Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Social Contracts and Needs In Wargaming Between Strangers - How to Behave at a Tournament, and Other Thoughts

I was reading a post or two over at MKerr's blog, Chainfist.com. He reminds me of some other players I know in that I believe we are probably very similar PERSONALLY, but are very different in what we EXPECT out of other players - especially strangers.

The Concept of Needs, and Emotional Maturity

All of us need things in life. We need food, we need water, we need breathable air. Needs are variable ... and sometimes they are just "wants," but it's important to note that emotionally, needs are pretty flexible, and immensely different from person to person.

Some people need to be loved, others need to be respected, others need to be treated as if they are awesome, etc. When these needs are not fulfilled, negativity results - people feel unfulfilled, unhappy, angry, sad, a variety of emotions that most human beings do not wish to reside in (with exceptions ... let's avoid the exceptions for now, as this is more a lead in to a discussion about gaming, than a discussion about psychology).

It is of paramount importance to note that I believe expectations are not the same as goals or needs. You have a goal to have fun, you need people to behave a certain way toward you, but you CANNOT claim emotional maturity while simultaneously EXPECTING other people to fulfill your needs, or behave a certain way toward you. This is fundamentally true - not everyone's needs are the same, and so there is no set "way" for a person to act toward others that is "acceptable" and fulfilling of everyone's needs universally.

Instead, it is everyone's responsibility to be authentic to themselves, to be true to themselves, and the responsibility of those they interact WITH to decide whether or not they fulfill acceptable needs.

To wit, you meet an attractive woman at a bar, and you get her number. You're clearly attracted to each other, and there was some positive chemistry. You get together a week later for dinner, and find out that she's a liberal and you're a republican getting ready to run for senate; she hates black people and you believe everyone is Homo sapiens, period, no sub-species; she likes base-jumping and sky-diving, and you have a fear of heights. What will you do? She's hot, she's still into you (b/c she's not an authentic person, presume), she'd totally be your girlfriend. Should she be? Of course not, you are all thinking ... it obviously isn't going to work, you are fundamentally in disagreement on major issues. You need a supportive, non-racist girlfriend who enjoys keeping her feet on the ground.

OK, so let's take it a step further back, and you'll start to see where I'm going with this. You're single, you want to date, you have an interest in girls who don't enjoy dancing. You're also extremely allergic to techno music. It causes your hair to stand on end. Will you attend a techno club looking for girls? NO YOU WILL NOT. Furthermore, if you were to, and were to loudly proclaim the terrible nature of the music and wonder why they won't turn it off for you ... you're just about the biggest retarded, immature dick out there. Seriously.

Let's segue to gaming.

You go to your local friends' house for your weekly gaming group. Ever since you first went, everyone has taken really casual, laid back, helter-skelter battleforce-style army lists, and everything has been well painted. The group enjoys drinking a few brewskis, and you meet up beforehand at the local dive restaurant to bullshit, laugh, and set the mood for a fun night of 40k. Upon returning from the dive restaurant, a "new guy" one of the other attendees decided to bring places down his spray-primed army of power cheese doom. He complains that he can't really ever make the restaurant b/c it unsettles his digestive system to eat anything other than broccoli, and kindly asks you all to not drink in his presence, because he's vehemently against alcohol. In game, he rules lawyers everything, punks your casual list face in, and criticizes your painting while rambling about how great his army will look "when he gets around to it."

Will you invite him back? Of course not. Your gaming group has a clearly established standard, a clearly established social contract. Behave this way - this is why we hang out together, this is what we all enjoy. If you cannot conform to this, don't expect to be welcome!

