Tuesday, May 21, 2024

“Mind Your Manners”

Always be tactful and well-mannered.... Avoid excessive sharpness or harshness of voice, which usually indicates the man who has shortcomings of his own to hide.”

General Erwin Rommel

I don’t remember why I was paging through my copy of Panzer Kids Deluxe recently, but among all the tank stats, optional rules, and scenarios I noticed the “Mind Your Manners” page. My Skirmish Kids rules, perpetually nearing imminent completion, also include a similar section. Both offer these guidelines to set a baseline of behavior at the game table. We often expect certain courteous and helpful behaviors when we get together with strangers or friends to play games; unwritten rules to help everyone get along a little more clearly. It reminded me of the important role these concepts play in helping young gamers – and even more adult gamers – navigate the emotions that accompany winning and losing. They’re also good maxims to keep in mind as we interact with each other, strangers and friends, in person and online, in our everyday encounters.

Most games have rules about how to play them relating to the components; but we also have often unspoken rules about how players interact with each other to help ensure everyone plays a fair game and has a positive experience. I think these are so essential they’re worth reprinting here. Sure, many are tied to game procedures, but there’s die rolling, turn taking, and communicating intentions and processes so everyone stays aware of what’s going on and avoids a sense that another player’s trying to pull one over on them.

Games of any sort assume players follow certain common-sense courtesies to make sure everyone sees what’s going on in the game and that nobody feels like someone’s cheating. When it’s your turn take your time and communicate your intentions and actions to other players. Point to the tank you intend to move and state clearly which of your tanks is attacking a particular enemy tank. Declare how far your tank moves as you measure for its movement. Make sure everyone agrees on line of sight and range before making any attack rolls. State your tank’s attack value — and ask your opponent to verify her tank’s defense value — before rolling the die to determine whether you hit. Roll dice on a clear portion of the table away from other tank pieces or terrain features; reroll any die skewed against anything on the table and re-roll any die that skitters off the table. Leave rolled dice visible for a moment so all player feel satisfied seeing the results.

This served as a basic, one-page reminder of courteous practices in the context of the Panzer Kids rules; but they contain some advice applicable to any game and, ideally, any real-world or online interaction. Communicate clearly and calmly so everyone understands. Ensure everyone’s on the same page about the current situation and how you’re going about changing it. Act openly and honestly to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

I elaborated on these guidelines in Skirmish Kids to more specifically address in-game behavior, with parallels to civility in everyday life. Make sure everyone has access to the play area and components. Clearly state your intent and actions so everyone knows what’s going on and can offer reminders or corrections about rules. Roll dice in an open area — rerolling skewed dice or those that skitter off the table — and make sure everyone has a chance to see the results even if you don’t outright announce them (this last one I included when I playtested Panzer Kids with my young nephew...and he typically rolled the dice and announced the “result” as he scooped them up...). Learn to win and lose with grace, celebrating everyone’s victories and offering encouragement when the game doesn’t go their way despite their best efforts. “Although this is only a game, it can teach many lessons, including how we relate to each other within a community of players.”

It’s easy to follow these guidelines when gaming among friends; with everyone getting along it’s just second nature. But when gaming with strangers or casual acquaintances — especially at public game events like conventions, library game days, and store tournaments — everyone’s responsible for civil behavior, though certainly any host has slightly greater influence in setting and maintaining the tone. As players we’re responsible for our own good behavior and, in our own ways, encouraging others to help make the game a positive experience overall.

I’ve written about winning and losing graciously before (with thinly veiled hints at how it applies to politics). Too often we focus on reading, understanding, and playing games that we forget the unspoken set of rules to follow as decent human beings. Games allow us to explore themes and situations we wouldn’t normally manage in real life; they provide a safe-to-fail zone to explore different actions and their consequences within the game framework. But they also allow us to experience and reflect on different emotions, including those we feel interacting with fellow players. This isn’t to say we should feel free to behave badly while playing a game, but that we should use the opportunity afforded by the social activity to practice being decent (if not excellent) to each other.

I expect to include a section on remaining polite playing games for kids...but in our Internet Age of contentious real-time online arguments about issues ranging from the petty to the profound, it bears repeating for adults, too. I regret the message is lost in the cacophony of fabricated truths, facts based on strongly held, loudly shouted beliefs, name-calling, manipulative spin, and general poor behavior online.

A fool contributes nothing worth hearing and takes offense at everything.”


1 comment:

  1. Good reminders for both kids and adults, in game or out.


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