• The GTFO Fallacy

    by  • December 17, 2012 • Essays • 9 Comments

    This is a topic that frustrates me almost every time it comes up.

    You’re sitting at a game with your friends. You ask yourself why there aren’t enough women/minorities/gnomes at the table. Why it’s so hard to get some of your friends interested in the hobby. See, they like the same geeky media as you. They enjoy telling and making stories and rolling dice. But they don’t sit at the table and cite “culture” or “being made to feel unwelcome” or “bad experiences”.

    You’ve tried to tell them that your group isn’t like that, but they just don’t believe you. How do you deal with this?

    Well, I’ve seen countless arguments for how a person is supposed to handle the situation. And many of them may actively be harmful rather than helpful, even if they sound like good advice at first.


    If you don’t like your group, leave

    This is the most common suggestion when someone complains. If your group is harassing, insulting, rude, sexist, racist, full of jerks or people who do not understand why washing clothes is considered valuable, you should just take your ball and go home. There’s no point in trying to change someone who doesn’t want to be changed. Anyway, you aren’t responsible for them. Get up and leave. Easy as cake. Find a new group, preferably one with robots who shoot lasers from their eyes and make great flans and puddings for dessert.

    Why this doesn’t work in practice

    Often, our gaming circle is made up of our friends. These are people we know and probably like for other reasons. Or feel socially pressured to hang out with and like. There’s a very good chance that, for many people, getting up and leaving the table means drama and social fall out. It’s not very surprising that lots of people don’t want to cause problems and shy away from such things. A lot of people want peace and harmony, not drama and accusations and anger. And it’s often the person doing the leaving that gets labelled the spoilsport. The stick in the mud. The jerk who just couldn’t take a joke. The person who leaves gets labelled the problem and then the bad group learns nothing.

    But also, I’ve done this. I’ve left portions of the gaming hobby because of bad experiences. And you know what? I didn’t find a new group. I didn’t go back. Why? Because it was too much work tracking down even more people and risk that they, too, would be jack-asses. And not even just that, but if I did find a new group, if they know anyone from my old group, I may still be carrying nasty labels around for being a “bad” player.

    The problem with the advice “just leave” is that, often, it will result in leaving the hobby all together. If you want new players and minorities and women to play in your game, telling them that it’s their job to find a place to fit in rather than trying to accommodate them puts all the work on the new person. It’s very draining and makes gaming less fun.


    Set out some basic ground rules. Something anyone could understand!

    Oh boy. I hate this one with the fury of a thousand suns. Of course, the idea here is that if there are basic, obvious rules, then everyone knows clearly when someone crosses the line. The fault is obviously with the rule breaker and thus blame can be safely assigned and dealt with. It means that everyone should be on the same page, right?

    Why this doesn’t work in practice

    Because rules can be lawyered around. Because it’s easy to break them and twist them to your own purposes. Because it’s easy to find things not covered by the rules and then go: “Hey, I didn’t think anyone would mind. There’s no rule about it.”

    Sure, rules can sometimes be helpful, but more often than not, rules are rarely necessary amongst good groups and don’t work with bad groups. Or even that one player that everyone knows but no one stops.

    Additionally, rules require a suitable punishment or else they don’t function as intended. Most gaming groups and social groups are rarely willing to level unbiased and even-handed punishment for infractions. Seeing as social groups often don’t have a judge or arbiter, this means that responses to infractions will often be disproportionate and constantly play favorites. Also, it raises the question of who gets to decide if a rule has been broken!

    Ever heard or said, “Oh, yeah, that’s just Morgan. They’ve got X problem. You have to make allowances”? Guess what? I really don’t. If I’m uncomfortable by something Morgan has said or done, I shouldn’t have to suppress my discomfort to make Morgan more comfortable. Yes, Morgan may well have a serious issue, but if there are rules, shouldn’t everyone have to abide by them?

    This isn’t to say that rules should be done away with, but please realize that making a list of rules is rarely helpful, to, well, the group that is suffering the most.


    It was just a joke. Learn to lighten up.

    Because, hey, it wasn’t meant as an insult. And none of my friends are bothered when I make a crude innuendo (in your end-o!) so why are you bothered by this? We treat everyone with the same degree of snark and casual cruelty so not doing that to you would be unfair favoritism! Calm down. Learn to take a joke.

