A Careful Balance of Agreement & Disagreement

Any role-playing game is a careful balance between agreement and disagreement.

We need agreement because the game world only exists in our minds. If we can’t agree about what’s true, we’re going to contradict each other. If you think there are walls around the city and I don’t, our game will crash.

Since agreement is so important, you might think disagreement was the enemy, something we want to avoid at all costs. But that’s impossible. Players come to the table preloaded with disagreement. We all have different tastes, interests, and viewpoints, so it’s completely natural not to want exactly the same things.

And not only is disagreement unavoidable, it’s actually beneficial. If we agree about everything that happens, there’s no tension or surprise. We play with other people—instead of scribbling a novel in our lonely tower—precisely because their contributions surprise us. Our conflicting ideas about what should happen are what makes play interesting. Can we save the city from the invaders? Will that character fall in love? You may think so, I may not, but ultimately we don’t know yet. Let’s play and find out!

But disagreement has to be managed. That’s what good game rules do: they help us navigate this social/creative minefield. Good rules tell everyone where we need to agree and where we can disagree. Then they help us resolve our disagreements at the right time and turn them into satisfying new agreements about what is true.

This is an excerpt from the new edition of Kingdom, so the next line is “How does Kingdom do that?”, followed by a discussion of how the Kingdom itself is the core agreement that builds consensus and then each Crossroad is an invitation to disagree.

But the core principle is, I think, true of all role-playing games. Disagreement is not the enemy. It is unavoidable and actually beneficial, if the rules are designed to handle it.

    Ben Robbins | July 3rd, 2021 | , , , | leave a comment