Con season is a great time to get out, meet fellow gamers, try out new games, and enjoy a world where our hobbies and pastimes are center stage. I have a number of habits that I’ve developed over time– things I do when gaming that have just accumulated over the years. Many are neutral– just quirks– but some are actively off putting. Given that cons are filled with people that you’re already prone to like (after all, you all have the great taste to enjoy gaming), it might be worth a moment of conscious review to make sure that you’re not alienating people who would ordinarily become good friends.
This self-check is timely because summer’s such a great season for gaming and a new school year starts later this month. Anytime you shake up your group or add new people to your circle, it’s worth a moment of reflection and a commitment to restraint. Many of these issues are particularly important if your home group is all male or strongly unbalanced in gender– it’s easy to fall into comfortable habits when you all have so much in common.
Polite behavior in mixed company is pounded into women’s brains more thoroughly than most comparable guys. I’m not talking about sipping tea with a pinky extended– but give them a few hours (better: a few sessions) before you start bringing up awkward topics or waiving all those hard won social habits.
Not all Gasses are Noble
Hanging out with friends, it’s easy to get in the habit of rudeness. Guy dominated groups are particularly likely to cut back on the social niceties– we belch and fart, it’s no big deal. Except that doing so can ruin the fun of other people around the table– particularly when belches have their volume forced and farts are ripped without a simple “excuse me”.
My wife came to dread attending our local RPGA events, because we kept getting stuck at a table with a guy whose main communication method was belching. You could tell that we were getting stuck with him because everyone else had firmly requested not to be at his table– and there weren’t enough tables to keep us all away from him. She ducked the events more and more often, with “belching guy” at the top of the list of reasons why.
It’s sad that this has to get printed in all con advice, but the advice is serious. Shower. It’ll make every table of players happier, and every person you’re packed close to in the dealer hall a little more able to bear the press of bodies.
Cologne and perfume don’t mask sweat and dirt, they just add another unpleasant smell to the mix. Increasing deodorant is better than not, but honestly, a shower is the best solution by far. Please take advantage of it.
The Table is not an Extension of your Dating Life
Often, a guy knows within a minute whether he’s sexually interested in a new player at the table. Unfortunately, everyone at the table– including the new player– often knows within a few minutes.
Don’t be rude. If you’re at a con to enjoy gaming, the same is probably true for the new player at the table. If you’re at the game table to kill goblins, the same is probably true for the new player. Over time, you might find out something more. (Maybe he enjoys lots of interacting with NPCs!) In all cases, showing an interest in dating or (especially) making a romantic move at the table just makes things awkward for everyone.
On the flip side
Just because you don’t find a member of the opposite sex attractive, that doesn’t magically undo their socialization. It might be easy to treat her as one of the guys– because, hey, you’re not interested in her as a girl– but that’s no reason to unleash noxious gasses on her or start discussing your favorite porn.
And it’s twice as annoying when you do manage to add a second woman to your table and everyone treats the attractive one as a princess and the other as “just another guy”.
Dating In Character
Short version: don’t do it unless you discussed it out of character, away from the table. Hitting on someone’s character can be confusing; are you hitting on the character because it’s what your character would do? As a way to develop your character? Do you hope to date in character for a while and see if it’ll transfer to real life?
If you only want to date in character: is it because the player isn’t pretty enough for you? Are you sure that’s what she’ll believe? If one of the players thinks the game relationship is a reflection of something more, it’s one of the crueler bait and switches they can experience.
GMs: Watch Out
Most of the time it’s best to treat a new player like everyone else, man or woman. There are a few things to keep in mind though.
Men tend to interrupt others more often in conversation. This can be intensely frustrating to women who wait their turn patiently– and get tromped on three words in. This is reinforced because many people don’t notice when woman get cut off– the assumption is that she’ll jump in and cut guys off too. That will rarely happen in the first session– and if they can’t do anything and no one listens, do you really think they’ll come back for another?
There are several ways to combat this. Initiative is great, if only because it allows each person a clear time to lead the conversation– when their own character is acting. Using initiative for unstructured (out of combat) time can be a simple as passing around a talking stick. Or you can simply allow general discussion for a few minutes then directly address each person in turn and “verify” that you understand what each is doing. When the GM addresses a player directly, other players are less likely to interfere.
You can also point out the problem of people talking over each other before the session starts. If everyone gets better about allowing others to complete their thoughts, everyone benefits. Similarly, speaking over people when they freeze constricts their choices and makes the same action less good. (This is something I need to address myself.)
It’s a GM’s job to shine the spotlight and make sure that all of the characters get a chance to shine. Similarly, the GM should make sure that everyone gets a chance to contribute whether they’re naturally loud or quiet. Keep an eye on your table and draw out the quieter members every once in a while– you’ll often be amazed at what they’ve been thinking.
Play in Public
Right now, board gamers are pushing a play in public campaign for August. (Their facebook page.) The core of the movement is that people don’t even consider gaming until they’re exposed to the idea: people can’t do something they’ve never heard of. If you’re in public and having fun, you’ll get a lot of interest, and might get passerby to check it out. You’re broadening horizons.
Admittedly, passerby can be a little awkward for a roleplaying session– it takes longer to explain to most people than board games. Roleplaying is also more vulnerable to getting jostled out of a delicate suspension of disbelief. If we want to find other interesting people to play with and to have people nod at us enviously when we tell them we’re off to Gen Con, they need to know what they’re missing.
Now on to Game
The point of this isn’t to make everyone second guess themselves and make every game with new players awkward. It’s not that women are delicate flowers– it’s just an accident of socialization, a history we carry along unexamined most of the time.
Still, if a second the check out worst instincts can bring new players into the hobby– or make someone’s con experience pleasant instead of painful– why not give it a shot?
I know a lot of my advice has been sterotypical and is oft repeated. What pet peeve do you have? What’s the thing you see at an event that makes you regret signing up for an event? Help us figure out how to make you welcome at our table.