    Why this doesn’t work in practice

    Because it doesn’t and you know better. It’s not appropriate to make dirty jokes at work, so I don’t do that at work. Just like it’s not appropriate to make racist jokes in front of racial minorities (or ever, to be honest). There are socially appropriate times for most kinds of humor. When you manage to insult a friend or a potential new gamer with an off-colour joke (or even a normal joke), the appropriate response isn’t to get offended at their offense. It’s to back off and apologize.

    Basically, you have no way of knowing what someone else finds upsetting. You aren’t a mind reader. But hey, if I step on your toes accidentally, I should damn well apologize. And not do it again. Just because it used to be normal and good and fun, doesn’t mean that it’s sacred to your interactions with those people. You can change your language and behaviours to be more welcoming.


    It’s not my responsibility to make you feel welcome. Stop demanding that we change.

    And other variants thereof. See, you want your gaming table to be inclusive. You really really do. And that’s great. But you also think the demands being made by the woman to not include rape scenes is really just going too far. She’s the one who is uncomfortable, not you. She’s being demanding. That Korean doesn’t wants me to use a caricatured stereotype of Asian cultures? But this is themed! It’s what is in the manual! Why are they asking me to change this, when everyone knows that it’s camp and not meant insultingly?

    Why this doesn’t work in practice

    Because you don’t get to decide what makes someone uncomfortable. You really don’t.

    Okay, fine, to elaborate everyone prefers different things. Maybe you, personally, aren’t insulted by Oriental Adventures and are Japanese. I don’t care. If I’m insulted by it, I’m insulted by it. Your choice at that point is either to acknowledge this and stop using the thing that is bothering me or acknowledge this, discuss it with me and come to an agreement. Maybe I’ll be fine with it once we’ve had a nice talk. Maybe I won’t be. And maybe that means that our game of swashbuckling mystic panda pirate Buddhist monks doesn’t happen. And maybe that’s okay.

    But you, random person, never gets to decide what bothers me or anyone else. And yes, some of those things that bother people aren’t reasonable and it’s not reasonable to make a safe space for them. But guess what? You still don’t get to decide for them if they’re upset.


    In conclusion

    Everyone at the gaming table is responsible for making everyone else feel welcome and included. No exceptions. You don’t get to demand that the person being marginalized be the sole responsibility bearer for dealing with issues. Everyone should be working on that.

    Whenever I hear “give us rules for behaviour!” or “the onus is on you to leave!”, what I really hear is “I’m not responsible for my own behaviour. That’s your job.”

    If someone tells you that they aren’t comfortable gaming because the last time they played a game, no one respected their boundaries, you should, instead of telling them how to fix themselves, explain to them how your group listens and cares. Offer to have a character creation session where everyone discusses themes they want to see and themes they don’t want to see. If you or someone in your gaming group missteps, don’t get defensive. Take a short break. Walk it off. Think about it from their perspective.

    Stop making it my job to police the bad behaviours around the gaming table. It’s a job that belongs to everyone.



    I am a casual tabletop gamer and occasional larper who likes to hold forth on gaming in general and draws like a crazy monkey who was given coffee by accident.

    9 Responses to The GTFO Fallacy

    1. avatar
      December 17, 2012 at 22:34

      This post is timely for me. I’ve recently experienced the rules and “lighten up” issue in a small, weekly group to which I’ve belonged for nearly four years. It’s not gaming related at all, but pretty much everything that was outlined in the post is directly transferable to the situation I’m in with that group.

      Before I became part of the group, they’d set-up rules. They didn’t go so far as to call them rules, but certain things were outlined as expectations either by being specifically stated as such, or by the repetition of process that wasn’t deviated from, and if it was, it was mentioned as an aberration.

      Before anyone can join the group, they’re supposed to fill out a survey with some standard questions, the folks who are already members review the answers, and they decide if they think the person is a good fit. Then the member is invited to join the group, is welcomed formally with what amounts to a reception in their honor, and is put on the calendar of weekly hosts.

      When the latest potential member was being considered, all of that was tossed out the door. When I had the audacity to say I didn’t feel the person should be a member until she either did what everyone else was expected to do or that the rules were changed, the response I got completely dismissed all of my concerns.

      Nevermind that my concerns are based on the rules other people set before I came along. Nevermind I just wanted the person to be held to the same standard as the rest of us, including the possibility of changing those standards. I was summarily dismissed and in the same response told to lighten up.

