mardi 31 juillet 2018

Questions in TRPG: socratic questioning & improv theater

The question the gamemaster traditionnaly asks is « What are you doing? » However, since the fashion of the TRPG inspired by Apocalypse World, the gamemaster asks more and more authorial questions in game to his players. For example, « Tell me right now why you are the ennemy of this person? », « Describe me this city you visited once. », etc.

This kind of exchange is based on the improvisation theater, where each participant build with good willing on the previous proposals with minimum negation. It is also based on socratic questioning, a pedagogical and psychological technique that uses a series of questions:
  • focused on the current fiction,
  • stimulating (relevant, surprising, challenging, with valued answers)
  • summarizing (synthesis or reinforcement of previous proposals)
  • Inquisition: bad bad questioning
  • inclusive (to draw all the players in the fiction).
It asks a lot of preparation and/or experience from the gamemaster. The risks are that he can be (or
perceived to be) non-respectful, non-interesting, incompetent, manipulating or lazy. For example :
  • the questions are hiding a lack of preparation
  • the questions are adversarial to the players
  • the answers offered have no value
  • the players have to answer what the GM wants to hear,...
To ask good questions, the principles are :
  • trust (the gamemaster will not humiliate or punish the players)
  • reciprocity (the gamemaster learns from the players, values theirs answers and answers their questions)
  • openness («what’s going to happen, why, what students will get out of the experience, the risks involved, and how it may feel»[Handelsman]).
  • fair (each player is consider equal). 
This post is inspired from Is the Socratic Method Unethical? by Mitchell M. Handelsman.

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