OK, so how does this compare to your local game store, then? Suppose you the player in the above example want to attend the local game shop. You show up, and check the window - nowhere does it say whether people there drink beers, play with painted armies, are rules lawyers or use power lists or play casually or what, etc. You walk in, and see a bunch of powerful unpainted armies on the tables and people barking and laughing and competing intensely. You walk into the store further, and ask someone for a game. A giant, stinky douchey guy walks up and goes "WHAT'S YOUR ARMY?!?!" "Why, I play footdar! (sorry, dudes, I couldn't help myself)" and he replies with a big grin and "haha, sure I'll play a game, lol, do you mind if I proxy some stuff??" When you say "proxy, what's that?" he laughs in your face.

Aimlessly, starting to feel a little peeved at this dude, you regardless set up on the table ... BUT WAIT, "WE HAVE TO ROLL FOR SIDES FIRST MAN, AND THEN TERRAIN AND MISSIONS AND SHIT, RAR" ... it gets worse and worse. You keep playing.

What is your problem, you retard? Why the hell did you keep going with starting this game? Is it your opponent's fault? Is he a big flaming jerk? Maybe. Is he to blame for you not having fun? NO. You ignored every signal, and kept on walking right into it.

Didn't your geek brain have some giant mental image of this going off every 3 seconds?

NO, it didn't, b/c you're not emotionally mature enough to walk into an environment not comprised entirely of people identical to you. Sorry, it's true.

Your JOB in life, to attain happiness, is to understand what you need and to see your needs fulfilled. It is not the responsibility of others to make you happy. The big fat stinky douche in the above example is not out to destroy your fun - he's out to be himself, quite unabashedly might I say. Good for him. YOU'RE THE REAL JERK if you spend the game pissed off, hating the guy, and talk shit about him for years afterward to your buddies. It was your choice to ignore every sign and retardedly accept the game with him. What did you think was going to happen?

NOW, here you are, wizened by the experience, getting ready to sign up for a tournament.
On the tournament front page, it reads this:

NO SPORTSMANSHIP. NO PAINTING. NO RULES JUDGES WILL BE PRESENT. SATANIC WORSHIP MAY OR MAY NOT GO ON IN THE BACK ROOM. Your prize is a cookie, that the tournament organizer has taken a piss on, to ensure it is contaminant-free (go NH3).

Are you going to sign up and attend? If you do, are you going to be all pissy when your opponents don't practice sporting behavior, are running unpainted armies, and rules lawyer you into the ground with no judge-based recourse? IF YOU'RE THINKING YES, YOU'RE STILL RETARDED.

The NOVA Open is an event with sportsmanship scoring, a detailed (and soon to be far more detailed) set of expectations of opponents, prizes and rewards for people regardless of their competitive finish, PLUS prizes for people doing well on the competitive front, a 3-color minimum painting requirement, and much more. Should you expect someone at the event across the table from you to be your best friend, happily getting along with you in all rules discussions and game chat? THE ANSWER IS STILL NO. You should expect them to follow the required expectations of the tournament, PERIOD.

If you want your opponents to be friends, game with friends. If your opponents turn out to be friendly, and you get along, and could be friends with them - AWESOME, but rest assured that strangers are still strangers, and not all people get along, nor should they be expected to.

Every game has a social contract ... but that varies from game to game, player to player, environment to environment. It's not static, the same for all. Sado masochists should not expect everyone else to be a sado masochist. Straight people should not expect everyone else to be straight. Catholics should not expect everyone else to be Catholic. Americans should not expect the whole world to love America.

Friendly, affable gamers should not expect every stranger at a tournament to be a friendly, affable gamer. Do I personally wish everyone was? Sure. But if I attend an event full of strangers, I'M THE IMMATURE JERK TO BLAME if I'm disappointed when everyone doesn't embrace me as their best friend and amicably solve every single discussion we have.

95% of the people you run into at the NOVA Open I'm sure you'll get along with just fine ... I'd bet my money on it. When you run into that 5% who are just so wildly different from you that you'll never see eye to eye ... for the love of all that is good and kind don't blame THEM for it. You are as different from them as they are from you, and that's NOBODY'S fault.

Your fun is your responsibility. That's why you don't invite the douches back to your gaming groups. That's why what you don't do is invite them back and argue with them / belabor them into changing who they are.

