Agent of Peace

Being an Agent of Peace, and the power of leadership principles in changing external and internal behaviors within fictional environments.

 

Abstract

This study’s objective was to utilize leadership principles (cited in three different books) as active change agents within a group of people involved in an interactive story. The aim of the study was to change their character behavior from sadistic and violent, towards behavior that was subjected to an undefined but subjective and peaceable moral scale. Kotter’s eight-step process was utilized in order to introduce external change, as well as Quinn’s perspective of deep change to encourage internal change. Finally, Johnson’s Who Stole My Cheese was integral, providing a metaphor of the world in which the players participated. This study’s conclusion indicated participants changed external behavior but was inconclusive in determining internal change.

Leadership Principles in Changing Behaviors Within Fictional Environments

For this study, a group of players were selected. Every Sunday they gathered at a local restaurant and took part in a role-play, in which their fictional characters participated in a shared adventure. Each person’s character linked them to an alternate persona they played during the game. Prior to beginning this study, players’ actions in previous games suggested a high level of sadistic violence (killing innocent civilians, stealing without provocation, burning down cities) while playing the game. The hypothesis of this study was that if the players were presented with moral conundrums each session, if their in-game behavior would change without any forced coercion. To do this, Kotter’s eight-step process of organizational change was utilized (Kotter). In addition, Quinn’s theory of deep change (Quinn) was embedded into the adventures so as internal or subconscious change took root in the players. The end-goal of this study was to observe if the players would begin to evaluate their actions based on a peaceable moral scale. This scale would not be defined by the leader presiding over the adventure, however, but would be formed individually based on the decisions the players presented through their personas. This paper will discuss whether the intended change of incorporating moral fiber within participants, in an amoral and violent system, and encouraging players that violence is not the only answer to solving problems was successful or not, on an internal level and an external level.

The author’s role was to narrate and guide the players. As a leader, it was his job to tell the story and moderate their actions, without forcing them into committing specific actions. During the course of the study, the narrator also used his position as leader of the story to observe the leadership capacities of each player and work the story around their strengths and weaknesses. Leadership potential exists within every person, and one heavy responsibility on the leader is to discover what those potentials are and then utilize those potentials together in a connective leadership capacity (Lipman-Blumen). For this reason, the narrator not only analyzed the qualities of the participants, but designed the story to challenge their weaknesses while ennobling their strengths. However, the narrator also included random elements of chance, to provide that the world was not statically created. The world was modeled after a maze that included safe houses and dangerous locations, in order to provide an accurate picture of how people undergo the process of change. Johnson’s portrayal of the world as a maze filled with small rewards but little direction helped in understanding how to model the world in which the players participated (Johnson).

In sessions prior to this study, the actions portrayed by the players of the group displayed an overabundance of unnecessary violence and sadistic planning. For example, upon entering a city rather than relinquishing their weapons to the authorities, the players decided to attack and kill the guards, and then as they fled the city, they attacked any living thing, burning houses as they ran. While in war such things are not uncommon, from this particular group of players their actions were surprising and gave rise to several members of the group questioning the ethics of their own role-play. In fact, the actions of that session so bothered several of the players that, rather than deciding to change their behavior, they accepted a slow death of their personas and embedded those violent tendencies directly into their own personality maps (Quinn). Some players admitted that because the world was fantasy, it was okay to exhibit those tendencies within the game, a similar argument used today with young players of violent video games.

The author of this study decided it was imperative to shift Playing Styles. Upon discussing the matter with the game leader at the time, they both were agreed that something had to be done, but the game leader was unsure how to actually proceed, and continued to provide sessions for the players but slowly withdrew from the actual planning of events, afraid the players would destroy any created character put in front of them. The game leader stated on multiple occasions he felt it would be impossible to end the cycle of violent behavior, due to what he termed Playing Styles of the players involved, which had developed during his gaming sessions. However, he believed the Playing Styles were static personality traits of the players. The author of this study believed Playing Styles would vary upon the challenges introduced to the players, and that the reinforcement of those Playing Styles with the tradition gaming sessions was unhealthy for the players. If different situations were to be introduced that induced a sense of moral urgency, the author of this study meant to find out if the players would change their Playing Styles and question their actions rather than resorting to unmitigated violence.

Table 1: Decker’s Play Styles prior to the study, actions taken, and potentials of Lipman-Blumen’s Leadership Styles

PLAYERS

C.

DECKER

Kicking butt

ACTIONS IN GAME

Attacked anything living for XP

LIPMAN-BLUMEN

Power: takes charge

R.

Supercoolness

Proficient in killing humans

Intrinsic: excels

A.

Puzzle-solving

Persecuted group members

Entrusting: empowers

S.

Accumulating powers

Used powers to destroy property

Social: networks

J.

Outlier

Contributed to mass slaughters

Contributory: helps

K.

Lurker

Confounded and befuddled innocents

Collaborative: joins forces

As can be seen by the chart on the previous page (Table 1), it was clearly in the capacity for the players involved to not only change their persona behavior, but also contribute equally to the enterprise of telling an excellent story, as Lipman-Blumen postulates is possible if a model of connective leadership is active within an organization. However, due to the nature of the story campaign so far, their behaviors had become reckless and sadistic, turned towards their own profit and growth rather than acting with any kind of heroism. Heroism, or at least the recognition of one’s potential to acquire certain aspects of it, often is required for deep or subconscious change (Quinn). However, if these players were given the incentive and freedom to change their behavior towards a self-defined moral scale, then a leader using connective principles, could turn their selfish and violent behavior into constructive and possible heroic actions (Lipman-Blumen).

