Bridging the Gap: RPGs and Social Media

Social Networked RPGs
Social Networked RPGs

The Core Mechanic proposed[1] that an opportunity exists for RPGs to utilize the technology that popular social media games (SMGs), such as Farmville or Mafia Wars[2], employ today and by extension make RPGs more accessible. The objective is the ability to roleplay around the clock without needing to wait for game night.

While I think Jonathan and I have some different ideas about what constitutes a roleplaying game[3], and how well one can be managed through social media, I do agree that there is a ton of opportunity that begs to be exploited. Also, I’m tired of seeing what your gangster vampire grew on the farm to feed his endangered species pet whenever I check my news feed on Facebook.

My only concern is providing the accessibility, the interactivity, and social media penetration without the roleplaying game reduced to a mere SMG or massively multiplayer online game (MMOG). The human element needs to be preserved; it is probably the most important aspect of roleplaying games.

Assuming the integrity of what is a roleplaying game is maintained, there are still many issues to overcome. For the remainder of this article, it is given that the following exists:

  • The platform is built around a single game system
  • Human Game Masters supervise games
  • Many rules are automated, but may be selectively overridden by a GM
  • Game Masters may list their games publicly
  • Player characters have some sort of advancement
  • Players may interface with the game through many clients (browser, Facebook, iPhone, etc.)

The Accessibility Hurdle

Probably the biggest issue facing an infrastructure that allows the level of accessibility that social media games provide is maintaining a consistent experience for players (including Game Masters). Jonathan had mentioned in the comments that “The game is always moving forward, and there’s never any point in which a player can’t “poke” the game and participate.” [1]

This is where the entire platform breaks down when I try to visualize it in my head. The idea, as I understand it, is that a player should be able to engage with the game at will and without any expectations of commitment. What about when a game is half-way through an important combat or a serious interaction with a prominent non-player character (NPC)?

Accessibility raises a few questions about what behaviors are acceptable or encouraged:

  • Do you want players to enter or leave important scenes at will?
  • Can players use the same character across many games and enjoy all the benefits?
  • Are players free to perform actions without waiting for approval or consequences?
  • Are players allowed access to any and all options?
  • Is everyone at once both a player and a Game Master?

Of course, it all depends on how far accessibility is taken. If the goal is truly to provide players the ability to game at their convenience, without taking others’ stakes in the game into consideration, I think the game then crosses the line into SMG territory.

However, if the goal is to merely provide multiple lines of communication and methods of accessing the game, then I am on board. Then the next question is, “Would placing a ShareThis[4] feature on MapTools[5] accomplish most of our goals?”

Mini Games Option

One approach to lightly embed a roleplaying game into social media is to implement mini games that do not require moderation by Game Masters, but could be amended by them and add value to the actual game. These mini games might include tasks normally glossed over in most games such as researching inside a great library which could yield access to rituals in game. The majority of crafts could be given this treatment as well stronghold building.

Virtual LARP Option

Another method that possibly maximizes player accessibility while minimizing interruptions during critical play is treating the platform like a Live Action RolePlaying (LARP) game in the spirit of White Wolf’s Mind’s Eye Theatre (MET)[6] series of games run by the Camarilla[7].

Using the LARP option would most likely utilize two modes of play, structured and unstructured. The structured mode is the traditional roleplaying with a Game Master moderating the session. The unstructured mode would essentially be one or more players engaging in self-moderated roleplay. An option might even be available that allows players engaging in unstructured play to request a GM to moderate when necessary.

Only by participating in the structured mode can players receive new objects (treasure) and progress through official storylines. However, players may always trade objects they already acquired when participating in either structured or unstructured modes.

Like the Camarilla, the platform would be a shared world where you can travel from game to game (mostly) freely. Limiting GMs to only official modules (or stories, adventures, etc.) would allow a modicum of control over balance and power creep (which will no doubt be a constant struggle to maintain). Placing restrictions on when players can enter structured mode play and wait periods to join after bailing from structured mode play could also help maintain consistent experience.

The LARP option actually begins to sound like a very advanced MUSH[8] and there are probably a few things that such a platform could heavily borrow from such established technologies.


I’m not sure my vision of possible implementations concurs with Jonathan’s vision, but I think we can surely agree that there are opportunities for roleplaying games to take advantage of social technologies. Tomorrow I plan on taking a look at how one might develop an infrastructure that actually interfaced with popular social networks.

Articles that continue the discussion:

I should also note that using footnotes is a great idea and I actually tried to make a habit of using them a year ago with my Roleplaying Philosophy series[3] but failed to maintain the discipline to use them.


[1] Roleplaying Games, Social Media Games, and the Shared Fence. The Core Mechanic. 2010-01-12.

[2] Social media games for Facebook created by Zynga Games.

[3] “A roleplaying game is a dynamic form of play, structured by rules with human moderation, where players assume and develop virtual roles of sentience and overcome opposition by freely improvising character actions in order to achieve a possibly infinite number of goals.”
RPP-101: Defining Roleplaying Games. Mad Brew Labs. 2009-01-15.

“The only requirement is that you play a game where you assume the role of a PC/avatar. The medium doesn’t matter – it’s the role that matters.” [2]

[4] ShareThis is a plug-in that allows you to post content across several social networks.

[5] A virtual table top (VTT) created by RPTools.