Celebrate differences, and avoid environments full of different and new people if you can't.

My $.02
Loving and being considerate of others is NOT expecting a social contract of them that they didn't sign. You're just as douchey as them once you do.


  1. Mmm, seems very reasoned. My primary problem with the argument is its implicit passivist fatalism, presented as "agency".

    The argument, as presented, also defeats the concept of sportsmanship. Essentially, you argue for parity among a collection of highly idiosyncratic social norms, then suggest some means of scoring them.

    What happens, for example, if you run across a gamer whose social norm is to cheat? Break rules? Lie? Obsessively badger their opponent into submission? Take advantage of the personalities of more passive, fatalistic folk?

    Methinks your actions in everyday life (and in gaming situation) do not entirely match the philosophy you have outlined above :)

  2. Ah, now see - therein lies the point.

    If an event is not established with guidelines (their method of scoring and regulating sportsmanship, for instance) that prohibit / manage those very questions - lying, rule breaking, cheating, etc. - they will do it one way or another ... the event is responsible for that in ANY situation.

    The problem lies in establishing a social contract with the world that it's unaware of, and then angrily deriding those who fail to psychically evaluate your needs and subsequently care enough about you to fulfill them.

    A cheater is violating the rules of the game, and so is violating the social contract established by the fabricator of it ... no problems there; by playing the game you are subjecting yourself to a broadcast set of terms that are to be followed by all those within it ---> you have a right to see it followed.

    It's not passivist - it's quite the opposite. It's taking ACTIVE responsibility for your needs and pursuing their fulfillment. Need to see the game followed by the rules? Play at tournaments and with friends where the rules are followed and enforced.

    Need everyone you play to be your lovey dovey buddy buddy? Play with friends.

    Instead of passive, it's the opposite - take responsibility for what you need and stop blaming opponents with catch-all bullshit phrases like WAAC just b/c they don't play "nice" (by your definition of "nice").

  3. Hysterical. when we were talking on the phone about social contracts in wargaming I was referring to the post you did back in March, not this. It's pretty funny that I'm the one that brought it up.

    To sum up my thoughts: There are two basic types of people that are attracted to 40k (and Warhammer). They are escapists and competitors. Escapists love the fantasy and the look, they can imagine themselves as the general, leading their armies forward like vengeful gods or war. Competitors like the game because it provides a well-codified set of rules that they can play with, and it provides them real human opponents across a table instead of some faceless tool online.

    These two types can cross-pollenate, or hybridize, or whatever Morreauvian vivisectional horrorshow you can visualize. Theya ren't necessarily exlusive. but a lot of players are strictly one or the other.

    The problem with tabletop gaming as we know it is that it has really only been around for thirty years or so. 40k isn't played by a bunch of college professors, it's played by the general populace. because more than one type of person is attracted to the game type, a uniform social contract has been very elusive to develop and institute.

    I do believe we are on the right track here. Making sure it is known what the rules are in advance (painting/proxy/sports/rolloff/judge recourse etc.) gives potential attendees a good opportunity to judge for themselves if a tournament is going to appeal to the type of players that they want to be around. Extreme competitors may feel it is too Care-Bear-y. Extreme fluffers might think it's to hardcore. But if we can come up with a system that works for the 80% in the middle, we ought to have a rocking good time.

  4. Just wow. Brilliant article, and sums up my feeling on it pretty damn neatly. On the one hand, it saves me from writing an article on the subject, when I can just refer people here. On the other, it would have been nice to have on my blog - and now I look like a copycat if I do one anyway. lol

    This is so good though, that it deserves a wider audience, very much so.

    If you don't object, I humbly (yeah, right, me humble!) request you submit it to the Heresy News Network, by following the following link (what a horrid turn of phrase that turned out to be...) : http://www.heresy-online.net/submit-news/

  5. I posted this up tonight.

    I agree wholeheartedly.

