Posted by on July 16, 2010
"Circle of Fire" by stephenccwu on Flickr

"Circle of Fire" by stephenccwu on Flickr

I’ve been thinking lately about the best way to give feedback to players in my role-playing games.

By “feedback,” I mean pointing out particularly effective and particularly ineffective behavior, like creative problem-solving, forgetting to update a marker, effective teamwork, or aggressive interpersonal behavior.

I used to essentially ignore this. I’d occasionally reward a creative solution with a quick “Great thinking!” I essentially ignored bad behavior.

This, of course, is ineffective.

I then picked up a feedback system from Manager Tools, which used a four-part framework:

  1. Privately, ask if it’s okay to give some feedback.
  2. Describe the behavior you’re addressing.
  3. Describe the positive or negative consequences of that behavior.
  4. Ask if they can do it differently next time.

This model’s intended for managers talking to their staff.  Role-playing’s a game; GMs take on a very different role than that of a corporate manager.  (Though there are many parallels.)

I’ve modified it to this:

  1. Privately, tell the person that I have some quick feedback.  For positive feedback, I usually start with a “Thanks” sentence.
  2. Describe the behavior.
  3. Describe the positive or negative consequences of the behavior.
  4. Reassure that this is just a little note.

It still doesn’t feel quite right. On the one hand, it feels rather apologetic — can a player really not receive feedback unless it’s sandwiched between such deprecating phrases? On the other hand, RPGs are games, after all, and the GM has little power over the players. Sure, the GM can kill a player’s character…and then the player may never come back.

I also struggle to identify opportunities for positive feedback. I suspect that skill will develop over time, but it’s hard to find things to reward when the game’s going along fine.

I suppose smooth sailing, itself, deserves praise. Hmmm.

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