Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Gaming 101: Bullies and Samaritans

Miniature skirmish games often have awesome terrain.
I hate to start a post-con wrap up with this topic, but I think this is singularly important to point out what I witnessed this weekend. Notice I didn't say “discuss” because there is no discussion. What happened was awful behavior and I want everyone to recognize it and put a stop to it when they see it.

While this incident happened in a miniatures game, I've seen this kind of behavior in many different kinds of games, and even once at my own table... so the lesson here is universal.

My wife and I attended a miniatures event this weekend at a well known convention, which should have been incredibly fun, but was hamstrung by events that occurred in the first turn. The set up was this: the players were all monsters and the town was the focus of our destructive behavior. It was a players vs. the environment situation. It was like “Rampage” (the video game) but with giant miniatures and a pseudo-medieval setting.

However, there was a caveat -- PvP was allowed in the game. It wasn’t against the rules to attack another player, but it was obvious (to me at least) that this kind of thing might happen later in the game when chaos was in full swing and the event was winding down.

So, here’s where things went sideways.

On one side, there was this stereotypical geek: a bit overweight, somewhat socially awkward know-it-all, but friendly and well meaning. I have a hard time judging age as I’ve gotten older, but I gather he was not more than college aged. On the other side, there was a Dad (or Uncle) and two younger (probably high school) relations. These guys were handsome and fit. Likely never had problems fitting in with the “cool kids”.

Not pictures from the event.
From what I gather, the second group had encountered the geeky kid before at the con (or possibly locally) and they had it in for him. The geeky kid had no idea what was coming, but was looking forward to having some mayhem in town with his creature avatar.

Turn 1: The Dad’s monster immediately comes up behind the other kid’s monster and starts to gank him. The “cool kids” then pile on during their initiative. This wasn’t a fun in-game “Ha ha, let’s kill each other” moment. This was 3 players ganging up to kill another player in the first turn of a 4 hour event.

He didn’t die right away, but was clearly badly flustered and upset at the direction things were going. The GMs weren’t sure how to handle what was happening. PvP was legal, but this was not just regular PvP. This kid was being bullied. There is no other name for what was happening.

As a player adjacent to the carnage, I was asked if I wanted to get in on the “fun”. I declined and then pulled one of the younger men aside. “Look, this guy just wants to run into town and play ‘Rampage’ with everyone else in the game. Don’t destroy his fun. I’ve been there, and this could ruin his whole night.”

The young man was immediately defensive. “My friends and I beat up on each other like this all the time in games”.

Skirmish battle from one of my old campaigns.
“My friends and I”. There’s the difference. That is their social contract. They get their jollies killing one another in their home games. But this wasn’t their home game, and this other young man was not one of their friends in on the “joke”.

The geeky fellow manages to kill the Dad's character, but is still getting jumped in-game by the kids. It looks like the Dad is about to respawn as another figure nearby and get back into the scrum, so I pull him aside too. “Hey man, I think you should lay off. Don’t ruin this kid’s whole gaming night over whatever little vendetta is going on.” After that, his new monster, at the least, did not rejoin the combat.

However, the lone kid's monster died that turn, killed by the other kids, and he was visibly upset and humiliated.

For their part, the GM’s rallied a bit. The town NPCs started to focus fire on the bullies when their activation came up. They also gave the geeky young man the most powerful town NPC to play (a pegasus-mounted warlord) and had him help with the other NPC combatants in game. His night was eventually salvaged.

“But it was PvP!” 

I can already hear this defense from the reader. No, this was something else entirely. These kids were purposefully putting down the young man during the first turn in order to "teach him a lesson" or whatever other screwed up rationalization they had.

At the very least, it appeared that the Dad and kids eventually felt chagrin. Their enjoyment did not appear to last, hopefully because they recognized the real mental harm they were inflicting. I do not know if my gentle shaming played any part or not. With their enthusiasm dashed, they eventually left the event a bit early (although perhaps for other reasons)... but they never apologized.

I tell this story not to get a pat on the back. If I helped at all, it was barely enough. I’m telling the story so that other players may recognize the dark part of themselves that might be tempted to be those bullies. I’m telling this so that players and GMs might step in to help a player being targeted. I'm telling this so other Dads that should know better will.

I understood that geeky kid. In a number of ways, I was that geeky kid. Games should be our escape from the bullies of real world -- whether that bully is a person, or an anxiety, or a depression, or other real world challenge from which we step away for a few hours out of the week. Our night out shouldn't be ruined by some asshole.

Don’t be the bully.

Don’t be a d!ck.

Be the Samaritan.
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