• Saying “No”

    by  • September 3, 2012 • Essays • 12 Comments

    The game table, for me and many people I know, is a happy place. An escape. A safe place to be. Somewhere where we can leave the things behind that we want to, and embrace new identities, new experiences, and feel powerful and in control. I have always enjoyed that aspect of gaming, and whether it is video games or tabletop, feeling safe is an important thing for me.

    There have been past articles on how to address sensitive topics in your games, as well as building trust as a game master. There is a lot to be said for a GM’s responsibility to create a safe place for players, and even for players to support each other, share the space and make sure that everyone has time to shine. However, there is something I think many players are not aware is in their power, and is in fact their priority, especially female players.

    Saying “no”.

    If a player is put into a situation where they are uncomfortable, or is at a risk to be triggered by something, they have every right to step away or not play a game. If they are playing a game where a GM includes content they don’t approve of, they should raise their concerns to the GM. If the GM continues to use the content, for good or any other reasons,  the player can still choose not to play.

    Not playing a game for personal reasons (aside from schedule) may be frowned upon, particularly as a woman. There are often a lot of negative attitudes or impressions that flare up when people decide not to play a game, regardless of what gender you are – but there are some accusations that really hit home. If you don’t want to play a game because there is a situation that makes you uncomfortable – from past trauma, political preference, whatever – sometimes other players or even the GM might say you’re being oversensitive or accuse you of grandstanding for a cause. Don’t listen to them.

    While there are occasionally instances of people being oversensitive, that doesn’t matter. How you feel, how a situation makes you feel, is more important. Even if it’s a matter of just not having fun in a game, there is nothing wrong with saying “no” to playing!

    It is important that GMs understand player concerns, acknowledge them, and consider them. If they decide to continue telling the story or playing out the session as planned, that’s their choice. The player has the choice – and the absolute right – to walk away, and no one should blame them for that.

    If the game isn’t enjoyable for the player, that ruins the point of the game environment and the game itself. That’s the point of gaming – for everyone to have fun, to feel like they are a part of something, and to have their own space to play.



    I'm a 25 year old admin assistant from around Pittsburgh, PA. I am married, work and attend college concurrently, and have been tabletop gaming for about 8 years. I blog (very, very periodically), and write unpublished short stories. I play tabletop RPGs, board games, and both casual and RPG video games. I live for the social part of gaming, but do enjoy a good explosion, and am learning the ropes of creating worlds in which people can play.


    12 Responses to Saying “No”

    1. avatar
      September 3, 2012 at 23:49

      Being able to say no is a good thing regardless of your gender (and it doesn’t egt any easier if it marks you as ‘the guy who pulls out once things get difficult’ either, let me assure you). In the end, though, you play these games for fun, not to impress your buddies, or show off you can handle enormous amounts of frustration, so walking always is a valid choice. Similarily, as a GM, you can – and should – dismiss players who are ruining everything for everyone save for themselves.

      Some people get into games not to have fun, but to feel powerful by pissing people off. They’re like internet trolls, but with the up side that they’re in one room with you and will have to face anger directly. Let them, by all means. Inform such people they can use the door if they behave like that, and that they might be happier hanging with people who are not pondering how the hot coffee from their mug would look all over their face. That, or walk yourself if you ended up with a group that’s made up primarily of that type. I know I did once.

      But it gets worse, in my experience, with GMs. In fact, with one exception, all the times I walked from a gaming group was because of the GM.

      Now, the position of GM isn’t one many want. It’s exhausting, since you have to keep track of everything, it requires far mroe skill and attention than playing just one character, not least because you need enough rigidness to create a plausible illusion of a shared world, and flexible enough to accomodate most shenanigans your players throw at you somehow into that world. You need to be the one to spend hours planning for situations that will never happen, the one who needs to stat NPCs that are killed on a whim and monsters that players will find a clever way around. And you need to keep the game going, make sure nobody feels left out and act as a rules authority to boot, meaning you better know the game rules by heart. Life’s not easy for a GM, which is why I’ve often found finding a group of players was easy up until the question “so who’s running the game?” comes up.