The plan for effecting positive change was designed on a weekly basis. Every Sunday afternoon, the players convened at a local restaurant, in a central area of the city, where they participated in a shared adventure prepared by the narrator (the author of this study). The narrator’s plan was to slowly incorporate moral elements into the story, specifically tailored to issues the characters had been having, e.g. towards the act of killing, stealing, and acting inappropriately. In addition, the plan consisted of teaching through the story, that every death has consequences both good and bad, but usually not what one expects. It was to be introduced slowly so as players would have an opportunity to draw conclusions and incorporate those conclusions within their general personas, much like Johnson showed with the Handwriting on the Wall (Johnson).

The general timeline of the study was to be seven or eight weeks, or in other words, seven or eight sessions. Each session was to be from four to six hours long. Each session would deliver one major conflict scene, and branching from that one major moral complication in which the players must decide whether or not to kill. Furthermore, the scenario would include peaceable ways to end the conflict, while still gaining something out of it, if the players chose. In some longer sessions, more than one moral complication would be presented, but generally the complication would be minor, so as to prevent an overflow. The sessions would be designed so that one major conclusion could be drawn from each playing day, and then players would have the rest of the week to consider the implications of what they had done, and prepare themselves for the next week.

In order to change the behavior of the players, Kotter’s eight-step process was used. For example, in the first session, players were thrust into a life and death situation, namely being caught in the midst of a civil war they did not belong. In an ordinary situation they would jump immediately into the fray and kill as many people as possible, and they actually did begin that way, but quickly realized they were killing their only allies in escaping from the city. There was a pressure immediately exerted on the players that forced them to re-evaluate life and death decisions. The urgency that was created suddenly put the players in the unfortunate position that the old way would lead them to their own irrelevancy and possible death.

The next step to the process of change, Kotter says, is to build a team dedicated to making the change (Kotter). For this reason, a number of characters not controlled by the players were inserted into the story, whose main purpose was to show how difficult it was to make life and death decisions. In other words, they took violence seriously, and reacted harshly against it. They were role-models for what the players could become, and were also their guides as they escaped the fires of the city they had escaped from.

Finally, when a player did kill something, they were subjected to a consequence. In previous sessions, the only consequence had been an applause of hands and awarding of special points, but in this case, the consequence was directly related to the death. When they killed a young wounded monster lying on the side of the road, her friends came over and nearly annihilated the players in reprise. That was the end of the second session, and the players quickly learned that in a world where life and death do matter, taking it lightly would lead to destruction.

After this point, players became annoyed. The change was too great for some of them, and they began to complain and said it wasn’t fun. Kotter explains clearly that there must be a step of communicating with them so they understand the change. Most people, once they understand the implications of a change and can see bits and pieces of it unveiled would gladly join in the effort, but the problem usually is that they are not informed of how and why and so they fight against the change. The narrator of the game for this reason spent extra time during the week explaining the sudden change is styles, and although many of the players did not agree with the moral consequences of death within the framework of this game, they were happy to be part of a well-told story and for that reason stayed.

Over the next four weeks, things went more smoothly, as players were empowered when they acted kind to others with little rewards given to them, even though the nature of the reward was unpredictable. After saving a life, players were rewarded with a large gift, either a material object or heaps of graciousness. But beyond that, every time they felt secure in their positions as heroes to the community, they were continually challenged by additional obstacles, always presented the need to grow and become stronger. Often their values were directly attacked.

The end result of this seven week experiment was that players behavior did change in-game. Not only did the idea of killing sicken many of them by the end, but even in an instance when they were paid to kill someone who was allegedly evil and wanted by the law, they would refuse to do it, based on some moral conviction their persona had recently adopted. Of course, a game is grounded by rules, so once the players understood the rules of the game, it is plausible they changed their styles of playing just to fit the culture of the story. That is why deep change is so necessary within any organization, be it a small group of seven people or a larger group of one hundred.

During the process of change, many players gave up. There were a total of nine players who participated in the story (with only seven mentioned in this study) but in the end only six remained. The other players, often due to disagreements with the way the story was handled, departed and did not return.

Whether deep change took place within the players was unclear. There was an inherent fear of change in the beginning in which two of the players argued feverishly about the necessity for a moral scale in a war-game such as the one they were playing. The players however, did recognize they would need to change or else become pointless in this world. Once they found out what they could become, they discovered a new kind of heroism and thus a vitality in their new outlook on life. In the end, when the time for came for a rich reward of both experience points and items if they killed, they as a group, made the most surprising decision of the game up to that point: they walked away and left them living, even though they did so with extremely puzzled looks on their faces. They were smiling though.

To gauge whether deep change took place requires more time. Although seven sessions was long enough to make initial change in the players’ behaviors, it was not long enough to observe if any kind of deep change was visible. In addition, the nature of the game is fictional, so whether or not any kind of change took place in the players on a subconscious level was also unconfirmed. Overall, it was excellent practice of using leadership principles in a real situation in lieu of having a real organization in need of change. From this study, the following conclusion can be drawn: external change does not necessarily lead to internal change, but if external change is understood by both the leader and organization and followed-through with the right steps, it can be successfully implemented.

 

References

Decker, Jesse. Dungeon Master’s Guide II. Renton: Wizards of the Coast, 2005.

Johnson, Spencer. Who Moved My Cheese? New York: Putnam, 1998.

Kotter, J.P. The Heart of Change. Boston: Harvard, 2002.

Lipman-Blumen, J. Connective Leadership. New York: Oxford, 1996.

Quinn, R.E. Deep Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996.