What is the “Social Contract” in a game?

I first read the phrase in Nobilis, but this quote from Mike Holmes breaks it down the best for me:

“…there is one and only one requirement to being able to have a good social contract for play, and that’s an understanding that every player has a right to speak about what they do or do not like as players.”

We’ve been talking a lot more about what we like and what we don’t like in games — I think that’s a really valuable thing to do, and to keep doing.
One thing I remember from one discussion was about the fact that a particular player liked games where folks were working together, or where you didn’t have to worry about the other characters suddenly turning on you.
… and I really have to remember to ask that player about The Shab al-Hiri Roach, because they’re playing it and, as near as I can tell, enjoying it. I’m curious how it manages to slip by that dislike, because I think that’s what’s happening — it’s not that the dislike is GONE — it just doesn’t really APPLY in that case.


  1. I think you spotted it. Or, rather, part of it:
    1. The *point* of the game is to be a backstabbing SOB. Or, rather, to compete against each other. So part of it is knowing the price going in.
    2. It’s played (at least we’re playing it) for laughs. Or at least horrified giggles.
    3. It’s more of a *story* game than a *character* game. If the story suggests at the end that Pansy is eaten by a giant Venus Fly-trap (oh, the ironies about) placed at his bedside by Double-D, I’ll not be in the least surprised, horrified, or frustrated. Nor will I feel *personally* betrayed, any more than by someone zapping me in Munchkin.
    4. It’s a limited play game. I mean, one-shot or not, my investment in the character is very, very cut and dried. I don’t have to invest in a *person* but in a bunch of Addamseque *cliches*.
    Some people would probably still be disturbed. 🙂

  2. I was actually talking about Margie, but I suspect your answers might be similar. 🙂
    And yes, without a DOUBT, the game is meant to be played for laughs.

  3. Well, we’re both into the cooperative gaming thang. And I thought I’d made, if not that comment, a similar one (outside of the Roach context). 🙂

  4. I may have to include the “No Gross Food” thing in all my games. In fact, I may put it on my business cards, whensoever I decide I need some. From a reaction I saw today, I probably feel as strongly disgusted by descriptions of gross food as a vegetarian feels about descriptions of the heads being removed from chickens, etc.
    More specific to gaming–I hate “color inside the lines” GMs. It isn’t the rules that bother me, but the additude that my characters have to behave in a certain way or in a certain style that drives me nuts. “This is a DND game. We will hack and slash. That is all.” That kind of thing. Luckily, my two favorite GMs encourage me to run rampant 🙂

  5. It’s more fun to see where you’re going to go, De, than take you somewhere I’ve already been. 🙂
    Best of all is when we end up on a tangent to both routes and get someplace neither of us knew about. 🙂

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