  6. *slow clap*

    This was a link I'm glad I followed - there's nothing left to say.


  7. Awesome article, MVB. This needs to be disseminated throughout 'ze interwebs'.

  8. Brilliant. Every tabletop gamer who ever goes anywhere or does anything with his army and with his friends or with other gamers needs to read this article and understand exactly what you can and cannot expect from your competitor.

  9. "Your fun is your responsibility."

    I'm really happy to read this post because I thought that thinking this way made me an extremist. (And perhaps I am, but at least I am in good company.) The argument that my opponent is responsible for my fun strikes me as deeply self-absorbed and, personally speaking, insultingly patronizing.

  10. I think if we're talking about free-to-play events or gaming groups then it's fair enough, but it falls down if you're paying to enter. In those circumstances I think you have a right to expect there to be staff who are able and willing to keep the shit-baggery to an absolute minimum.

  11. Nice. I think it should probably be read back to back with this one by Kennedy. There are, sooner or later, going to be some people who aren't able or willing to understand why you (gamer-at-large 'you', not specific 'you') are turning down a game with them (it's happened to me enough times), and it probably helps to have some kind of plan for dealing with that.

  12. Frank -

    Shitbaggery is as variable a definition as "fun" ... which is why it's such a vacuous thing to get into.

    Basically, cheating and poor sportsmanship should be managed by the tournament in extreme ways - but sportsmanship (ref one of my earliest blog articles) is not ... being super friendly. It's fair play with respect for your opponent ... and that's at the bare minimum levels.

    Yes, a tournament should moderate that ... and we could have an entire discussion about "how much," suffice to say that what's critical is the event declaring loudly what it expects of those attending.

    Past that, it becomes much more variable, and enters the realm of "impossible to manage."

    I played a dude at Adepticon in the doubles who was as bulldog mean as they come in a game ... but he played by the rules, didn't cheat, and didn't have any distaste or rudeness toward me ... he just did what he did. After the game he was as bulldog in congratulating me on the win and shaking hands as he was in playing and calling every questionable shot/los issue/etc.

    We trash talked each other when we passed all day long the next day in the singles event, as he stayed "even" with me on wins until the 3rd round. I wouldn't be this guy's closest buddy in daily life, maybe not a buddy at all ... I'm not able to sustain friendships with overly abrasive personalities. That said, all it took was a little flex and understanding on my part for us to be "weekend buddies" and friendly rivals for the duration of the tournament.

    I'm fundamentally well-built for a tournament environment, b/c I find it easy to get along with almost anyone, at least for a little while, and to see the best in them. It's simply how I'm programmed. If you aren't ... if you're prone to instantly finding irreconcilable fault with someone's behavior or attitude when it doesn't mesh with your own ... big public competitive events may not be your cup of tea.

    More $.02,
    - Mike

    Does someone want to post this on heresy or whatever per TKE's suggestion? I totally can't visit that site from work.

  13. Agree totally. Putting money in the equation doesn't change your responsiblity to ensure you attend events where you have fun.

    I could pay to go bungie jumping, or I could pay to go skydiving. One would be loads of fun, the other would be shit-terrifying for me. It's my responsiblity to pick the event where I would have the most fun.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. ::Edited due to spelling errors and general fail::

    By 'shitbaggery' I'm not talking about the personal foibles of the multifarious individuals who compete at events. I'm talking about gamesmanship and cheating, stuff that doesn't belong in events where people come to play against each other for prizes, no matter if said prize is a limp biscuit or a big trophy and a new army. If you're a TO or a staffer and you're reffing at such an event there is an imperative on you to make sure such things are kept to an absolute minimum; there simply is no way to ever completely stamp out practises like mendacious perusal of the rulebook while the clock runs down, writing your army list in heiroglyphs or posing a model in such a way that it's impossible to get into B2B with it from the front, but if someone is doing one of these things at your event and someone complains to you about it, or even if nobody complains but you notice it anyway, it's on you to deal with it. If the players have paid to attend this event the imperative is, ethically speaking, more pressing, but it's still there at free events. Especially if your players have gone out of their way to attend.

