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There’s a new Player at your Table

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.

General Politeness

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 [1] 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 [2]. 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 [3]. 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 [4] 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 [5] campaign for August. (Their facebook page [6].) 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?

Your Turn

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.

13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "There’s a new Player at your Table"

#1 Comment By Mark Chance On August 3, 2010 @ 7:26 am

While you offer some good advice to combat piggish behaviors, it’s not really necessary for people who know how to act right in public. I’ve played in exclusively all-male groups for almost the entirety of the past two decades, and 99% of those men I’ve gamed with all know to bathe regularly, not to sexually harrass women, not to interrupt others when they’re talking, et cetera. Indeed, almost every problem male gamer I’ve met has been at a con. Likewise with the rarer (IME) problem female gamers. It’s almost as if cons are magnets for people who wouldn’t be allowed in my house.

#2 Comment By TwoShedsJackson On August 3, 2010 @ 8:28 am

It’s good that you give advice like this, but every time I read one of these articles it always has the same effect on me: I decide that I probably won’t ever go to a con. I don’t want to get hit on OR be treated like one of the boys, and I do NOT want to have to wear a gas mask.

#3 Comment By Scott Martin On August 3, 2010 @ 11:34 am

You’re 100% right– for 99% percent of people, it’s not an issue. But get together 30,000 people and 1% is in the hundreds. I’ve honestly had little problem, but I know that some of it is male privilege.

TwoShedsJackson: If you can shrug off one bad encounter, then don’t fear a con. You’ll have a lot of fun– and there are a lot of great people you’ll meet.

#4 Comment By Toldain On August 3, 2010 @ 11:47 am

@TwoShedsJackson: We are constantly faced with the choice of whether to be out and about or to cocoon ourselves and be safe. There’s no right answer to this question. But I’d encourage you to take a risk and try it. Try it at a smaller, local con, it may be less intimidating.

My wife is a veteran of many cons, and her take on the sort of guy being described is generally that they are harmless, and usually easily avoided.

And there’s lots of positives at cons, interesting people to meet, interesting new ideas and game sessions. My wife signed up randomly once for a con game session with a bunch of strangers, all male. Ok, not complete strangers, she’d met one or two of them the day before at a different con event.

It turned into a multi-year campaign for her. They were great guys, and great roleplayers.

#5 Comment By evil On August 3, 2010 @ 12:57 pm

I beg everyone to reconsider using cologne, perfume, or body sprays when going into a crowded public area like that, especially if you’re going to be in tightly packed spaces. Bathing, using deodorant, and a slight amount of cologne or body spray can be good, but most people go overboard. For gamers with breathing difficulty (like me), it is often torture to even attempt a walk through a dealer room thanks to this.

@TwoShedsJackson: Do not be afraid to try out a con. Ask around. Some cons are friendlier than others. Start with a friendly con, go with some friends, and have a blast. While one or two can spoil the bunch, many con-goers are good people just there to have fun.

#6 Comment By QuadraticFighter On August 3, 2010 @ 1:34 pm

Thank you so much for this article! I think it’s really important in the gaming community to have conversations like this. These are things we can do to make the hobby better for women, so we can have more of them in our games.

I also appreciate how Scott recognizes the existence of male privilege. That’s huge. It’s nowhere else on the gaming blogosphere unless it’s explicitly feminist.

And ya, colonge and perfume, some people, like me, are allergic to those things. Just don’t do it. Shower, and deoderant. Also, brushing your teeth, that’s good too. I know, because man, I played against this guy in a chess tournament one time, and his breath was so bad I almost puked. But hey, he took a shower that day….

#7 Comment By Nojo On August 3, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

Nice one. I like the suggestion to ‘verify’ with each player what they are doing. I have a mix of introverts and extroverts, and guess who talks more and louder? 🙂

#8 Comment By TwoShedsJackson On August 3, 2010 @ 9:15 pm

Thank you all for being supportive. I’ll think about it!

#9 Comment By d6Danny On August 4, 2010 @ 7:13 am

[7] – z cons are fun. yeah there are the occasional weird guys, rude folks and gassy gusses and shower avoiders but overall cons are just full of folks that just want to have a good time. for the most part, you can expect a good reaction out of most people. Sure, alot of guys cut back at cons but so do a lot of girls. you should go to one and see what you think. but like go expecting to find good things and fun things and you will. if you go expecting bad things toy can find that to. its like luke sywalker at the cave. you encounter only what you brought.

#10 Comment By d6Danny On August 4, 2010 @ 7:17 am

whoops, sorry guys, I meant to reply to TwoShedsJackson, not to scott.

#11 Comment By Scott Martin On August 4, 2010 @ 9:19 pm

[8] – It actually applies to me too; it’s been a while since I’ve done a big con and this year is my first GenCon Indy. So far so awesome…

#12 Comment By Joe_Sixpack On August 5, 2010 @ 12:09 pm

Feminist gamer love to Scott.

#13 Comment By Roxysteve On August 5, 2010 @ 2:09 pm

Sweet Azathoth yes!

There should be a bullet list on the program of every convention attended by 18-25 year old males:

* Shower every day
* With soap
* Wear freshly laundered clothing (Incredibly you have to tell some people this one)
* That goes double for socks
* Clean your teeth
* Carry breath mints and use them, but don’t chug ’em like candy
* And wash your G-D hands for chrisakes!

I attended I-Con at SUNY Stoneybrook three years ago, the last time Harlan Ellison was there, and visited the newly refurbished and reopened only weeks before Javits Lecture Theater complex to get his autograph on a couple of books late on the Friday night.

Even with the new fixtures and fittings, even though there are *no* residential rooms in the entire complex and zero sports facilities either, it stank of rancid feet.

The next day I was “privileged” to witness several earnest young men attempting to chat-up the scantily clad lady goths and Anime cosplayers in the dealer room, seemingly unaware of the miasmic stench that welled out of their trenchcoats every time they moved. I found myself muttering Burl Ives’s great line from The Big Country: “Treat her right. Take a bath sometime!”