Guiding Others in the Game
By sharing with the players your questions and processes in creating the world, you begin to establish the group as a self reflective container. Tell the group a description of the world and how it is a personal reflection of you: what your biases are, or what issues you are going to be looking for. Tell them that they don't have to bring those issues out in the game, but that this is what you are interested in. Often people follow the lead... the deeper and more personal that you set the tone, the more likely they will be to reveal about themselves.
If you are interested in applying some of my previous suggestions for GMing in a gaming group, I think the best thing to do is to recruit players that are interested in playing the game with the intention of it being an avenue for personal growth. At the very least, get a consensus from the players you already have to try these techniques as an experiment.
Once you have a group, have them read over my first article on character creation. This will explain the principles and underlying assumptions of this method. Have everyone draw up a character, with the understanding that the character reflects a part of them they would like to work on in some way, or that represents a personality trait they would like to incorporate into their lives. The usual things would still be required of character creation like history, goals, background, etc. But to encourage the player using the character for self improvement, have each submit a description of how the character is a reflection of their own personality. This will help the players begin the process of getting into a self reflective mindset.
Here is another trick: by sharing with the players your questions and processes in creating the world, you will begin to establish the group as a self reflective container. So, for example, start by telling the group a description of the world and how it is a personal reflection of you. Tell them what your biases are, or what issues you are going to be looking for. Tell them that they don't have to try to bring those issues out in the game, but that this is what you are interested in. Often people follow the lead... the deeper and more personal that you set the tone, the more likely they will be to reveal about themselves.
Once this initial sharing has occurred, I encourage you to have regular time for this kind of group reflection. One of my gaming groups has an online discussion using a Yahoo! group after every session where we start with each player writing out comments on roleplaying for himself and the other members of the group. Once this is done, other people respond to the first comments and email discussions ensue. These can sometimes get very heated and are often very thoughtful. This kind of set up would be very good at generating the kind of reflection I am thinking of. The anonymity of the net might even help deepen the conversations more quickly.
these are all things that can be brought up in the reflective phase of gaming
Alternately, you might take an hour at the beginning or end of each session for a similar kind of reflection. In the interest of both group cohesion and continued playing comfort, everyone might be encouraged to use "I" language and to identify personal feelings rather than to assign blame. Mediating this kind of discussion in itself will require a great deal of maturity and experience from the GM.
When players act out of character, resist difficulties in the game, argue with other players etc., these are all things that can be brought up in the reflective phase of gaming. You could invite the players to reflect upon how the gaming world or group is as a microcosm of what happens in the rest of their lives. Try giving them feedback by identifying your feelings, "Mark, when you had your character walk away from that battle and nurse the wounds of Jim's character, I really felt the compassion you said you are trying to develop. How was that for you?" Or, "Mark, when you had your character walk away form the battle and nurse the wounds of Jim's character, I felt like you were walking away from the battle because you weren't sure you could win. What was going on for you then?" Players may pick up on this style of feedback and, with encouragement, adopt it themselves.
Don't be afraid to bring out the player's first statements about what he or she is trying to work on with a given character. This comment builds on the suggestion in the first paragraph: "have [players] submit a description of how the character is a reflection of their own personality". When difficulties come up within the gaming group or within the adventuring party, pull those descriptions out to see how the conflict or dynamic between the players is a reflection of what they are using their characters to work on.
The Relationship as an Improvement Opportunity
You have an idea of how the PC and the player, PCs and PCs, and even how player and player interactions can be used for personal growth. What remains now is the hidden dimension. Just as the NPCs reflect the GM and the PCs reflect the players, the relationships between the NPCs and the PCs may reflect the relationship between the players and the GM. If your PCs are suspicious of the NPCs they may also be suspicious of you. If the PCs are rebelling against the orders of a local Lord (NPC) they may feel you as GM are controlling them too much. Let me go deeper with a personal example.
players withhold info from NPCs the way the GM withholds info from players.
In a game I'm in the PCs are constantly complaining that the Nobles and military leaders aren't telling them anything. They keep feeling like the deck is stacked against them and that Nobles are changing their reactions to the party for apparently no reason. On one hand this reflects the natural stated desire of the GM, who praises himself that "This is not a Monty Haul campaign. I'm not going to spoon feed you." In my opinion this also reflects his distant and abrasive attitude towards the players. He will say, "You should know that", or "That's not my responsibility." or my personally least favorite, "Well if you don't know I'm not going to tell you." The relationship between the players and the GM, on this level of our game is frustrating. This frustration comes out in PC actions frequently. We are careless with NPC henchmen in large battles. In other words we allowing gaming extension of the GM to fall prey to the same carelessness we feel from him. Some members of our party withhold information from higher Nobles. In other words, they withhold info from NPCs the way the players feel the GM withholds from us.
So, as GM, pay attention to how the characters treat your NPCs and your world. The way they act there can give you subtle clues to how they feel about you and their relationship with you. In fact, uncharacteristic carelessness or destructiveness in the game may be a first warning of player dissatisfaction.
Now the flipside. If a player or players are working on being able to express and maintain conflict expect them to look to your NPCs and world as an avenue to enact such behavior. In this case your job is not to derail or dissuade such activity but to foster it. Can you maintain the game as a holding space for such destructive activity? Are you attached to the creation you have made to allow it to be "ruined" by a destructive character or party? If you won't allow any evil characters (even affable ones), question why this is so? One answer might be that you have a low tolerance for witnessing pain and suffering. Another might simply be that you are tired of mayhem and want to see something beautiful or noble built within this world. But in any case there is an answer in you that bears further examination.
I have started the discussion of GM/players interactions as a space for growth with a discussion of the GM because I think the GM should first look inside her/himself before inviting others to do so. If you don't, you run the risk of pontificating about the problems in everyone else while missing the fact that your problem is that you pontificate (I'm aware of the present irony embedded in that statement).
Once the GM has examined his/her motives as much as possible, it is then appropriate to invite players and PCs to the same reflection. One of the fundamental truths about the game is that because there is a leader, people will respond to the leader the way that they respond to leaders in other situations.