Return of the RPG Professional
  • Return of the RPG Professional


    We covered the evolution of the RPG professional in "Rise of the RPG Professional" and the struggles that arose later to define the profession in "Fall of the RPG Professional." Compared to other professional fields, RPGs are just getting started. This article takes a look at the current state of affairs in what's considered "professional" for pros and gamers in general.

    The RPG Pro Invasion

    Increasingly, paid industry "pros" are talking about role-playing games in a variety of industries. They're selling product and presumably, attempting to make a living doing so. Morrus sums it up nicely:

    Mainstream portrayal of the hobby by US comedians and actors like Matt Mercer, Wil Wheaton, Chris Hardwick, and so on, undoubtedly gets the eyeballs. And the hobby is undeniably growing, and it would be hard to argue that this wasn't part of the reason. Not all of the reason, of course (the other reason is that there's a lot of really good product being made this days, powered by things like Kickstarter); but it seems like WotC is driving a positive media effort, and has been successfully courting major US publications (including newspapers and websites) for a few years now. Paizo's Pathfinder is being portrayed by Community's Dan Harmon in a US TV series; Green Ronin's Fantasy Age is being highlighted by Star Trek's Wil Wheaton with Titansgrave; Nerdist's Chris Hardwick headlines WotC's Force Grey: Giant Hunters; and the personalities of Penny Arcade star in Acquisitions Incorporated, DM'd by WotC's Chris Perkins.

    As tabletop RPGs become more popular, other industries are merging with the role-playing game industry, just as geek-related cons have become magnets for anime, fiction, and gamers of all stripes. This added attention flips the script on the traditional RPG interaction with the media, which up until recently was primarily with reporters. The CAR-PGa provides an example of how things have changed for the better.

    Geeks Take Over the Media

    The Committee for the Advanced of the Role-Playing Games (CAR-PGa) is an organization dedicated to defending the hobby (full disclosure: I'm a member). The conduct for public relations includes telling the truth, sticking to the facts, being concise, calm, and accessible. For interaction with the media the CAR-PGa goes further:

    In dress, deportment, vocabulary, etc. you must be as unthreatening to their view of the world as possible without surrendering our beliefs. The anti-gamers can be seen as part of a social movement that has been working since the early 1980s to portray youth culture as criminal. Role-playing games are considered youth culture by them and lumped in with video games, rock music, horror movies, and even drugs. Therefore, your image must call this attitude into question. On TV this means suits (unless they came to you at a game convention), no smoking under any circumstances, and a tendency to resemble the characters on a 1950s sit-com.

    Things have changed. We now have actors, writers, talk show hosts, and animators publicly creating shows around tabletop gaming. The geeks didn't beat media by convincing reporters that gaming is "okay" -- the geeks have taken it over. Increasingly, the CAR-PGa's challenge is less about defending the hobby and more about topics pertinent to advancing and elevating the hobby as a whole, as we shall see.

    Conduct at the Table

    Hawke Robinson provides a sample code of conduct for gamers on the Spokane RPG site. Hawke's outline covers a general outline of conduct: be respectful of the GM and other players, limit arguing, have fun, etc. It's thorough enough to be a framework for community organizers and professional gamers everywhere:

    Out-of-Character physical abuse, discrimination, or verbal abuse is not tolerated. Everyone is to maintain common sensitivity. Out of consideration to others, public intimacy is discouraged. Descriptions of sexual acts in (or out) of the game is not allowed. If someone says “No” or “Leave me alone” and you don’t listen, that is harassment. Hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. Out-of-character racist, bigoted, or excessively vulgar or distasteful language is strongly discouraged. Do not harass, bully, threaten, harm or cause discomfort for other persons. considers harassment to be a pattern of unwanted contact, attention, or behavior.

    Hawke has been asked to write an entire chapter for the 4th edition of the Therapeutic Recreation (TR) industry standard text book “Facilitation Techniques in Therapeutic Recreation” by Professor Dattillo at Penn State University, on Role-Playing Games in all formats: tabletop, live-action (LARP), solo RPG, and computer-based RPGs. This will effectively set some standards in place. This book is used to train most TR professionals at all universities throughout North America. There is also a standards of practice book in the works.

