Slaying the “The”

There are a lot of great games happening among participants at Adept Play right now. I’m especially happy about specific observations: people who are playing games they’d never heard of or conceived they’d ever play; people playing with others they’ve met through this site and associated internet things like the Discord channel; people who’ve played with one another in some specific capacity (who the GM is, e.g.) playing some more with a different arrangement; people who’ve been burned-out on role-playing returning to it; people who’ve never or rarely done it trying it out; and more.

Given the ideas, play-observations, interactions, and casual comments flapping about like bats among this wonderful forest, I decided to present some thoughts which will be very familiar to those who are unfortunate enough to have been listening to me or reading my writings over the long haul. But I think they might be useful and fun for people who haven’t, so here goes.

These points go way, way back into the depths of the Forge and they’re made in the context of this framework:

Social organizing

  • Proposing a game
  • Gathering people
  • Managing commitments
  • Initial and ongoing logistics (scheduling, hosting, many other things)
  • Presenting and possibly teaching the game
  • Managing moods, emotions, relationships

Creative tasks

  • Four separate Authorities (Backstory, Situation, Outcome, Narration)
  • Each with its own internal distribution
  • Possibly relating textual rules to what we do at the table

You don’t have to know exactly what I mean by any of these things, singly. That’s not my point in this presentation. Instead, it’s about this scheme being made of many, many independently-functioning units, and about recognizing that any combination or concentration of the units at a single person, at any level, is also viable.

What’s not viable is presuming that a person who holds responsibility or takes point for any one of them is also necessarily so for any of the others. What’s worse than non-viable, even outright abominable, is expecting all of them to go onto one person’s shoulders by default, with any other arrangement requiring cognitive and social effort. It is this abomination which is connoted and intended by the definite article, the game master (GM).

I accept “GM” as a historical legacy term with almost no meaning except for some concentration of these tasks in some way. I do not accept the “the.” This is not some stylistic or play-preference. I am talking about non-viable social and creative realities.

Attached: translation into French


7 responses to “Slaying the “The””

  1. Asymmetrical player

    I tend to agree. Personally I use "gamemaster" as a shorthand for "the asymmetrical player" in games where there is an asymmetrical player role, but making it very clear that I don't consider these roles to be equivalent game-by-game. And I never capitalize it. I'm not too sure about dropping the definite article, as there are some sentences that I don't think I would be able to construct without.

    These is also this horrible habit in Italy of calling a gamemaster "Master" as some sort of title (as in, "Master, can I do this?"), which already sounds weird and deferential in Italian, and I'm sure it will have much more unsightly connotations to the Americans here, for obvious historical reasons.

    • Seriously. It very much does

      Seriously. It very much does have unsightly connotations, to the point that I shudder every time I see or hear "master" used as a noun or verb by Italian role-players, even though I know I have no basis to judge. My logic has always been to say, "well, translation is always tricky," and not to criticize what is after all a historical artifact. And the primary (potential) damage was done by the original English term anyway – you can't fault people for taking the ball they were handed.

      I also justified it to myself by assuming that "maestro" was not weird or deferential in Italian and thus more casual and unloaded … but now that you've written otherwise, I may have to re-evaluate.

    • Oh, definitely, it doesn’t

      Oh, definitely, it doesn't have the same unsightly connotations in Italian. They mean no harm, and just don't get it. It's used as foreign loanword limited to the context of roleplaying games. I would still call it unhealthy, as it implies some sort of deferential attitude or towards the game master, like they're of a higher rank or something.

      Still, knowing American culture, I shudder every time I hear it.

    • P.S. Just to further clarify:

      P.S. Just to further clarify: not because of the word used, but because of how it's used.

      You're right in saying that 'maestro' indeed is more of a compliment than deferential, it implies 'mastery' of a skill, not a particular rank. That's what we call schoolteachers, but also highly respected musicians or composers. It would never imply mastery over a person, as it does in English: that word is 'padrone'.

    • That is so awesome …

      That is so awesome …

      However, I think Tula is sneaky and manages to subvert you. When you say, "A GM can't do this alone; they need the engagement of everyone concerned," that's certainly true, but there's a weak flank: to get focused on this GM concept. Whereas what you said a moment before is pointing toward "No one can do this alone; each person needs the engagement of everyone concerned" instead.

      The devious testudine is quick to exploit it: "You're here to have fun, create uplifting stories, and to engage friends." "You" meaning this GM. Not everyone, which happens to include the GM. Plus the worrisome "create uplifting stories" part. Tula exhibits the well-known impressive land speed of his species and wisely skedaddles before you can say, "Hey! Do you mean I'm supposed to give them stories to uplift them?"

      Perfidious creature! But so cute.

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