Yeah, the title of this piece seems self explanatory. It doesn’t seem as though I should have to say anything more than this. Treat all people with respect, including potential gamers. But evidently, more needs to be said. At least to some people. But before I get into the do’s and don’ts of “how to treat potential gamers” etiquette, gather round the fire and let me tell you a story.
Years ago (somewhere around the time dirt was formed), I dated a guy — let’s call him Grumpy — who was into role playing games, particularly BattleTech. Now, at that point I’d never played any RPG’s, but I certainly knew what they were. (If you grew up in the 80’s you at least knew what Dungeons and Dragons was, if for no other reason than your parents were probably freaking out about how it would convert you to Satanism.)
I asked Grumpy to teach me how to play. I’d watched him and his friends playing and had a general idea of how things worked. It looked like a lot of fun and I wanted in. Grumpy’s response was, “No, you’ll slow the game down and it won’t be any fun for us. Besides, most of it will just go over your head.”
I argued my case a bit; halfheartedly because I could see that his mind was made up. I wasn’t “allowed” to play. Worse, he wouldn’t even teach me one-on-one outside of the group gathering. BattleTech was off-limits to me as far as he was concerned. I was too dumb to grasp it, and my stupidity would ruin the game for the rest of them. Never mind that other guys were routinely added to the group who, as far as I could tell, had no prior experience with BattleTech.
Now, I’m not going to say that it was a gender thing, although I’m reasonably certain it was. It doesn’t matter. Treating anyone that way, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other reason is disrespectful. Making people feel “less than” isn’t cool. Yet it (still) happens every day, in all walks of life, and too often in gaming.
Too many people dismiss, deride, or insult potential gamers. And it needs to stop. I came back to games despite Grumpy’s attitude. Many people give up and abandon games after a first encounter like that. It’s a shame because we lose some awesome people this way. We should want to encourage all gamers to join the ranks, not send them running away.
Just because someone is new to a hobby does not make them an idiot. Taking time to teach someone a game does not need to ruin your fun. Heck, it might even be fun in and of itself to do the teaching! Yes, it’s possible that a new person might slow down a game, at least for a while, but it’s not going to end the world to play a few learning rounds. Everyone, even the so-called “superior” gamers at the table, begins by walking into a gaming situation and asking, “Can I play?” Remember that and treat others accordingly.
With that in mind, here are my etiquette tips on how to treat potential gamers:
- If someone asks to be included in a game, welcome them. If the game is complicated and others aren’t willing to engage in some teaching moments, offer to teach the new person on the side until they’re up to speed enough to join the main group. Have them observe and ask questions, and then answer those questions. Don’t roll your eyes, wave them off, or say, “Come on. It’s obvious.”
- Be patient when teaching. Just because someone doesn’t “get it” on the first turn doesn’t mean they’re stupid and will never reach your heights of gaming prowess. We all know that the ah-ha moment can take a while to come, and every game is different as to how long that takes. Just cool your jets until it happens.
- If the game/group is legitimately too full to accommodate another player, offer to start a spinoff group, or help the interested person find others to play with. Don’t just say, “We’re full,” and push the new person off.
- If your reason for refusing to include/teach someone is because you resent their intrusion into your “guy” or “girl” time, say so. Politely. (I suspect this might have been part of Grumpy’s problem.) This is likely to be more of a problem between people in a romantic relationship who see each other all the time and want space away from “coupledom.” There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I really enjoy this time with my other friends that I only get to see once a month. Maybe you and I could play something else tomorrow?” There are ways for mature adults to have this conversation that don’t come down to falling back on gender stereotypes or insulting the other’s intelligence.
- If you end up pushing the potential gamer off to a later date, make sure you follow up. If you agreed to teach or play something else tomorrow or next week, do it. Don’t smother burgeoning enthusiasm under negligence. And don’t make the potential gamer feel like you’re just brushing them off until they forget about the whole thing.
- Don’t assume anything about the potential new gamer. If you’re playing an RPG and they ask to join, don’t assume they won’t understand the basic concepts. If you’re playing a deep strategy game, don’t assume that the new gamer can’t grasp it and that you need to dumb it down to a gateway game. People are full of surprises. Besides… Even a game like Through the Ages lists the starting age as fourteen on the box. Unless a six year old is hanging out at your table asking to play Die Macher, give the new person the benefit of the doubt. Most adults are more than capable of figuring stuff out, if taught correctly and in a supportive environment.
And that’s all this comes down to. Show new gamers your good side. Support their interest in games by being helpful and instructive. Don’t talk down to people, in or out of the gaming arena. If there’s a dispute or some legitimate reason why you don’t want to/can’t help, act like an adult and have the conversation. Don’t dismiss others with insults and stereotypes. In other words, don’t be like Grumpy.
(Oh, and the ending of the story is this: Grumpy and I did not last long. His attitude and actions over BattleTech turned out to be instructive as to how he dealt with a whole range of things. So from that perspective, I actually ended up being grateful that he was a jerk early on in the relationship. And I did eventually play BattleTech, along with other RPG’s and board games with a diverse group of awesome people I’ve met over the years. Thankfully I didn’t let Grumpy turn me off to just how great this hobby and the majority of people in it can be. I just hope that others will never have to meet a Grumpy in their life, and that their enjoyment of games is never put on the line by bad behavior.)