The amount of negativity I see in our gaming spaces is staggering. Last week, someone asked me what my pet peeves were. After a lot of self-examination, I realized that the negativity and toxic attitudes about gaming were really starting to get on my nerves. This is supposed to be a hobby. This is supposed to be a thing we love. I know that someone will joke that nerds love to complain, but that doesn’t change the fact that if you aren’t having fun any more, why are you doing it? So, I’m going to open this blog by complaining about how people complain. Yes, I appreciate the irony of it all.
In any conversation around gaming, I feel toxicity and push back at most every angle. If someone mentions a new product that just launched, another person is going to complain about their resolution system. As we discuss rules revisions for the next edition of my main LARP, so many suggestions are met with push back about why it won’t work or how players will break it. When I listen to talk about gaming communities, problem players are constantly dwelt upon. People love to gossip or complain about how other people play their characters. Terms like ‘suffer puppet’ are thrown around first in amusement, then as a way for people to mock themselves, then as a mockery of other people. Random ideas jamming for rules changes, even though it’s just loose jivving, is almost always shot down with reasons it didn’t work in the past or who will break it in the future. If us gamers weren’t so busy also telling war stories, I’d worry that 90 percent of our conversation would be negativity of some form or another. (Fortunately, we also like to tell you about our characters and the cool stuff they did, so that’s a good 50 percent of our discussions.)
Now, I will say that I understand why these things are brought up and they are important. If massive loopholes are left in mechanics, then power gamers who are also toxic to the community will beat out less mechanically inclined players. If people aren’t warned about toxic abusers or bullies using the whisper network that still occurs in gaming, new players might fall victim to more toxic elements of our community. Complaints about rules building and character histories are often made in efforts to make the entire game better. They are put forward out of a love for this hobby, not a love of negativity, I acknowledge this. But I think we get stuck in the negativity aspect of it a bit too often and it pulls us into miserable headspaces as well.
Therefore, I’m challenging everyone reading this. For the next thirty days, I implore you to try and put a positive spin on negative things you might normally say about your gaming community. If someone brings up a rules change to you and it seems like it has a glaring flaw, I don’t want you to just point out that flaw and say it won’t work. Approach it with the thoughts in mind of: “What is this person trying to do to make our game better?” See the motivations behind that rule and then come back to that person saying: “I get that we are trying to do this, but maybe this would support that kind of play better? Or, if I’m wrong, can you explain where the motivation behind this change was and we can work on building it better together?” If you hear things about a certain problematic character, instead of just joining in on the gossip, try to walk in that player’s shoes for a little bit. Why did they take those actions? Why did they build the character they did? Short of being a straight up troll (people I’d rather not in our gaming community), they probably had good intentions when they put that character together. See if you can talk about the GOOD sides of problematic characters and work with your fellow friends on how you could coach that player. You don’t even have to APPROACH that player, you could just give some positive reinforcement through strong scenes or deep roleplay of the less problematic sort, further encouraging that person to participate in such a style.
I’ll take this further to conspiracy theories on the internet. I know we’ve read some particularly vicious ones as of late. A company I only recently started working for was being threatened for just being ADJACENT to supposed alt-right flagging material of another property. People love a good torch burning, pitchfork wielding mob on the internet. I challenge you to be above it. Look at these controversies and do a little more research. Dare to see who is behind the computer and the words. What were their motivations in writing this? Why did they direct a game that way? While a few of them might be assholes, I promise you that 95 percent of game writers are GOOD, DECENT, brilliant people who are just trying to give you ways to tell better stories. Instead of screaming about the threads of conspiracy someone sees in a dark game, why not look at another writer and say: “Hey, friends, I know that you’re mad about what might be happening in this game and that sucks. If you like that style of game, this one has the same themes but not so many problematic elements?” Instead of putting someone down, lift another game up. And critically examine ALL of your sources, because the negativity on the internet can be as much conspiracy theory screaming as it is actual warnings.
Now, this is not to say that warning people about shitty things should be silenced. If there are actually dangerous, abusive people in our communities, they should be handled. But this blog is addressing all the little stuff — the negative gossip about playstyles, the bitching about rules, the jealousies, the trolling on the internet — which makes out every day gaming lives more negative than positive. When the issue is small or petty, I challenge you to bite back that initial reaction and figure out what positive spin you can put on the situation. Who knows, you might make new friends, figure out a better solution, or help someone else to become a better roleplayer along the way.
(Featured Image Credit Note: by Robert Baker.)