Writing about the elements that make up a healthy and productive community of any kind, I have actively avoided touching on negative influences. However, there was an occurrence this weekend at a premier level tournament that has made it clear to me that sometimes you have to talk about the bad side of things. The seedy underbelly of tabletop hobby gaming that unfortunately also applies to everyday life and our interactions with the wild…
If you want to have a successful gaming community, you need a lot of variables to fall into place. Over the last couple of years, I have gone through quite a few of them including what to look for in a venue, location, and about the importance of consistency in all things. One of the things that those of us have rarely had to deal with is dishonesty and problem players. And I do count us as lucky. I read online all the time about groups with problem players or problem GMs. I have heard the woes of those with alpha gamers, rules lawyers, phone addicts, and a host of other stereotypes. At the BTGC, we have grown accustomed to absenteeism, and it no longer strikes us as a problem, just another foible of running a twenty plus member community based open gaming group. We deal.
One thing we have never (to our knowledge), had to deal with are cheaters.
Cheaters come in all shapes and sizes, and run the gamut of degrees of dishonesty. They try and flub rolls, argue ridiculous attempts to get away with murder, and interpret rules only to their advantage. They employ misdirection, manipulation, and generally create a bad scene as they try and win at everything, with no sense of conscience, or perspective that these are only games.
This weekend at a certain world championship event in Roseville, Minnesota, someone cheated. They were probably not the only one. I don’t need to name names, or point fingers. I’m not here to talk about how the game company handled things or what the right punishment should be. I’m just here to offer my two cents on what trust, honesty, respect and fair play do for a community of any kind, let alone gaming.
Really it’s about respect. Respect breeds the rest of the above qualities. I only ask for respect when it comes to those who inhabit my life and the membership of the Bracebridge Tabletop Gaming Community.
I view things as a matter of respect on different tiers. First and foremost, you respect your fellow gamers. Whether you are playing competitively or cooperatively, casual or tournament play, for an in store game night or a big event day pre-release invite only, secret handshake type of thing, you demonstrate some common respect for your fellow person.
This means saying please and thank you, offering help without a sense of superiority or condescension, listening to what people have to say, and not forcing your agenda on others. There is a whole list of other things that make up the attribute of respect, but as it applies to cultivating a successful gaming community, these are a great place to start.
Respect those who sit down at the table with you. They are there for the exact same reason you are, to have fun and play games. So be nice. The rest will fall into place.
Next, you need to respect the establishment. This is slightly unrelated to cheating, but if you want to have a place to play, it is probably the second most important thing. Look after the place and treat it well. Clean up after yourself, don’t abuse the facility, leave things as you found them. Believe it or not, somebody works really hard to keep a place well maintained, clean and up to code so that those who rent a room or such find it reliable and up to a standard that they can accept. Those same people probably rely on patronage for their livelihood, and don’t want to be putting in extra time and money fixing or otherwise dealing with things that could have never happened if you and your companions had just exercised some common sense and self-control.
Apply this to your FLGS. They really rely on your spending money to keep them open, clothed and fed. That doesn’t give you the right to abuse their hospitality. My old FLGS was constantly trying to repair broken chairs and tables and clean up after inconsiderate patrons. That is a disrespect nobody deserves. And eventually all of those events you love attending get cancelled, as it’s just not worth the hassle anymore.
Now here’s the meat of the article. You need to respect the game.
Yes, this includes the physical components. Break stuff, bend and tear cards, lose bits, and eventually you make the game unplayable. And games these days aren’t cheap. If somebody drops $135 CAD on an Imperial Assault core set, they don’t want anything to happen to it. They want that return on investment of hundreds of hours of good times. Just because you didn’t spend the money doesn’t give you the right to treat the game like crap.
However, what I want to point out is respecting the rules. Respecting the spirit of the game itself. To get together with a group of people to live out an escapist fantasy where things happen and there is a winner and a loser. To chat about your day, your strategies, things you are excited about and things you are stressed about. To put a bunch of things on the table and come together over them for a finite length of time.
And part of that is the rules. The game is designed to work best when all of the rules are not only observed, but followed. Sure nobody is perfect, and not every game is awesome, but you can say that about a lot of stuff in the universe. I don’t pretend for a second that house rules don’t exist or aren’t useful, but they are still rules. A set of strictures conceived and agreed upon by all of those involved. All knowledge is open and available to all parties.
When somebody cheats at a game, they disrespect not only the game, but everyone playing it. And to what end? To win? It’s a game! How does that actually impact your life? You don’t suddenly drive a fast car or have gobs of money. You don’t gain access to hidden areas of our world where everyone smells great and ice cream isn’t fattening. When you cheat, you gain nothing. And the victory you have achieved is hollow and worthless.
And worse yet is what happens if you are caught. Communities are built on trust and support. Bringing people in and lifting them up, so that they in turn lift the group as a whole. When they find out that you cheated, something breaks. Trust to be sure, but also respect, affection, camaraderie. There is a space between the untrusted and the rest of a group. A fracture occurs, and it is very long in healing, if ever it does. And you are known by that moniker ever after. People are hurt by those who cheat.
In any hobby, community, relationship or otherwise, someone who has been found to be dishonest is vilified, no matter what they may do or say to atone for their crime. And to gamers, cheating at a game is a crime. It’s an insult, a trespass. And while someone who cheats may be forgiven, there will always be a stain.
And if you cheat on a live stream where everyone can watch it happen, you unleash the grand fury of the internet, and woe be to you who calls it upon yourself.
Perhaps this is a rant, and that is why I have resisted putting a spotlight on the negative. I love games and gaming, and I understand the importance of fair play in that world in particular. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a tourney or a casual game, playing by the rules only enhances the experience.
When a group of players are at a table and trust each other whole-heartedly, the game is so much more fun. Even better if you look out for each other. There’s much to be said for helping your opponent do all that they can to play the best game possible. That way if you win, you know that your victory was earned, and if you lose you know that you played the best game possible. Both of those things offer a deep sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and tell you that your time was not wasted.
So please think about that when you play. And when you are out there interacting with whoever you may meet. Forgive those who make the mistake, and try and show them how much better it is on the light side. We may not have cookies, but sometimes there’s beer.