Thursday, July 7, 2011

Burying Gamers

I have buried several gamers.

I mean that literally and metaphorically. Some people I used to play with aren’t around because they left the group, some because they got kicked out, and some because they died. I’m 42 years old; I started gaming in 1975 with D&D. I was a stupid ankle-biter kid player for years. The obnoxious kind who butts into games. But I was among a peer group who were amazingly tolerant. We had local conventions where adults went out of their way to provide miniatures, role play and board game opportunities for kids. I’ve gamed with pre-teens- it can be satisfying and it can be awful. While generally there’s some things that apply to certain age groups, there a plenty of stereotypes that often doesn’t hold true. Some of the most mature gamers I’ve played with were in their teens and then early twenties (when I was at least ten years older). We had a player in the group who was a middle schooler who stuck with and fit into our group of college grads for almost eight years. On the other hand, I’ve also seen older players act well below their age. Twenty somethings who behave with a poor-for-even-high-school level of consideration and maturity. Forty-somethings with no tact who arrive as guests and start talking trash about your house without a second thought.

From our group we’ve had people move away who I’ll miss terribly- people I’m pretty sure I’ll never have the chance to game with again: Juan, Mike, Carl, among others. There’s the group I ran for in Cairo who I’ve lost touch with. There are people still in the area I don’t get a chance to game with because of the life schedules, obligations and jobs. And there are people I thank god I won’t have to play with again: selfish, uncharitable, unpleasant, tactless and nasty gamers. And less venal players, ones who’ve manage to reduce the general level of enjoyment of a game rather than adding to it. In the last few years, we’ve lost some people from the group- some of which really bug me. There’s a fantasy campaign I’ve put off running again because that player brought so much to the table. There are others whose leaving increased the level of enjoyment of the games immediately. I’ve shut down several campaigns early because of those bad players and I don’t want to have to do that again.

What I’m saying is you get the good and the bad, slowly sift out the bad and hope for a good solid group- if I may state the obvious. It is hard- really hard. We are insanely lucky to have as large, diverse and interesting a group as we do. They’re all people who, if you give them respect and consideration, will return that respect and consideration.

It brings me to a conversation I had yesterday with my board game group about the difficulty of that. I worked on the retail/game room management side for several years. I’ve seen among gamers, generally, a sense loyalty to a place: a group, a store, a space. But that loyalty often comes with a price- they often have a parallel sense of entitlement. They can become cliquish; they can drive away potential new gamers. They feel special and acknowledged and then associate that with a feeling of ownership, especially of a store. I’m not saying all gamers, but in my experience it happens quite a bit. I’m sure the same thing occurs in other specialty fields, like comic book stores. That can keep new people from entering a group, keep them from feeling comfortable and build up a barrier. The flip side to this is that these people who build up that sense of entitlement become incredibly nasty when the actual stake holders or authorities of a group actually call them to task for bad behavior. The smallest “would you mind not doing X” becomes amplified into a gross injustice in their minds. They’ll take their business elsewhere, bad mouth the store or group, and just generally be a f***wit. You might say good riddance, but these are people who poison the well for others. They’re the people who turn into internet trolls. They’re the people who harp on the negative relentlessly…as apparently I have here. It gets me down when I think about that. I’ve had some bad experiences with stores, but I have done my level best not to talk about that publicly. Unless it involved a commercial transaction, I’ve tried in recent years to let it be. I guess what bugs me about this is that people seem to place a high value on that negativity. It gets under my skin and makes me question what I’m doing.

I’ve have that a few times over the last couple of years- crises of enthusiasm. Some brought on by circumstance, some brought on by f***wits. But I’ve made it through- in greater part because I have a wife who is an enthusiastic gamer. But I’ve had other resources- peers in the blogging community who I respect. There are a bunch of them and I don’t want to list them for fear of forgetting someone excellent. But one which I’ve really enjoyed has been Christian over at Destination Unknown. I feel a weird synergy with him- when I’ve been at my lowest ebb, he’s been running high- filled with enthusiasm and great ideas. When I’ve been at my highest point, he’s been wrestling with issues of table and player management.

It is good stuff, and I hope he does continue. I love gaming, but like blogging, it can be an area where you put yourself out there only to get hit hard. Since it is a personal and creative activity people bad times there can cloud my mood elsewhere if I let them. I’ve seen players take those hits badly over the years- a couple who closed in on themselves and became really paranoid after that. They lost a lot of the spark that made them exciting and fun to play with. That paranoid style made them unable to accept praise later, seeing it as covering something nasty. Those are gamers I’ve buried as well- one who lost their free sense of play.

Which is a down note to end on, so I don’t want to. I love gaming. I get more joy from that than from most other things. It is a shared activity, and gives me a chance to interact and see what other people can produce. I’m lucky to have as good and large as group as we do- and I think everyone in the group is thankful as well. I want to celebrate that, consider tactful criticism and reject destructive negativism.