This is a lesson that applies to your game table and to life in general.
I recently watched the documentary Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus. The filmmaker is an evolutionary biologist who takes a hard look at the debate behind teaching evolution versus intelligent design, but who also looks at the approach that proponents of both methods use in making their arguments.
In one scene a scientist is loudly proclaiming “I have the floor! I have the floor!” during a discussion of evolution versus intelligent design. He refuses to let another person speak, and he is completely oblivious to how his declaration of having the floor is both rude and belittling to others.
You might think that the scientist was addressing his opponents in this debate at some conference. He wasn’t. He was addressing his fellow scientists, who were all on his side of the debate. They were also his personal friends.
Even worse, his declaration of “having the floor” takes place in the middle of a friendly poker game. The filmmaker makes a point that many of the people that he met who were arguing for intelligent design were charming and nice people, and far too often some of the scientists did not appear as such.
Forget who is right in regards to what should be taught in our public schools. I have a very strong opinion on that matter, but this is not the place for it. The reason that I am describing this scene to you is because the intelligent design proponents in the film were trying to convince people whereas the evolution proponents were trying to prove who was right.
In other words, being right is not enough. You still have to convince someone to do that which you believe is right.
I have seen an argument break out at many a gaming table, game shop, email group, and forum where one or more of the participants were obviously more concerned with proving that they were right than anything else. The end result is usually the same: Even when that person “wins” he or she loses.
I am not suggesting that people should follow someone who is wrong. I am stating that people will follow a person who is wrong who treats them nicely over a person who is right and treats them poorly. We’re not Vulcans. Sound logic is not enough to lead people with. Which is why people with charisma are often leaders even when they might be wrong in their arguments.
How does this apply to you as the GM? When a argument breaks out at your game’s table take a moment to step back and assess the situation. Call a break from the game and make a declaration that everyone at the table are friends and should treat each other as friends would.
Then treat the argument as an interruption to the game and not part of the game itself. Ask all of the participants if the group can shelve the argument for later by compromising with a temporary solution for now that you as the GM declare. If the participants accept make it clear that you will address their concerns and hear each of them out after the game.
If the participants refuse set a time limit of 15 minutes for the arguing and moderate the argument. Do not make the mistake of many an Internet forum by saying “There can be no arguing here!” That will just bury the tension for a short while. You want the issue resolved, not hidden.
The entire time be polite and courteous in how you treat others. Never raise your voice, nor use aggressive body language. Stay calm and cool no matter how anyone else reacts. Forget right. Forget wrong. Calm the nerves of the participants, and convince everyone to get back to the game. If you can calm people down they often will agree to do whatever is the most logical thing.
Last thing to consider: If you are the person who is making the argument and you begin to become obsessed with showing others how right you are go to the bathroom. You are losing sight of what being a GM is all about. Get away from your players and get your head back in the game — literally. You are not there to show others that you are right. You are there to lead your group in a fun game.
Agree? Disagree? Let’s argue by leaving some comments below, but let’s do it politely and with respect in a way that brings out the best in each of us.