By Michael C Lohr
We had them on playgrounds and soccer fields as we grew up, and many of us have now have children of our own who are learning their first lessons in dealing with bullies. I was surprised to find that I’ve come across bullies lately, and sad to report that these bullies are adults at my board gaming meetups!
I run two meetups in Cincinnati; one for board gamers and one for game designers. The goal of each is to be a welcoming environment for gamers of all flavors. Both meetups have been very successful by which I mean I’ve been able to meet many fun people interested in the same fields of this fantastic Tabletop Kingdom as myself, growing as a gamer and a game designer. While most of these encounters are fruitful, sparking new gaming and design relationships, bad apples do topple in from the internets. If kept around for long they threaten to spoil the fun for everyone- but how do we rid ourselves of these tyrants of tabletop?
I’ve broken what makes a gamer a Tabletop Bully into two categories. The first encompasses meetup administrators who have put a crown on their own heads. The second is your run of the mill Tabletop Bully.
Demanding what members of the meetup play; telling members they cannot plan to play a certain title with selected players ahead of time; constant refusal to play a game that a new member has brought with them; lashing out at other meetups and venues that may overlap theirs.
I’ve only experienced this at one meetup. The organizer would wait until all RSVPs showed up to allow any games to begin. Enter the meetup admin bully. They run the show come hell or high water. I meet refugees from this meetup at my own meetups who were astonished to be treated by their host in such a fashion. They are sure to mention that they’d never return, and only recently did someone use the term ‘bully’ sparking this article. Just last night, while attending this meetup ( I can be an overly patient person) our host broke out of game play to lash out at my other meetups and their venues stating that it was rude of me to host my own meetups outside of theirs.
The Tabletop Bully:
Plays games on unfathomable conditions such as who goes first, what color they get to be, and even better starting conditions than other players; refuses to setup/cleanup their own pieces; drags their personal problems into gameplay conversation in an effort to emotionally blackmail and manipulate other players’ turns; a snap to it attitude during other players’ turns while they sit in an analysis paralysis stupor during theirs; exclusive ‘backsies’ privileges; quitting a game as they lose, proclaiming that the game unbalanced, unfair, a waste of time, and ultimately not for them.
In general I’ve found that most players understand that the important pieces in any game are the other players, but there are still some gamers who can seemingly only enjoy themselves if they’ve proven that they are in some way better than the other players. Again, these are adults displaying these behaviors. No one is a fan of a rage quitter- but when someone has the reputation of rage quitting; it acts as an underlying threat to every action players may take in the game. Players shouldn’t have to ask themselves if they want to make a good play and risk so and so’s impending table flip. I’ve observed the above in various degrees at many meetups. I especially like when, as punishment to the winner, the tabletop bully refuses to do their part in cleanup.
Just last night I was told by this article’s subject that it was rude of me to have other gaming meetups outside of theirs. My patience is only so strong. I won’t be returning to game at this meetup as I have found it to be a pandering event masquerading as a board gaming meetup. I posted my candid feelings in the form of a one star review.
My advice to anyone who knows a tabletop bully is to stand up for what is fun. It wasn’t fun to be pushed off the monkey bars back then and it’s not fun to be bullied during board games now. Make a code of conduct for your meetups. This will allow you to remove bullies without much backlash: they broke the rules, they were warned, they continued to break the rules now they’re out. Period.
The Tabletop Bully needs to realize that no one has to play with them. The tabletop scene is exploding with new meetups happening not just in FLSGs but coffee shops, bookstores, and wine bars. Just like on the playground, the bully is only as strong as the weak they oppress. It’s my continued experience that a little backbone and a dash of courage still disarm a bully as effectively as when we were all still children.
Michael C Lohr is a Timewalker from a dystopian future. He has gone rogue against the big mean computer of this far future; returning to the present as a catalyst for what history will dub The Great Global Tabletop Renaissance. His quest is chronicled in the webcomic ‘Somewhere Across Reverof” https://www.facebook.com/pages/Somewhere-Across-Reverof/170983739679133
Somewhere Across Reverof