      Tonight’s my last meeting with that group. I’d not go if my absence wouldn’t unfairly affect someone who had nothing to do with the whole ball of wax. And as the author mentions, because some of the people from this group are also in another group, as soon as I fulfill the last of my obligations over there, I’ve decided it’s a good time to exit them both.

      So yes, establishing rules is good, unless they’re applied unequally. And telling someone to lighten up might just mean they lighten up more than you ever expected, as in they decide your group is not worth any serious effort and leave. And yes, leaving has consequences like the possibility of not having a replacement group, but sometimes that’s better than the alternative, especially if you feel it’s more work than reward to be part of it.

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      • avatar
        December 17, 2012 at 23:48

        And that’s the biggest problem, isn’t it? It’s a question of how rules are enforced.

        Sure, there are times when bending the rules is necessary. But, from what I’ve seen, social groups bend and/or break rules constantly for so many different reasons that it makes having the rules rather questionable.

        As for the consequences, the sad truth is that sometimes you do need to leave the group for your own sanity. And that’s fine. But it being the first response when expressing dissatisfaction with a group is way over the top. (I’m not addressing this line to you, per se, but to the general point.)

    2. avatar
      Jodi Black
      December 17, 2012 at 22:46

      When you get right down to it, “the group” is made of people. They aren’t an app to uninstall. They’re only human.

      I’ve spoken to lots of folks at conventions who seek advice–usually individually–on the bad group issue, and I’ve usually counseled them to figure out what their tolerance level is. Maybe it was a one-time issue that probably won’t ever come up again. Maybe it’s something they can talk to their GM about instead of confronting the whole group. And finally, maybe it’s a “yes, that person is a certain way about this… but I know to avoid that issue from now on.” Yes, it may be avoiding the issue, but it may be best–depends on the situation and the people every time. No black and white answers here.

      You’re so right. Trying to fix the group you’re in is waaaay easier than finding a new group. (BTW, I had to Google GTFO. :blush:)

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      • avatar
        December 17, 2012 at 23:52

        See, I almost always advocate talking to the offender, where possible. If whatever caused offense can’t be addressed, then at least you know. But you are completely right on the lack of black and white answers. There is no one-size-fits-all responses to these kinds of problems.

        That and I’m not exactly advocating fixing the group. Sometimes you can’t. But, in my experience, talking to people and showing them your concerns is a million times better than being completely chased out of the hobby by people who don’t think they need to care about the feelings of others.

    3. avatar
      December 19, 2012 at 00:35

      Great post. And now I have a convenient place to link to whenever I’m trying to say this, but doing so much less articulately. :)

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      • avatar
        December 19, 2012 at 12:21

        I’m glad this was helpful!

        And that my rants sometimes make good sense 😉

    4. avatar
      December 19, 2012 at 05:54

      Fortunately I haven’t run into these kinds of people yet. The gaming groups I’ve been to have all been about half women, so that might have something to do with it.

      Still, it’s hard for me to understand that many people find it difficult to leave a group. I don’t mean this in a judgmental way at all, just that I find it pretty easy to cut ties. I sometimes forget that it’s not so easy to find new groups of people. And that’s fine with me because I don’t mind being alone, but not everyone is the same as me. It’s good to remind myself to think about another person’s circumstances before I recommend they burn bridges.

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      • avatar
        December 19, 2012 at 12:19

        Well, I’ve run into these people more often on the internet than in person. It’s one of the more common sets of responses to someone complaining about their group.

        “Just leave” sounds great on paper, but it’s often very impractical for a lot of people. And it’s certainly not helpful if your goal is to try to bring more people into gaming and to be inclusive. What I’ve always found odd was people bemoaning the lack of minorities or women in their gaming groups and then trying to get said groups to conform to standards that make them uncomfortable. It’s…odd.

    5. avatar
      December 20, 2012 at 06:54

      I’ve found that ‘fight fire with fire’ sometimes works, as long as the fighting is done using humour. I put this to use in one group I ran for a fair few years. People then tend to be a bit wary of making stupid comments if they know it may end up with them looking stupid via what you’ll say back to them in reply. They usually don’t worry about making those stupid comments until someone fires a quip back at them. I call it the ‘Oscar Wilde Approach’. You may also find that, as some people tend to say the same stupid things wherever you are, you can build up a handy repertoire of answers.

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