    The RPG Therapeutics LLC standards are based on the professional standards of Recreation Therapy & Therapeutic Recreation, including the The American Therapeutic Recreation Association Code of Ethics. Hawke shared with me how he chose this path for the book:

    Since Recreation Therapy & Therapeutic Recreation are (arguably) the closest professional standards mapping to incorporating games into their profession, it seems a very reasonable approach to incorporate these standards into RPG facilitation. These standards cover the legal and universal consideration issues for any recreational activity, but of course do not cover “how to play RPG” as best standards of practice, and that is definitely more subjective, especially based on player and GM tastes. For example, referencing the Bartle taxonomy of player styles (though intended for video games, still applicable throughout RPG). Are they more interested in the "shared narrative" aspects, the systems mechanics, the get loot and power, exploration aspects, or other aspects of RPG? This greatly impacts how the GM should run a game. These (and many other) critical considerations are taken into consideration in the RPG Therapeutics training/certification programs.

    The evolution of what's acceptable at the table is illustrative in the different iterations of the Adventurers League Guide. Version 1 sums things up as:

    • Participants must not conduct themselves in a manner that is disruptive to the enjoyment or safety of others at the event.
    • Participants noticing disruptive behavior should make those responsible for the behavior aware of their actions. If a participant feels uncomfortable bringing it to the attention of the disruptive individual, the participant should notify the organizer of the event immediately.
    • Participants who feel as though they are in an unsafe environment should notify the organizer of the event immediately.
    • The Dungeon Master has the right to ask a disruptive player to leave the table and speak with the organizer. The organizer has the right to remove a disruptive or threatening player or Dungeon Master from the play area or premises.
    • No tolerance is given for theft or aggressive behavior. Theft and aggressive behavior are grounds for immediate removal from the play area and the premise

    Several examples follow of what's considered disruptive, unsafe, and aggressive behavior. Version 5.1 narrows this down to one page.

    Guidelines are a start, but there isn't much in the way of training for game masters who want to "go pro." RPG Therapeutics provides full courses to train and certify game masters:

    These programs became necessary as more and more laypersons and professionals wishing to integrate RPGs into their environment, continually requested more formalized training to help them in the transition process toward autonomy in developing and implementing their own RPG-based program plans. Rather than take decades to self-train, you can receive training to optimize and expedite your experience and the experiences of your clients, students, and/or RPG players in general.

    There's also the Professional Game Master Society, which is still in the process of determining its standards, policies, and guidelines.

    Conduct at Events

    In meat-space, hobby conventions have come under greater scrutiny largely because of the sheer number of people they attract. With convention attendance growing and cons reaching gender parity, a new social code of conduct has been established by its new stakeholders. ReedPop's global SVP, Lance Fensterman, said:

    ReedPOP's been around for 10 years. It started in 2006 with New York Comic Con. And we do, actually, do very detailed demographic studies. We ask a lot of questions of our fans, but we're also aware of gender mix, income, age — we track all of that. And we have seen a change in the comics space, and also in the gaming space with our PAX events, where you have an increasing participation from female fans. I think some of that is the changing face of fandom, the mainstreaming of pop culture. But I also think it's a reflection of the industries. There are more and more female creators and video game designers and developers, who are doing exceptional work and are increasing their presence. I think, then, it's our job, as an organizer, to create content and feature content that's reflective of the industry and the audience. And I think we do that well. I think we can always do better. But it's certainly something we're aware of, sensitive to, and work on.

    Jim Hines reported that the need to enforce a code of conduct at conventions is more important than ever, particularly as the convention attendees have diversified from white males:

    ...sexual harassment is a big deal. It’s a huge problem in general, and at science fiction, fantasy and comics conventions in particular. An informal 2014 survey found that 13 percent of fans and professionals had been on the receiving end of “unwanted comments of a sexual nature” at conventions. And a horrifying eight percent said they had been “groped, assaulted, or raped at a comic convention.”

