Social Bonds and Roleplaying Games

network diagram of connections

Roleplaying games are remarkable powerful and fast-acting social glue. People, even those normally adverse or hesitant to connecting with new people, often find the process less challenging, almost friction-less, in some cases. Like bonding over a mutual sports team, playing in the same roleplaying game is a “hack” that can cut through natural as well as elevated anxieties and allows people to quickly form almost tribal affiliations.

What we fail to realize, however, is this can cut both ways. At the end of a game, or participation in it, some people are compelled to sever those connections as well. Sort of like two people suddenly “falling out” over what amounts to one of them deciding to follow another sports team or find additional interests that might compete with time and attention for with their original bonding interest. It seems that whatever reasons behind that change change play little part in determining the severity of change in friend status, and any additional subsequent hostility and alienation to the outsider from the “collective”.

In the case of directly conflicting interests, such as joining a hostile ideology, I could better understand this. But I don’t think this is the case in many of these situations. There seems to be the need to instantly categorize the other person as “outsider”, our treat it like a relationship break up, or even a traitor in extreme cases.

I think many gamers realize this on some level, and unknowingly find themselves in a “captive” situation, where the friendships that they perceive to be deep, well-rounded and extending beyond “the game”, really aren’t and don’t. Social media platforms often capitalize on a similar phenomena to keep members hostage to their platform with the implied or even stated threat of losing contact with “friends”, associates and family.

We often talk about “gaming community” but in truth what we are often experiencing is probably something more like “the community of this game” in many of these cases.

What I’m saying is that if you chose to leave a game, even for valid reasons (abuse, hostility, values, ethics, economics, health, time, etc) you might want to temper your expectations about just how many of the “friendships” you made are deeper than the paper their character sheets are printed on. On the other hand, if someone can still be your friend after you don’t share the same game relationship, you just might have a real friend there.

In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! We are not bound forever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory. Farewell! ― Aragorn (J.R.R. Tolkien)

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