    Again, this isn't about personalities. You could be the most infantile, worst-smelling middle-aged basement dweller in the world, but if you play the game properly and don't engage in shitbaggery then I will quite happily abide your odour and incessant tantrums when things go wrong for you, and I'll leave the game with a reasonable opinion of you as a 40k player. I wouldn't speak to you if I saw you in the street because you're obviously a deeply dysfunctional human being, but I'd be more than happy to play against you at future 40k events.

    I totally agree that, no matter what the environment is, it's nobody's job to make everyone be happy funtime reach-around bunnies. People are who they are, some people are competetive and tacit, others bring a smile and a box of cookies to give out to their opponents, many people fall in between these extremes. As long as nobody engages in shitbaggery that's fine. Which is where I think the "if you're not mature enough to deal with cheats and gamers, don't go" thing falls down when it comes to events, because there, it's someone else's job to make sure people don't fuck around, not yours.

  16. My point would be - in the extreme example of an event that does not have a policy for dealing with cheats and shitbaggery of the type you're mentioning - to be aware of that fact when it arises.

    More to the point - in reality, outside of the extremes, should any tournament have judges/policies to deal with THAT kinda stuff? Absolutely. Should you hold it against the EVENT if they go "manage cheaters across the table on your own however you feel like" and you subsequently get upset that they don't manage it after attending? Well, no.

    The extremism of this example is for the sake of the point, only.

    We're in agreement on thinking a tournament should manage that crap.

  17. Great post, it is my perspective even though I couldn't articulate it enough. Thanks a lot!

  18. MVB -- I think you've got a fairly practical **implementation** of your policy, but to be pedantic here, I also think you've rather misunderstood the concept of social norms and social contracts.

    Your underlying argument is extremely agentive -- you argue that each individual is responsible for achieving their ultimate satisfaction. The problem is that this (table-top gaming) is not an individual activity that you are describing. There's an inherent conflict between a group activity, which calls for a social contract, and an individual one, which does not.

    My initial criticism, which I think is still valid, is that you're ignoring this contradiction and arguing that fulfilling a social contract (which necessarily requires the ratification of two or more people) is equivalent to agentive personal satisfaction (which requires only the idiosyncratic goals of one person).

    In the end, all you've done is basically argue that individual agency is superior to social contracts and social norms. Which is, I suppose, one valid (if rather self-centered) way to approach a group activity, but not at all the same as arguing that social contracts can NECESSARILY BE FULFILLED by pursuing a couse of individual agency.

    You've countered by arguing that tournaments create their own social contracts via tournament rules. This is, however, going to be insufficient in many circumstances, because you're (unconsciously) bootstrapping off the assumption that human beings will not be total asstards. Which is not a valid assumption.

    To give you but one example, which as a person who travels on-line you will recognize as something unfortunately common:

    Suppose MY personal satisfaction as a gamer comes from making sure that every one of my opponents has as little personal satisfaction as possible in the games they play against me. If I was to pursue this goal within the framework of existing tournament rules, I would (according to you) be a perfectly acceptable 40K gamer. Yet, I would be inherently violating the foundational principles of social contract theory, both agentively (being an asstard) and also implicitly, by refusing to accept their individual agentive goals (their goals of personal satisfaction) as valid.

    This is what I mean when I note that you might be using a flawed conceptualization of social contract theory. Which your call to individual agency ("man up") may be more practical and effective in the overwhelming number of cases most gamers face, your theoretical underpinning to the thought exercise literally ... does not work.

    At any rate, practical applications and solutions are inherently valuable in their own right, so I've no complaints with your tournament rule design. It just bothered be that you might be misinformed as to the social-anthropological theories you were attempting to marshal in support of your designs.

  19. Orcboy,

    Well-reasoned comments as always - I appreciate the dissenting commentary, hardcore!