[6] Mind’s Eye Theatre is the LARP imprint of rules for White Wolf’s Word of Darkness setting.

[7] The Camarilla is the official World of Darkness fan club that also doubles as White Wolf’s organized play arm.

[8] A Multi-User Shared Hallucination, or MUSH, belongs to a family of text-based social games also called MUDs and MOOs that date back to 1975.

Listening to: Opeth – Ghost Reveries – Atonement

11 thoughts on “Bridging the Gap: RPGs and Social Media

  1. @Daniel: Looking forward to your comments. I’d install that plug-in, but for various reasons, my WordPress install doesn’t have access to email protocols (which I believe is what that plug-in uses to notify users). However, you could subscribe to the RSS feed for comments (which I know would include comments from other posts, but I don’t get very many comments on non-current posts).

  2. I think a big issue that needs to be adressed is competive play. RPG’s as we tabletop guys play them best when the participants play their character to the fullest, with their flaws and inefficiencies. This results in the best stories with drama, cool situations and this doesn’t do a thing in a competitive game.

    Using GM’s with a lot of freedom also allows arbitrairy behaviour and favoritism and opens the door for advancement for little to no ‘work’ upsetting people who actually went to trouble to advance.

    The first thing a succesfull RPG needs is a social group and the rules, tools and whatever is secondairy. For MMO’s it’s the other way around, the game is always the core and social groups within the game are secondairy.

    Considering a social group cannot function as a group if not all members of the group are able to listen and respond to each other you cant ‘poke the game’ in a meaningfull manner unless your groupmates are online to respond.

    If not you get a slowchat kind of game so I agree with you the whole ‘poking 24/7’ and the game beeing an RPG experience and not a MMO as we know (and enjoy) them doesnt make sense.

  3. Mike – excellent points – and yes our ideas are in line…. i guess what they called in the 1970’s/80’s a MUSH would be today some kind of Social Media Role Playing Game (SMRPG). This is what I’m talking about in my post — embracing the tech so that the game never stops and it doesn’t matter if we miss a game session becuase we couldn’t find a babysitter… or I’m stuck in traffic… or I’m on vacation.

    Also.. i friggen LOVE the idea of developing a “arcane research, personal questing, or stronghold building” component for an SMRPG that includes table top gaming. Like Daniel – I’ve got more to chew on now.
    .-= jonathan´s last blog ..Role Playing Games, Social Media Games, and the Shared Fence =-.

  4. @Pingwin: I always hear a lot about the story created by roleplaying games, but I always find that when these stories are looked at honestly, they are god awful 99% of the time. I’m not trying to sell the story short, it’s can be very important to some people, but the story is usually a by product of play and not necessarily the goal of play.

    No doubt this platform will have it’s share of complaints and problems. Any problems you could encounter with tradition games would be magnified (I’m sure I could find favoritism at conventional game tables). A lot of that can be minimized by taking the actual transactions of rewards out of GM hands (and say the engine automatically hands out rewards to any characters “logged in” to a module when it completes) and by some sort of administrative moderation.

    Also, it’s goal would not truly be to replace the traditional gaming group. It would be a trade-off between intimacy and story-consistency for accessibility and immediacy. I would imagine that some players would still have “go-to” GMs and some groups might only take advantage of features they have full control over (no one says you have make your games public).

    @Jonathan: Thanks for spark that inspired this post!

  5. @Jonathan: I should have another post that explores the technology side of things going live tomorrow morning as well. We’ll have to compare notes.

  6. I’m not convinced by the idea that RPGs should try and be anything other than what they are.

    To me, it is the physical presence and the complexity of human interaction that make an RPG session. Online activities lose too many of the nuances to really work.

    This is not say that some MMO / Social Network / RPG crossover cannot work or be a lot of fun but what I love involves the intensity generated by a small group of people dedicating a few hours to a communal imagination. Anything on-going would have its own strengths but will be diluted form of the tabletop experience.
    .-= Chris Tregenza´s last blog ..Six Dee Six = Miniatures Photo Gallery =-.

  7. @Chris: I agree that such a game would not be the same the experience that a traditional roleplaying game offers. I doubt that technology will ever be able to bridge that gap and be able to simulate the energy of physical presence (even if technology could create something akin to the Matrix, I still believe it would feel fake).

    It’s a rather poor analogy, but I think of it as the difference between watching a sports event live at the stadium or at home from the DVR. It’s the same game, but two different experiences. Some prefer to see it live, but just as many prefer to watch it on their own time with all the amenities provided by being at home (as well being able to see the event through several cameras).

    The primary advantage I see of a platform like this is exposure and serving as a gateway to the hobby.

  8. [quote] I always hear a lot about the story created by roleplaying games, but I always find that when these stories are looked at honestly, they are god awful 99% of the time. [/quote]

    If you compare them to a novel, yeah, they usually are not worth the reading. But the idea of playing an RPG is not ending with an award winning piece of literature. The idea is you jointly ‘create’ and the fun is in the creating.

    I dont know, if you consider the ‘story’ a by product then what is the actual aim of an RPG in your opinion?

  9. @Pingwin: That’s an excellent question, and one that I’m not sure there is a clear answer to. My first impulse is to say that the aim of an RPG is to bring people together to have fun/socialize. Another possible answer is that RPGs are games that challenge player characters, and the story is a by-product of how the outcomes of those challenges.

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