Playing with good intent

October 2, 2012

About 2 or 3 times a week, I see various people online, asking “How do I deal with this play issue?” – when the issue is pretty much having a person, or multiple people playing with bad intent.

What do I mean “bad intent”? (I hear people crying about judgmental attitudes, etc.) Well, think of it this way – we’ve gathered to play a game in some sort of fashion. There’s probably spaces where you’re going to find edge rules of play, or things which are technically legal, but not in line with the point of play.

For example, competitive chess has a time limit for moves, so you don’t have someone simply walk away from the board and decide they’ll take their next turn 20 years later. While it’s “technically” legal to do this if you’re casually playing without a time limit, but we all understand that it’s basically saying “Fuck you! I’m not playing” rather than actually playing the game.

I’m very much for playing hard within the limits of the rules and the point of play – it’s stuff where you have players spending 10 minutes trying bullshit up a reason they should get an extra bonus die, etc. People often try to call these folks “rules lawyers” but they’re actually not- the people who are good with the rules usually don’t have to argue their case – they’re not always trying to get over. You play hard, you take your lumps when they come, and you either play better or hope for better luck next time.

You could say that these sorts of folks are griefing (such as people basically fighting for social dominance, which I’ve seen), that they’re trying to play a different game and pushing these edges to do it (also when they try to avoid engaging the rules), or that they’re acting out of a proactive abused gamer syndrome – they’re not pushing the boundaries of the rules – they’re pushing the boundaries of the people playing because they don’t trust them and need to know how to “work” the group in play (including the GM).

That said, none of the above are people actually there to PLAY the game with good intent.

Notice that if someone is confused about the rules, they go: “Hey can I get X?” “No, because Y reason”, “Oh. Ok.” which is very different than: “Hey can I get X?” “No, because Y reason”, “Well, what if Z? Huh? What if Y was different? What about this unrelated rule? Wait, wait, give me a minute to look through the book. Hold on, give me the other book….”

So the sorts of things people complain about in this regard aren’t a matter of lack of understanding, it’s a matter of a social behavior.

Clinton R. Nixon once said something along the lines of, “If everyone’s there to have fun, WHY would a player choose to fuck up the fun?”

When everyone understands what game you’re there to play, and wants to play it, you don’t have certain problems. When someone isn’t… well. There’s no rules that will fix people who aren’t there to play the game.

One of the most basic lessons, that came out of the Forge, often emphatically stated by Ron Edwards was, “People have to WANT to play THIS game.” as the baseline social standard to meet for any kind of game to work. And more than anyone’s words about their intent, how well they try to make the game work, vs. fight it, will show you more about what they really want – as much as the guy who gets up and walks away for 20 years in the middle of chess then says you lost when you put away the board.

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