Friday, February 03, 2006

Lesson: Social Contracts

Social contracts are a fairly complicated idea, which has since been transplanted into the domain of RPG theory. Some theories, such as the Big Model, consider the social contract to be everything that occurs at the gaming table. However in more traditional use, social contracts are the underlying rules of behavior that govern a society. In a gaming group these rules describe how the players expect to treat each other, and be treated in turn.

For example, an unspoken agreement that characters will not attack each other can often be found in many groups. This understanding is part of their social contract. A new player may violate this without realizing that a line has been crossed, because that part of the social contract was left unsaid. Some parts of the social contract are more spoken, such as scheduling and attendance.

Violating a social contract does not necessarily destroy the group the contract formed within. Indeed many violations occur because individual players have a differing idea of what the group's social contract is. Often there is a subtle negotiation going on to influence the agreements of the group, bringing the contract into alignment with one's views. In a violent break of the contract, this negotiation must occur more overtly, and adjust the contract to accommodate, even by simply making the broken tenet spoken.

While making the social contract more accessible is generally helpful, the contract itself is forever being refined and changed, and often the most important pieces are those which remain unsaid.

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