      But a certain kind of person, someone with a god complex to act out, seems attracted by being a GM. They figure that, for all the trouble they go through fulfilling that post, they get to use and abuse PCs as they see fit. I’m sure you know the type. And that’s where problems start. Because inevitably, this person will force their interpretation of how the game is to be played down everyone’s throat, whether they like or not. Now, as gamers, we all know the rules lawyers, nitpickers and canon sages and how irritatting they can get. IOne of these as a GM can quickly end in a torrent of TPKs, or the GM singling a ‘troublemaker’ player out for punishment. All have happened to me, and all have made me leave groups.

      So, it’s important to know where your red lines are, and stick to them, if possible. If the game’s not to your liking, say as much, and walk. It’s not like anyone can prevent you from leaving. If it’s your regular group, you might want to bring this topic up with everyone – myself, I’m often guilty of swallowing anger too long and then releasing it explosively, which can get … interesting, so better speak up before you’re boiling white hot on the inside and will have a hard time to remain polite. In the end, it’s better for the group to raise issues before they become grounds to yell at each other. Unless the group is a bunch of antisocial idiots, this will have much better results than you anticipate.

      And if not … well, you can still walk on them.

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      • avatar
        September 4, 2012 at 02:55

        Thanks for the response, Richter_DL! You have a ton of good points, and they’re all right on. In games with GMs, the GM does have a lot of power, so they can impact the entire feel of the game environment very easily.

    2. avatar
      September 4, 2012 at 02:35

      Great article, Brie. I have, on several occasions, refused to play games for personal or political reasons – and, yes, I have sometimes had ‘blowback’ from fellow-gamers

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      • avatar
        September 4, 2012 at 02:57

        I think the blowback is the hardest part, because it can push you out of your game-space. In my experience, it’s sometimes more traumatizing to lose game than it is to possibly lose friends over it – it’s like, “Where is the place I could go to be happy?” That is the biggest reason why I believe in game as a safe space, because for some people, that’s where we go to feel safe and in control of our own fun.

        Thanks for reading and commenting!

    3. avatar
      September 5, 2012 at 08:07

      I think that fear of this sort of situation is one of the things that can create a barrier to new gamers or someone playing with a group that they do not know. If they are unfamiliar with the game, or unfamiliar with the players, they may be hesitant, worried that if something in the game or something the other players do makes them uncomfortable, they will not be permitted to quit without arousing the ire and ridicule of the other people at the table. So they don’t join, and will never know what they are missing.

      All of us should do what we can to make newcomers to the gaming hobby (or just to our groups) feel safe, respected, and in control. That they can express their discomfort with a situation, or even walk away, without suffering insults from their fellow players. I have attended a number of gaming conventions, and seen the people on the periphery, wanting to try it out, but afraid of not knowing what to expect, and of being at the mercy of people they do not know. By going out of way to reassure these people, we might just introduce them to their favorite new hobby (or at least prove that we’re all not just a bunch of rules-lawyering obnoxious jerks!)

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      • avatar
        September 5, 2012 at 17:35

        I completely agree, lizzdreamer. I think there is a negative perception of gamers sometimes that is conflated with the “uber-nerd” stereotype – the “I’m smarter than you” kind of rules-lawyering attitude. From the outside in, gamers look like a harder group to get into than they sometimes are – but that’s fueled by confirmation when new gamers try to get into a group and go through the brutal rejection process. I wonder if it is more difficult for women because there can be a lot more resistance initially, and because it’s commonly assumed that women who note objections are just being “oversensitive”.

        Thanks for commenting!

      • avatar
        September 7, 2012 at 17:15

        “All of us should do what we can to make newcomers to the gaming hobby (or just to our groups) feel safe, respected, and in control. That they can express their discomfort with a situation, or even walk away, without suffering insults from their fellow players.”
        Certainly. But on the flip side, newcomers should be aware that there are things that are not done, and among those are expecting to be treated better because you’re related to/engaged with/want to be admired by a fellow player. That should be pretty much at the top. It’s important to be open to newcomers and not make them feel like idiots or overbear them with expectations, but neither should one bend over backwards for them. And really, ten sessions in, some proficiency with rules should be possible even for someone who doesn’t like rules heavy systems. I’m not talking about knowing each obscure rule by heart, but having a rough idea where stats, spells and whatnot generally are found and being able to use a table of contents isn’t too much to ask. Of course, all this refers to regular, private gtroups. On conventions, you should be more open and forgiving of general ignorance, because often enough, people have literally walked in on the game and their acquaintance with it is a few minutes old at best. Yeah, I can dream, can’t I.