    I can't fundamentally disagree with the notion that someone whose self-fulfillment is bred off the obliteration of other peoples' fun - while perhaps a bullshit situation in and of that person's reality, it's true enough that it throws a wrench into the framework of things.

    I refer, perhaps cop-outishly at first, to my initial caveat:

    "with exceptions ... let's avoid the exceptions for now, as this is more a lead in to a discussion about gaming, than a discussion about psychology"

    It's actually the active responsibility of the tournament organizer to build in some systems to identify and "punish" asstards, if asstards are considered undesirable. AS such, we have a sportsmanship system that prevents asstards from "pressuring" their way into max sports scores.

    NOVA Open example again spread out - rating your opponents forcibly at day's end, means the guy who was a dick, is going to get your lowest rating one way or another, and poof on the score sheet there he is well below the bunch of "averages."

    Social Contracts are implicit by definition. They aren't written out. The greater the population of "strangers" participating in an event, the looser the social contract becomes.

    Social Contracts are not by article or my own commentary explicitly tied to the notion of pursuing and understanding your needs, but it relates in that you need to understand yourself well enough to know whether you can manage an incredibly loose social contract at an event where the event guidelines do not restrict it beyond "play by the rules."

    That's to say, that in reality - taking the psychological freakjobs out of the equation - it's compatible and should make sense. In an extreme example, though, it still does - if an event has nothing to prohibit the behavior of those people, you need to understand and appreciate that they MIGHT be there, and not tie your happiness to their good behavior when you attend regardless of the possibility.

    I'm not sure if I'm misinformed about the theories I'm ... marshaling in support of my designs :) (love the way you wrote that) ... as much as seeing them through a different lens than you ... that is to say, in the hypothetical (extremist tournament or game store situations) rather than the "reality" of making sure any tournament I run or attend is properly insulated against "asstardism."

  20. Fair enough; I was looking at the example rather than the point. Which was silly >_<

    Good post, sirs.

  21. This is HANDS-DOWN one of the best articles about wargamming that I think I will ever read. Awesomeness.

  22. I love the post I really do. Before I continue I will say... the study of social interaction FTL! Give me a scalpel and retractor any day of the week! Just an insight into my mind-set.

    I would say there are a few things that have been missed though. I'm not a religious/political person but what about hope for change? What about our other 'goals' in life??

    Just because the guy that rocks-up at your beer-drinking , 'fluffy-bunny' club (that's not a dig - that's the sort of place I usually go) math-hammers and rules-lawyers, should you just not invite him back? Who would do that after meeting somebody once anyway? That'd be a pretty crappy person IMO. Not that you don't invite him back, but that you don't give him a chance to adjust to the new 'social norms' in which HE finds himself in.

    Yeah... I'm not going to be fulfilling my own goals of having fun immediately, but I don't just have a single, short-term goal of having fun in life. What about my goal of wanting to teach? That provides me with enjoyment, so helping/persuading the guy to paint his army would fulfill my need for 'fun' in other ways. What about my own interest to be taken out of my own 'norms'.

    I've done a lot of things that have not been 'fun' but have looked back and I'm glad I've done them. They've shaped me more than sticking within my own social 'norms' would ever have done.

    I completely agree with you if this situation is reversed. If YOU go into a situation outside of YOUR social 'norm' willingly you can't complain (see my post on YTTH). But any human being has to give others at least a chance when they are entering somebody else's 'norm', don't just shun them for not conforming immediately. Otherwise this would be a pretty shitty World with no insight into the great variety we have!

    Anyway, there is far too much serious/academic chat that I have no understanding of whatsoever!

    But like I said. Great article! Definitely one of the best I've read!

  23. Looks like someone hit a nerve. That's a lot of replies, Mike.

  24. See Mike... every group has one of these kinds of people. I know you look around and say "our group doesn't!"... well, see - here's the thing Mike...

    Oh, nevermind.

    <3 ;)

  25. In your example how attractive is this girl?