7 Ways to Avoid Dickitude: A Gamer's Primer

Every con, forum, or other public gaming get-together has at least one person who has accepted the "Fun Spoiler" quest. I've heard several names for these people: Spoiler, flame-bait, dick, jerk, troll, jackass, and a variety of more colorful epithets which I leave as an imaginative exercise for the reader. They may intentionally sabotage the game to get their rocks off, or maybe it's accidental behavior and they're working purely on instinct. Answering why these people do what they do could keep psychologists and sociologists arguing for years if they ever discover gamer culture as a viable and vibrant subject of study. I'd like to assume the best and think that maybe some of these issues can be resolved with an educational approach.

In that spirit I've gathered seven quick ideas on how better to follow Wheaton's Law, and I thought I'd open up my list for dissection and discussion. I wrote this with an eye toward gamers, but the concepts translate into everyday life as well. Everybody has an opinion, and everybody has a "this drives me batshit crazy" button that someone else stomps on. The trick is to pay attention so you don't alienate anyone, even by accident.

Most of these ideas center around respect and paying attention to other people, but respect comes in vastly different flavors. Please take a read and then share your thoughts on how to avoid dickitude in the comments.

1) Respect and Politeness Will Take You Far.
If you can't make a game, let people know as soon as possible. ASAP does NOT mean "Ask Someone After Payday." If you've committed to play, show up on time. If you're running late, call or text if possible. If you're visiting someone else's house, bring something to share and thank them for inviting you. Apologize when you've done something wrong or hurtful, but avoid sycophantic groveling.

Let people finish expressing their thoughts before cutting them off and jumping into the conversation. Thank everyone at the table for showing up and putting in the work of running the game or playing the PC. You'd be surprised how much a simple "Thank you" means to people. Remember that the crowd around you at a con contains people just like you who don't suffer fools lightly. Let them do their thing and they'll let you do yours in peace.

2) Ubiquity Is Tiresome. Share the Spotlight.
Unless you're playing an archangel who can be everywhere at once, your character is not ubiquitous. If your character is off picking locks in the treasure room under the castle, don't jump in and give advice to the rest of the party negotiating with the Baron two floors up. Your character has decided to go off on her own, so please respect the shared reality of the game and play that way.

Even if you're the GM, the game is not all about you. Every character needs a chance to shine at what they do, so make sure everyone gets some center stage time. That's how "do you remember that time we were fighting the dragon and I..." stories happen. That's how you build a team and not a back-up band itching to dethrone you.

3) Other People Are Different. Respect Boundaries.
Here's the tough one. Everyone else in the world does not necessarily share your ideas nor your assumptions. People may not do what you think they'll do. This does not mean that they're intentionally trying to screw you over. Another person can come to a different conclusion about the best course of action, and that's fine. Accept it without whining or browbeating. Roll with it and you may end up having more fun that you would have following your "correct" action plan.

Be mindful of other people's experiences. Dismissing one person's hot-button topic as irrelevant opens the door for tossing around -isms and entitlement, neither of which belong at the gaming table. Not everyone has had your experiences, so listen to their experiences first and then share yours. Most of all, if you're doing something that is hurting someone else, maybe by reminding them of something awful that happened to them in the past, you've crossed a line and need to jump back across that boundary as quickly as you can.

Hiding behind your character does not excuse your rudeness and disrespect. "It's what my character would do" is a complete cop-out. You're saying, "I want to cause you pain and this is my excuse." Stop it. You are in charge of your character, your character is not in charge of you. Maybe right now is a great time for your character to have an epiphany and go through some character growth, and maybe some of that maturity will rub off on the player. The game group comes first, and if the game needs to stop to hash out what's acceptable and unacceptable, it will.

Most of all, learn from your mistakes. If a fellow player approaches you and expresses discomfort with what you have done or said, treat it as an opportunity to discover something you never knew about people rather than an attack on your character. It's very easy to get defensive, but if that happens you're shutting down the lines of communication and your group will implode soon. Keep the conversation civil and focus on "I feel" statements rather than "You did" ones. And try not to beat the dead horse.

4) Listen Thrice, Speak Once.
Again, show some respect for the opinions of other people at the table. If you listen to more voices than just your own, you may learn something about the game or about your fellow players. Interrupting may happen in the heat of combat, but try to pay attention and keep the interrupts to a minimum. And if you're in discussions about what drives a person crazy, just listen and let them run the conversation.

This especially applies in internet forums and on Twitter. Yes, it's very easy to bang out the first inflammatory thing you think of that'll fit in 140 characters, but that's not always helpful to the conversation. Take a step back and give yourself some time to think about your response before you inadvertently dump gasoline on the embers of conflict. I've seen enough enough vitriol to last a lifetime. Let's consciously try to defuse situations rather than mindlessly escalate them into reactive flame wars.

5) If Unsure, Please Ask!
As the old maxim goes, "When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me." This goes for rules interpretations, the social contract of the game, where the spare toilet paper is hidden, what acceptable behavior means, which line is for the Gamer Parents panel, and whether a joke is funny or not. Begging forgiveness works in IT, but it's impossible to take something hurtful back once you've let it free.

Don't worry about what sounding like a n00b will do to your gamer street cred. I've been playing RPGs for 30 years and I'm still asking questions. It's a big hobby with a multitude of rule systems, and every gaming group has its own interpretation of the rules. Even if you know a system cold, check with your GM because house rules and shadings of interpretation come in all shapes and sizes.

6) There's No Shame In Retreat.
This applies in social conflicts among players as well as endowing your character with intelligence enough for self-preservation. Using the same argument over and over stagnates the story and makes your character nearly impossible to deal with rationally. Changing your position, either by withdrawing and choosing a different position to defend or by accepting a counterargument, will get you ahead of the game much faster than stonewalling.

If you need to be "right", you need to find a different hobby. Role-playing is inherently social and collaborative, so you will need to go with the flow more than you may want to. Working with people involves compromise, but compromise won't be seen as weakness at all. Compromise displays maturity. If you want to continue acting like a five-year-old having a tantrum, by all means focus on one thing and never let it go. The rest of us will be over here playing the game.

Corollary: When you're wrong about something or if you offend someone at the table, apologize and move on. Lengthy explanations when you're the only one talking only waste time and air. The horse has expired, so please put the cudgel away. If you feel the need to talk further, do it after the game and away from the table, but respect boundaries if you're the only one who wants to talk about something.

7) Remember You Are Responsible For Everyone Having Fun.
Fact: One person can black-ball the fun for an entire gaming session. Plea: Respect your fellow players, and don't be that person.

If you pay attention to the people in your group, you can see who's not having fun. If someone sits back and folds their arms with a "get me out of here" look on their face, find a way to make the game fun for that person. If someone stops having fun, they'll either disengage, or worse, they'll start engineering fun for themselves at the expense of the rest of the players.

That's my food for thought based on what I've experienced. If you have someone who's making your game miserable, get some support from others in the group, then talk it out with the problem player. At the very least, tell someone else in the group and get some feedback. Stewing in your own juices over something that irritates you will not resolve the problem, and it only raises your blood pressure. After all, nobody can fix a problem that they don't know exists, right?

Do you have any additions or edits to this admittedly-partial list? What advice do you wish you could give "that person"?

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