Thursday, March 15, 2018

Boot 'Em

Today, Paul Stefko tweeted about not playing with people who are problem players. This was in a thread about saying no to your players, which is a thing I've discussed before. I wanted to address the topic, so I tweeted about it! The following is the content of my tweets, but expanded.

I want to talk about booting players - including GMs - from your game.

It isn't the GM or other players' jobs to fix a problem player. The player should be alerted of the problems and asked to fix it, and if they don't fix it and it disrupts everyone's experience, eject the player. Even if they live there. Even if they're your family. Boot. Them.

This includes GMs. It sounds like a mess to do so, and it may be. But if a GM violates player consent, they could go farther. Just like any other player, GMs should follow a standard of behavior that respects others and is ethical, and one that ensures everyone has the most fun. If they don't, boot them. You can play a GMless game, keep your character sheets and continue play without them, or start another game. There may be emotional blowback, or even social blowback.

It's hard and it sucks but honestly, problem players can be a soul sucking experience. They can hurt people. A lot of things like talking over people can lead to bullying, or rude jokes can lead to harassment, ignoring rules to violating consent. Catch it early.
I know this sounds very harsh, but people don't grow and change if we never make them accountable and provide consequences. If a player is ruining everyone's fun and doesn't change after a warning or two (depending on severity), they need to go. If it's severe? No warnings: boot them.

You need to make a decision as a gaming group what behavior and what kind of disruption is acceptable. People who refuse to follow rules can and will harm people. Don't be complicit in that. Don't create more perpetrators of disrespect and harm in games. Be better!

Here are some suggestions on how to address this with your group and set yourselves up for success!

1) Put together a group standard. It doesn't have to be long or complicated, but it needs to be meaningful.

When I was invited to the Indie Game Developer Network (IGDN) by Mark Diaz Truman, I was excited - but nervous. One of the first things I did was create and put forward an organization code of conduct. It wasn't easy, but it meant a lot to me. I wish I'd instituted it in other parts of my gaming world, but I didn't. What I've learned is that even something simple makes a difference. Here is an example of some standards that are actionable and have consequences baked in:

"As a group, we will:
Respect each other's consent and privacy,
Respect each other's personal space,
Ask for consent before we act,
Be honest and trustworthy,
Listen to each other's perspectives, and,
Participate fairly in play and game tasks.

If anyone does not meet these, we will ask them to change their behaviors. If they do not change their behaviors, they will leave the group. If their behavior causes immediateb or serious harm, they will leave immediately."

It sounds silly and formal. So does asking your friend before you take an action that might affect them in game, honestly. But if they protect people and make the game space better? Worth a little formality.

You can also provide these at cons, local game spaces, and so on. If people want to play the game, they can consent to guidelines like these.

2) Use safety and content tools consistently.

There are a variety of content and safety tools, including my Script Change, lines and veils, and John Stavropolous's X-card.
These tools are about guiding behaviors, respecting boundaries, and making sure the game is the most enjoyable it can be. They aren't about shutting people down or bailing, they're about honesty, openness, and trust. This is important to remember.

Choose a tool based on the game you're playing or style of play, or even try a few out over the first few sessions. Once you figure out what works best, always have it available. Get everyone's buy-in, and use that as a habit.

3) Talk to each other.

Be clear about which behaviors are okay, and which are not. Talk to each other regularly about what's working for you in game, and what's not. Tell each other when their behaviors make you uncomfortable, and when they make you happy!

Have group discussions, mediated discussions, or one-on-one discussions, but talk. Be honest. If you can't talk to and be honest with a person in your group, that isn't good, and your game experience will be better if someone changes their behaviors or leaves the game.

Know that sometimes, that person might be you. Be willing to change. If you feel you can't or that others who need to change won't, it's time to find a new place to be - and try to learn from what you've experienced. It's okay to leave a game or group you don't enjoy or you can't comfortably engage with. You just have to make that choice.


This sounds like a lot, I know. Still, you need to ask yourself: does the game matter more than the people?

If your answer is yes, I don't think we're gonna get along.

Be honest. Be caring. Be better.

Boot 'em.

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