    New York Comic Con made changes to address these concerns:

    The convention also created a module on their mobile app that allowed con-goers to report incidents of sexual harassment to the convention’s security team and receive an immediate digital or in-person response. They had a zero tolerance policy, which meant that fans caught touching, taking pictures of or stalking other con-goers were immediately removed. The result? They cut the number of reported incidents in half, down to eight.

    These changes in policies would reach geek-oriented conventions across the country, including Gen Con:

    Gen Con: The Best Four Days in Gaming! is dedicated to providing a harassment-free Event experience for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, or affiliation. We do not tolerate harassment of convention participants in any form. Convention participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled without refund at the discretion of show management.If you need to report an issue you may do so by visiting the Show Office in room 112 or Customer Service in the Wabash East concourse.

    Now What?

    There isn't yet a codified form of conduct for professionals, "pro-am" and hobbyists in gaming, in part because the hobby is still developing. With RPGs more popular than ever, it's likely this will change.

    Because the RPG industry is so new, it still has a legacy of not publicizig codes of conduct. You can see this on web sites, where the code of conduct language is primarily focused on virtual communities. Or to put it another way, in-person Code of Conduct policies aren't the first thing new players and attendees see (or are even required to agree to) when they join a site. Hines emphasizes the importance of publicizing codes of conduct and ethics policies that set the tone before issues crop up, not after they're reported:

    Obviously most people agree that con attendance shouldn’t require a self-defense strategy against harassment and assault, and many conventions have begun to create, publicize, and enforce harassment policies. Such policies clearly lay out unacceptable behaviors and consequences; they give the convention a process to follow when harassment occurs, and they send a message to attendees that the convention values their comfort and safety.

    Fellow ENN reporter Chris Helton has written about the challenges in implementing these policies, particularly regarding harassment:

    We need to be better, as a community, about these things. We need to speak out when we see women being harassed, online or in person, and we need to tell the people who think that doing this is okay that it isn’t. We need to be active in making the change that creates better communities where we don’t have to worry about our friends being harassed because of their gender, or their sexual preferences, or their ethnicity. We have to convince conventions and organized play societies that having anti-harassment policies is a good thing, and enforcing them so that everyone feels welcomed and accepted is a better thing.

    So who enforces these policies? At gaming events, it's not entirely clear who has the primary burden: the convention, like Gen Con, or the organizing group, like the Adventurers League? The answer is that it isn't just the job of "professional gamers" but, in a world where professionals and hobby gamers regularly interact, a mandate for all of us.

    It's a tough but important step of the maturation of the hobby into a professional field. As pros from ancillary but established fields (actors, writers, and animators) elevate and publicize gaming, we will likely see more policies, ethics, and codes of conduct in the near future.

    Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, and communicator. You can follow him at Patreon.
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Darth Solo's Avatar
      Darth Solo -
      The things about rpgs is the unlimited option of action. It trumps video and board games better than tenfold. Imagine a game where you could do whatever you want. Wil Wheaton sees it. He's trying to expand the hobby to the real world beyond the corner many rpg companies seem happy to inhabit. Why would actors like Wheaton and Vin Deisel embrace their gamer nature if they weren't thinking where it could go?

      Let's call Gygax a madman. Like brandy and loud boasts. Every industry needs a madman to advance it forward and Gygax was that guy. He showed us, as rpg publishers, we can excel. We can make millions, rather than hundreds. Gary and Dave showed us how the so-called indie games can grow to Fortune 500s. Be bold. Gary was retarded bold. You need to be afraid of success, not failure. Who thought a narrative game born from tabletop-wargaming could be so large? Not me, or you.

      If several rpg companies combine resources (Paizo, WotC, Evil Hat, Green Ronin, Chaoism) we would have a company of unrestricted game designers committed to furthering the hobby. Work together. That was TSR; all of you working together. You split up and formed your own companies and what happened when you deal with the bigger companies? Margaret Weiss gets slapped around by Disney/Marvel. That set a precedent. It showed how weak our hobby was as a business. Disney should never have been able to do that. I hated what happened to MWP because it showed our weakness as a business.

