I was playing a new RPG homebrew with some friends the other day and we were defining some character types and thinking over who could do what in their various niches in our zombie-filled post-apocalypse. My friend Mark threw out a few ideas, and I threw out a few ideas, and it quickly became clear that we were not on the same page. I found some of his proposed character roles and abilities a bit implausible or outright nonsensical; at the same time, he found some of my ideas a bit uninspiring or outright no fun. As we were talking through our reactions and trying to figure out where we could find common ground, we had this exchange:
Dave: "It probably makes the most sense that in a small community's desperate struggle for survival, authority would get centralized. So I think the Military Strategist should still report to the Leader, rather than being able to just declare strategic matters."
Mark: "Well, I'm going for that classic general type character who's reading the field and making the high-pressure calls."
Dave: "Oh, wait, this is a character type from fiction?"
Mark: "Yeah. I think it's a perfect fit in our post-apocalypse."
Dave: "Oh! See, I was going at this from, like, what would this be like in real life, and not really thinking in terms of movies or books and stuff."
And then everything became clear.
We agreed that Mark's take was more apt for this particular game, so I stopped trying to envision how everything worked and what would most likely happen, and just asked for Mark and others to fill in the blanks for certain fictional references so I could understand their appeal and better contribute. We wound up defining some very fun and flavorful character types to run around being various sorts of awesome in our zombie hell.
I know it's not news that gamers can vary in taste and orientation, and that "from my favorite movie" and "from my knowledge of the real world" are two examples. Even so, I thought it was kind of an eye-opener that Mark and I, two guys with lots of experience communicating game content to groups, wound up in a bit of a slog, and that that slog wound up being resolved by a very simple recognition.
"Are we working from fiction or from life here?"
So, that's one more for the toolkit. I figure that asking that question will come in handy in the future.