Some rules I have encountered in my travels:
- Refrain from making negative comments during play concerning the contracts made.
- Always pay attention to the play and stop your mind from wandering.
- Making a questionable claim or concession is inadvisable.
- Don’t prolong the play unnecessarily.
- To vary the normal tempo of bidding or play in order to distract opponents is not recommended.
- Do not leave the table needlessly before the round is called.
While a few of you might be able to guess what these are for I suspect most of my readers won’t. They are taken from Bridge: Rules of Etiquette by David Braybrooke.
You are probably asking one of two questions and possibly both. The first is “why am I bringing up contract bridge in an RPG blog?” The second is “why am I bringing up rules of etiquette in an RPG blog?” The answers are “because bridge is commonly seen as a game for adults” and “because RPGs aren’t” respectively. Last week I discussed how TSR’s marketing choices moved D&D into being primarily perceived as a kids game. Today I’d like to discuss what I consider the single biggest obstacle to changing that perception; role-playing gamers as a whole have horrific manners.
Before you contend I’m alone in my thinking or that I’m merely subscribing to gamer stereotypes let’s look at the evidence. While I had considered this before the topic was rammed home by two postings in the RPG community. The first, and more acerbic of the two, was by Alexis at The Tao of D&D and was titled DM As An Asshole (a how-to guide). The RPG Rules of Etiquette he laid out were very strict and drew on his experience as a chess player, specifically tournament play. However, strict as they are he correctly points out that they are common for many activities such as yoga, theater (performing or attending), and even playing in some musical ensembles. About two months after a similar post was made at RPG.net entitled Critque my table rules by D. Archon.
As for gamer stereotypes, I am indulging them. If we want to move RPGs back to an adult hobby from a kid’s hobby which for any niche hobby is vital to its long term survival, we need to confront these stereotypes on two levels. The first is most people have them. The unwashed, mouth breathing, obsessed with his 70th level Paladin/Mage/Dungeon Master and the S&M elf chick that character is having sex with is the broader view of the hobby. Alexis is right. That is exactly what your coworkers are thinking when you walk away after talking about what you did this weekend. They may not think it of you specifically, but even then they wonder why you put up with people like that and what’s wrong with you. To claim the same respect hex and chit wargaming had in the 1970s, an acceptable adult hobby even if not for everyone, we need to correct this image.
Before you start writing Alltel or the guys who write whatever sitcom dumped on gamers this week we need to clean up our own house. The fact is the matter is Alexis only went part of the way when he said, “D&D has consistently been, in my experience, the second worst offender when it comes to poor manners, poor habits and unbelievably infantile self-proclaiming posturing. The worst, of course, is any bar with a television where you’re trying to get solemnly drunk.” The reality is too many of us not only accept this but celebrate it. When you consider the most popular gaming comic out there, Knights of the Dinner Table, this is driven home. I love the Knights and identify too much with the comic. That is part of the problem. Three different tables are regularly featured and at best one of them has a majority of functional adults at the table, Patty’s Perps. To even bring them to that status of majority functional adults we have to include an ex-con as functional. That an ex-con trying to go straight is more functional that all but one of the lead group’s players (the only functional adult in the Knights is Sarah) says something. Before anyone says, “but it is just a comic”, they should come up with a reason for it being routinely funny and very popular that doesn’t involve it reflecting the hobby as a whole.
If you need a more real world example let’s return to D. Archon’s table rules at RPG.net. Despite being milder than Alexis’s rant there were multiple objections to rules I would consider fairly common sense. Some examples that people thought were “bring your own stuff” and “be on time or call”. When you’re 14 these are common issues that you put up with. When you are 25 or 35 or 45 or beyond and trying to squeeze gaming in along with a full time job, grad school, spouse, kids, maintaining your house, and so on the behavior being explicitly prohibited should not even come up. Even more disturbing, for me, was how much of myself I saw in both lists and how, with one exception (being on time, which is an ongoing personal struggle), they are mostly gaming specific.
The fact is we don’t act like chess, bridge, or hex and chit gamers. We don’t model their public and tournament play in our public and tournament play nor do we model their casual play in our casual play. We have more in common behaviorally with science fiction fandom. Even adults who love fantastic literature and media often avoid fandom. For the same reason, a large number of adults who love the literature and media that inspire us and love to create stories avoid our hobby. Not only do they avoid it but actively consider it in a negative light.
Yet that occurs in a world where one of the most influential figures on TV, Stephen Colbert, an NBA player, Tim Duncan, and some popular actors, Robin Williams, Mike Myers, and Vin Diesel, are all one of us. As I wrote last week this could be the real golden age of the hobby. It is older than it’s been in two decades in terms of players, fantastic media is on the upswing, some prominent people are players, and we are returning to our DIY roots as DIY is on the upswing again. Let we are still considered a childish hobby. If we want to begin to reverse that trend and take advantage of all the possibilities to carve out a place as a stable, adult, niche hobby that will be around for our old age and our grandchildren the first step is to act like adults. Hell, in this day and age that might be another groundbreaking creation of the hobby.