Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Toxicity

In my last post I mentioned that we had some insulting and abusive customers at the Expo I attended last weekend.  I'm glad to say they weren't especially those things towards us - it was, rather, that these were fellows (every one was a boy-bear) took such exceptional pride in being assholes towards their players that they felt compelled to entertain us with boasting about their sadism.

I will not go into details.  Mostly it involved detailed sketches of perverse devices and dungeon traps meant to gleefully execute players or mere gloating accounts of players they had twisting in the wind in their recent campaigns.  Each of these demons invariably seem to think their games are insouciantly hilarious, that everyone else they speak to will feel exactly the same and that we are all simply dying to hear them go on and on . . . and on about it.

The most difficult patrons are the war story tellers.  In most cases, easily 19 out of 20, I feel legitimately heartsore for their positions.  They have no one they can talk to.  Being a role-player and a figure behind a table, I'm more than ready to lend my empathic, considerate attention: as I have written a few times this year, the worst part of being a DM is that we are alone.  There's little to no support in the community and anyone who dares to speak about their worlds is bound to receive nothing but a contemptuous eye-roll.  I have expressed as much myself, years ago . . . but I have recently come to understand that we have to listen, and praise anything we hear that we feel is positive.  DMs need it!

That twentieth fool, however.  Sigh.  They have no idea they're cackling about things equivalent to stealing ice cream from children and pushing people in wheelchairs down stairs.  Worse, I can say quite clearly, "I don't feel the game should be played that way," without the words making the least impact.  I don't mean the words offend, I don't mean they disagree with the words; I mean that these odious cretins don't hear the words at all.  They're incapable of hearing condemnation or opposition.

One of our oddest encounters came when we had two professed players who described their DM as one of these fiendish bastards.  They loved it.  They gushed and tittered about their DM's propensity for systematically murdering off their characters with steady diligence.  Once they departed, my daughter and I spoke about it for several minutes, in part disturbed and in part in awe of their obliviousness.  It is remarkable that such people exist in the world.

Without question, there are toxic elements associated with role-playing.  It's a natural progression from so much proscribed content over the decades concentrating upon silliness and excess rather than striving for collaborative, refreshing, novel and satisfying game play.  To the toxic element, that sounds "boring."

We should realize that every human past-time contains this element.  It is why restaurants have bouncers, why concerts have security, why it costs so much money to join a country club and why dress codes exist.  It is why ball players get ejected by umpires, why penalty boxes exist in hockey and why some very talented people - who just can't control themselves - are sometimes suspended for the season or for the rest of their careers.  Every organized community is ultimately forced to police themselves, to enable a better experience for the majority.  Usually, it doesn't take long after the community's creation before something has to be done.

If I had one of these fellows - either DM or players - appear in my life (much less my table), it wouldn't take long before I showed them the door forever.  But I know, having just met them, that there are hundreds, thousands, of players and DMs who just put up with them, because . . . well, I don't know why because.  Or I know it, but I'll be polite and not say it.

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