      I like Luke Crane or Jon Wick. They are proud of their hobby and don't back down with Wall Street. You need a madman with the Wall. Or someone strong like Margaret Weiss. She's from TSR. She's indomitable. A cancer survivor. No one can tell her "no". No isn't enough. Steve Kenson and Cam Banks are geniuses, but they need security.

      I'm ready for an rpg company that provides security for their designers. The combined efforts of Paizo, WotC, Evil Hat, Chaosim, and Green Ronin brings that. Strength in numbers. Lawyers in number. You just need that legal protection that unification brings.

      I'm so ready for this company. Stop trying to make games alone. Work together. TSR was working together. TSR impacted Hollywood. TSR was power until it was broken. We have five rpg companies united, that power wont be broken. Legal power. Vision. Getting rpgs back in commercialization. Back in movies. Better deals and more licenses.

      I am so tired of your excuses why role-playing games can't dominate the gaming industry. I'm tired of companies refusing to work together. I'm tired of trite modules. I'm tired of men and women of exceptional intellectual capacity dumbing down their efforts to make $100. United = millions.

      Stop being weak. Be ridiculous.
    1. Dualazi's Avatar
      Dualazi -
      Quote Originally Posted by Darth Solo View Post
      The things about rpgs is the unlimited option of action. It trumps video and board games better than tenfold. Imagine a game where you could do whatever you want. Wil Wheaton sees it. He's trying to expand the hobby to the real world beyond the corner many rpg companies seem happy to inhabit. Why would actors like Wheaton and Vin Deisel embrace their gamer nature if they weren't thinking where it could go?

      Let's call Gygax a madman. Like brandy and loud boasts. Every industry needs a madman to advance it forward and Gygax was that guy. He showed us, as rpg publishers, we can excel. We can make millions, rather than hundreds. Gary and Dave showed us how the so-called indie games can grow to Fortune 500s. Be bold. Gary was retarded bold. You need to be afraid of success, not failure. Who thought a narrative game born from tabletop-wargaming could be so large? Not me, or you.

      If several rpg companies combine resources (Paizo, WotC, Evil Hat, Green Ronin, Chaoism) we would have a company of unrestricted game designers committed to furthering the hobby. Work together. That was TSR; all of you working together. You split up and formed your own companies and what happened when you deal with the bigger companies? Margaret Weiss gets slapped around by Disney/Marvel. That set a precedent. It showed how weak our hobby was as a business. Disney should never have been able to do that. I hated what happened to MWP because it showed our weakness as a business.

      I like Luke Crane or Jon Wick. They are proud of their hobby and don't back down with Wall Street. You need a madman with the Wall. Or someone strong like Margaret Weiss. She's from TSR. She's indomitable. A cancer survivor. No one can tell her "no". No isn't enough. Steve Kenson and Cam Banks are geniuses, but they need security.

      I'm ready for an rpg company that provides security for their designers. The combined efforts of Paizo, WotC, Evil Hat, Chaosim, and Green Ronin brings that. Strength in numbers. Lawyers in number. You just need that legal protection that unification brings.

      I'm so ready for this company. Stop trying to make games alone. Work together. TSR was working together. TSR impacted Hollywood. TSR was power until it was broken. We have five rpg companies united, that power wont be broken. Legal power. Vision. Getting rpgs back in commercialization. Back in movies. Better deals and more licenses.

      I am so tired of your excuses why role-playing games can't dominate the gaming industry. I'm tired of companies refusing to work together. I'm tired of trite modules. I'm tired of men and women of exceptional intellectual capacity dumbing down their efforts to make $100. United = millions.

      Stop being weak. Be ridiculous.
      Let me be crystal clear: every table-top RPG developer on earth could band together into one cohesive company and not dent videogames in the slightest. Ever. Last I checked videogames had outpaced hollywood and the music industry for yearly revenue, and it's delusional to think pen and paper games are ever going to slow that down. Same thing with Disney, you can all band together if you want, it's not going to slow that juggernaut down any.
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