George Herbert Mead, one of the founders of social psychology, created a concept known as the “Generalized Other”, one of the more popular concepts in the Symbolic Interactionism, a field of sociology.
The Generalized Other concept, similar to Freud’s superego theory, states that “where there is a simple succession of one role after another’”with that of the organised game: “in the latter the child must have the attitude of all the others involved in that game.”
In other words, when children are playing games such as cops and robbers, there is a social contract in which everyone knows their roles.
Mead believed that by taking on the roles of others, children learned of the generalized other. Generalized other is what allows us to understand other peoples’ perspectives and how the rules of society work. Organized roleplaying is essential to the formation of a mature sense of self.
“The theory presents how children learn to take a different perspective outside of him or herself through playing games,” said Michael, the Id DM, when I asked him his opinion on the subject. Michael is a psychologist by trade. ”The classic example is a child playing baseball. Imagine the child is playing second base. The child must have an awareness of the other players on the field and have a reasonable expectation of what the other eight players on the field are going to do in any given situation. If the ball is hit to the outfield, the child understands that an outfielder will run to the ball, try to make the catch and throw the ball back into the infield. The child learns to take the persepective of others in this way. The generalized other is an extension of this idea of taking the perspective of others, which allows us to prepare for social interactions. We can anticipate what to expect.”
Through the generalized other, we learn the social rules in play. We learn to understand where others are coming from.
We’ve all played with the player who was unable to pick up on social cues. The one who refuses to acknowledge social norms and subsequently, shift from group to group, as no one wants to keep him.
I think the idea of the generalized other works on a different level as well. Again, according to the generalized other, organized roleplaying is essential to the formation of a mature sense of self.
When a child plays the role of a police officer in one game, and a robber in the other, they learn to appreciate different perspectives. You rarely see a child disappointed that they must play the robber. He relishes it, while shouting at the police that they can’t catch him. In the same way, a child will turn around and play the role of the police officer, going after the robbers with just as much zeal.
As gamers, we’ve never given up our sense of roleplay. We continue to play cops and robbers around the table every week, only with dragons and space explorers, with spies and vampires. And, occasionally, cops and robbers.
Do gamers have a stronger sense of self than others? Perhaps. I think gamers are, in some ways, more willing to look at multiple sides of an argument. Not when it comes to the Edition Wars, of course, but in other aspects of gaming.
Are gamers more socially competent? Absolutely not. I’ve played with many a gamer who had zero social skills.
However, I’ve met plenty of gamers who, despite what the world thinks of them, have amazing self-confidence. They know exactly who they are, and aren’t afraid to show it. They have a firmly established sense of “this is who I am.”
So, how does this apply to you? I don’t know. Perhaps it doesn’t. But I think that recognizing and acknowledging the generalized other is an important thing to do in that, by being aware of it, perhaps you’ll try to take on the perspective of others.