Monday, July 27, 2009

Why A Good Game Group Is Like A Good Band

Now that I'm officially in a "gigging" band again, I've been thinking more about why *this* particular band is such a joy to work with, and I'm coming to the conclusion that the reasons are more or less the same as they are for playing games in a good group. Here are a few similarities that have occurred to me over the last few days - see if they apply to the communities in your own lives.
  • Trust. In a band situation, you have to know that your bandmates have your back, that the important thing is the music and not egos or agendas or who gets to go home with the cute groupie (and while it hasn't happened to me, it does become a problem in some bands). In a game group, you have to trust that your opponents aren't cheating (and I've been accused of cheating, even when I wasn't, and had to deal with cheaters. Not fun). A game group is a lot more fun if you trust that you can just be yourself and have a good time instead of trying to live up to a standard you can't or don't care to meet. My mother dropped one of her Bridge groups because she felt she was condemned if she made any mistakes. Good move on her part.
  • It's not what you play, it's who you play with. Do you enjoy the company of who you're playing with, whether it's music or games? If not, unless you've got a serious reason to stick around (financial, only person who plays that game, etc), time to move on. Of all the bands I've worked with, I've learned that if I don't like these people, and find myself thinking that they're complete idiots, or crazy, or whatever, I don't last. In one band, I loaned money to the band leader early on, and he gave the money to me months later when I left, partly because that set a tone that I felt uncomfortable with as time went on. If you're going to spend that much time with people, you need to enjoy being around them.
  • Building Community. Lest you think I expect others to do all the work, I should note that we each need to nurture the communities we care about and continue to build them. While there are distinct phases to the life cycle of a community, and there are times when you at least hope that others pick up the bulk of the burden of nurturing for a while, the truth is that you really never completely stop at any point. You nurture because you care - about the people, about the hobby/vocation, about not only what *you* get out of the experience, but what the other members of that community get out of the experience. When you no longer care to build the community in any way, it may be time to assess it's worth to you and your worth to it.
  • Evangelizing. When you meet people at parties or other social situations, do you talk about the communities you are involved in, at least in passing? While music performance is (ostensibly) a skill, and you aren't trying to get people to take up an instrument necessarily, you *are* seeing if they're interested in the type of music you play, or at least in coming out to see your band perform. With gaming, it's a little more direct, although I've learned to assess if someone is going to be a gamer or not pretty quickly, even if they don't know it themselves. I'm not talking about boring someone with your hobby at a party, I'm talking about whether or not you bring it up at a party and seeing if it engenders interest and/or conversation. In other words, is this such a critical part of your life that you want people who meet you to understand it's part of your life, even if only as one facet of many?
  • Pride of accomplishment. Clearly, being able to not only play an instrument and/or sing (in a manner where people don't leave the room shortly after you begin) but also perform in an entertaining way is a learned skill for the most part. However, being a good gamer is also a skill, as is being a 'splainer and also being able to "speak game". Even learning good sportspersonship is a learned skill. We've all had games with people who didn't have some of these skills, and it's quite the buzzkill. Unless your aim is to be a teacher, it's often best to find a community that is largely at the same level of skill as you, or at least be close enough for government work. As a corollary, it's important to be able to assess your own level of skill, which I call "pride" (in the positive sense rather than the "deadly sin" sense).
I'm sure there are more similarities, but I was struck by how similar the communities were, even if there's very little overlap in terms of ability/interest for the other community - While I have gaming friends who are musicians (and some of them quite good), there is no interest in boardgames on the band side, although I've mentioned it on occasion, usually in an esoteric sense rather than in specifics. Both groups do seem to like good beer, though. ;-)

I guess my point is that the communities you choose (or, in some cases, are forced) to participate in really have quite a bit in common at the human interaction level, even if they are very different activities that each community pursues. I'd definitely be interested in hearing what take others have on the subject. Me, I'm just delighted to have at the very least two such communities in my own life. I think if you can find one you're doing well, so I'm clearly blessed (and I'd include my family as a third delightful community, one that I didn't get to choose). Knowing what to look for in your own communities will help you find the right one. Because when you have the right community to support you when you need them, it's a wonderful thing.

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