group, where we play together with our first group’s DM and a couple others. We’re consistently able to come to decisions as the result of both compromise and discussion. We decide based on what’s good for the group, even when role-playing matters are taken into consideration.
The key here is that our second group chooses to discuss and weigh our options instead of arguing. There’s no metagaming and no character conflicts. We actually get along together, even when we disagree.
It turns out that there’s a pattern to group dynamics. Healthy groups follow a certain path when developing: they form, storm, norm, and perform. This is based on the four phases of team development found in the text, Business Communication Process and Product by Guffey and Loewy. After groups form, they go through the process of determining roles and resolving any potential conflicts, or storming. Once a suitable group balance is struck, the team finds their norm. Here, conflicts are resolved and a “mutual interdependence is established” (44). Finally, the group performs by carrying out the task that they were formed to pursue.
The alternative is that a group might develop a groupthink mentality where conflict is avoided at all costs. There are a number of negative side effects for a group adopting this method, some of which can easily lead to unresolvable issues. Groupthink leads to individuals ignoring each other’s ideas, being disrespectful, and/or wasting the group’s time. It can be easy to adopt this method, because it defers any conflict until a later time, but unfortunately that conflict often crops up in irreversible ways.
Our first group fell into this trap because the majority of our group tries to avoid any conflict by glossing over potential problems. Discussion can’t take place without at least one member of the group taking the opinion of another personally. Disagreements are often viewed as an attack on someone else, not as a simple conflict. Differences in opinion are seen as an affront to the group. When Jennifer and I wanted to go to Summit Hall to drop off a prisoner as a mercy to him, our group immediately shut us down, claiming it’d be better to simply execute him since it’d be far out of the way from where they’d like to go. However, when our barbarian wanted to go south to do a personal quest, the group heartily agreed and welcomed the change.
The key is that the majority of the group generally agrees because they’re already friends, and are well acquainted with each other. Jennifer and I are outsiders in the group; we don’t fit. They work normal jobs, where we work and attend school. They spend their money on frivolous things, where we save for things we need. We’re drastically different to the point where while we want to role-play, they want mostly combat.
Our second group instead took the path laid out by Guffey and Loewy, by first getting to know each other, finding our common ground, developing our own group culture, and then (and only then) setting out on our adventure.
The Cold Truth
The fact of matter is that our first group is likely on the ropes. We probably won’t continue to play with that group because our disparate personalities don’t mesh and they’re unwilling to meet us halfway on anything. It makes me feel bad that something I enjoy so much has been tainted by poor behavior and our inability to find some common ground, but when something that’s supposed to be fun ceases to be, what’s the point?
When we brought this up previously, we were accused of being selfish. We aren’t having fun by consistently compromising to their benefit, but they’re enjoying it because they’re getting what they want. Is it selfish to withdraw from something that you don’t enjoy, at the expense of others? Perhaps, but not nearly a selfish in my opinion as forcing others to endure something they loathe to entertain yourself.
What do you think? Have you ever had an experience like this? What did you do to avoid this, or mend the situation?
Header Image Credit: BBC Bitesize
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