        Actually, conventions are a horrible way to get into gaming. It’s counter-intuitive, but that’s my experience. Somehow, conventions tend to attract the worst gaming has to offer. There’s a bunch of gaming ultras on conventions who can turn off new players faster than asking advice on a board with lots of slashes in it’s name. At least, that’s my experience – there’s a core of hardline gamers in most popular systems who know the most obscure books by heart and, nmore often than not, are only interested in playing with other hardline gamers, not new people, never new people. And who often are the absolute worst caricature of a gamer.

        Most memorable: at a Berlin con in the 90s, a friend of mine was dismissed from grounds by an orderly because, I am not making this up, he was playing his character wrong. The guy walked in on the group, checking if everything’s alright, observed for a few moments and started to tell us how to play that game (Armalion) ‘properly’. Elves have to be such-and-such, knights such-and-such, ect. My friend objected, saying that’s his character, he has thought about why he does things differently, and the guy threw him out for speaking up and disrupting a game (it’s not like anyone at our table did mind; only Mr. gaming fascist did). And since he was an orderly that apparently was perfectly within his rights – we complained and that ruling was confirmed. And to think we paid money for this.

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        • avatar
          September 7, 2012 at 17:58

          Groups play social status games all the time. If you can show me a group where no one expects to be treated better for reasons other than their skill at the game, I’d be shocked. Now, I believe that there are lots of groups where people won’t ADMIT that they expect this, and that there are groups that have strict rules for what is and isn’t allowed to factor in. I also believe that people with less social power (e.g. newcomers) get less say in which kinds of external social factors get to count for at-the-table power. But people don’t stop being people just because they’re pretending to be dwarves or elves at the time.

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        • avatar
          September 10, 2012 at 05:10

          “But on the flip side, newcomers should be aware that there are things that are not done, and among those are expecting to be treated better because you’re related to/engaged with/want to be admired by a fellow player.”

          I don’t think many new players come in expecting this, but even if they do, it’s not that unusual and it isn’t something that can’t be handled very easily by a GM or other player saying it without being mean. Either way, it doesn’t really apply to the subject of the post here.

          “And really, ten sessions in, some proficiency with rules should be possible even for someone who doesn’t like rules heavy systems.”

          I am dyslexic, have memory damage, and have a really slow learning curve. It took me over a year to learn the basics of D&D 3.5 well enough to build my own character, and I still have trouble with calculating, remembering combat rules, and how to use spells. I take longer in combat turns because of those as well. Of course, I also play Shadowrun 3e (which some people consider a heavy crunch game). The fact is, everyone learns at a different pace, and no one should be treated badly for it. Everyone bringing guests to games or inviting newcomers should be aware of what they’re putting out there – and if they have very specific expectations of newcomers, they should be up front about it.

          I’m sorry you had crappy con experiences. I’m hoping my first time at Gamerati will go well in spite of some of the horror stories I’ve heard! :)

          • avatar
            September 10, 2012 at 10:28

            “Of course, I also play Shadowrun 3e (which some people consider a heavy crunch game). ”
            That happens to be my benchmark in those terms. I’m thinking things like “where do I find weapons?” (Cannon Companion), “How do I roll skills? (# d6, roll 6es again and add), such things. Basic things, not healing times, decking by Matrix, or the interaction of bio index and essence and magic. It can be pretty frustrating if people expect to always be told what to roll in detail out of lazyness, adn I have seen that happen, too. Different learning curves are okay, but they shouldn’t be flat out of lazyness.

            But yes, this is going off topic.

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          • avatar
            September 10, 2012 at 10:34

            Also, hope you won’t meet the Gaming Gestapo at Gamerati. :) Will there be an after action report?

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          • avatar
            September 10, 2012 at 20:13

            I am planning on doing a report after the event, yep!

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