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Play Matt: Are Competitive Men a Board Gaming Blight?

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25 Mar 2019 10:00 - 25 Mar 2019 11:46 #294402 by Matt Thrower
It's a good essay and I agree with the sentiments...

Angry male nerds are a blight upon the earth. Almost every dreadful cultural phenomenon of the past decade, from internet harassment, to social media bubbles, all the way up to cases of mass murder has been propelled by bitter, socially awkward young men. These are potentially people in our social spaces, and it's essential we help tackle it. So when I see things like this essay on toxic masculinity in gaming, I read it, looking for insight.
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Last edit: 25 Mar 2019 11:46 by ubarose.

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25 Mar 2019 10:31 - 25 Mar 2019 10:32 #294403 by Vysetron
I read Angelus' essay. It was well written. He provides citations for his points, cites personal examples that are relevant to the topic, outlines the areas he identifies as problems, and closes with a call for introspection as you can't force change in others. It is worth reading regardless of your stance on the issue.

Matt, I think you're a skilled writer, but your piece offers nothing of substance on the topic. In the very first paragraph you open with several inflammatory statements and finish with self-flagellation for being part of the group you've identified as a problem. No one who would benefit from the changes you strive for will read past this because it's cringy at best and outright toxic at worst.

Your thesis as far as I can tell is that competition is dangerous to "the hobby". I'll ignore the fact that you don't define what "the hobby" means in this context. This point doesn't function. Competition IS games. Short of a group storytelling session with no set goal, you will not find a game that does not involve besting some form of opposition. This is not a threat, it's healthy. Your attempts at providing examples for your claim fall flat. Your friends allowed gambling to escalate? That's an issue with gambling and addiction, not competition. A hypothetical where someone from a marginalized group may find losing a game to be an extension of bigoted abuse if they lose to a white person? Are you kidding me? You then state in your second to last paragraph that "it's ok to want to compete", but you spend the entire rest of your piece saying otherwise, then continue to say so immediately afterwards. It's a backpedal, and a clumsy one.

I think I see what you tried to do with this piece. You would like players to be more empathetic and aware of how their behaviors, tendencies, and potential for aggression can alienate players. I would like the same. Browbeating people in this manner will not help your goal. All it's going to do is signal to people that they're unwanted, and they'll find their own tribes that are more conducive to playing the way they want to.

By sitting down to play a competitive game everyone has accepted the social contract that entails. If someone takes their win too far that is an issue, but so is being a sore loser and ascribing their loss to unproven malevolence from the other players.
Last edit: 25 Mar 2019 10:32 by Vysetron.
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25 Mar 2019 10:51 #294405 by Matt Thrower
Thanks for the feedback. FYI, I fed this past Angelus before publishing it, partly because I was concerned it read much as you've read it. He thought it was worth putting out there as it added something to the discussion.

The point that I've failed to get across is that an inherently competitive hobby is likely to bring out the worst in people. Angelus seemed to be saying that the answer is to be less competitive, and that's where my concerns are. It seems like an awkward sentiment in space which is almost defined by competition. My take is: be competitive but be open and aware of the effect it might be having and be prepared to offer support where necessary.

That's the whole 900 words cut down to two sentences. Perhaps I should just do that and burn the rest :)
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25 Mar 2019 11:22 #294409 by Nate Hayden
"What's not okay is to bully or exclude because some players are uncomfortable with the pressure."

I have to disagree here. If the gaming is simply a game group with a simple gaming pleasure motive this is fine, but in truly competitive play and events bullying and pressure are part and parcel to gaining an edge.

Think of the common Boxing events in which the boxers are trying every form of humiliation before a fight to try to make their opponent either slightly doubt themselves, or better make them angry so their anger blurs their boxing skills.

Competition is an essential element of any game that has "winning". We can be tame regarding winning, and certainly create a gaming group that is more about appreciating gaming rather than a competitive nature. But in high level competition every kind of meta-strategy is often employed to gain edge. Some gamers get this and employ these strategies even in common game groups. This can feel like bullying, and often that can be the feeling one is trying to garner. This can feel out of place for a game group aiming strictly at appreciation. I would make a slight argument that even a group based solely on appreciation has competition still within it. It is unescapable.

Lastly, people can simply be jerks, and jerks at the table are no fun. But we ought not deplete competition due to a fear of competition and jerks.

High level play will have bullying, and it ought to, as bullying is part of gaining edge. It can be a chosen strategy that doesn't pan out, and the calm civilized nature may win the match. In Chess, Go and other high level board gaming these strategies are used (look at the nastiness of players in a downtown Chess park). The nastiness is gross, but the player employing the strategy wants it to be.
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25 Mar 2019 11:22 - 27 Mar 2019 15:51 #294410 by southernman
I'm saying bullshit to this. You summed it up when you said games are competitive and if you don't want to play in the super-competitive league then you find a league at a level that you enjoy rather than attempting to destroy the first league (usually with the fashionable scapegoat of 'white male'). If you go and join a football (or baseball for our US readers) league you will end up at a level you enjoy playing at, you won't (want to or be allowed to) go into a level that you can not fit in with and then demand that everyone runs slower and kicks softer just so you can carry on.

It is so simple - if you join someone else's game and don't like the level of competition you put up with it or leave, if someone joins your game and doesn't like your level or competition then you tell them to put up with it or leave.

The euro group I got too are quite competitive (they mostly dislike co-ops) and one of the most competitive in the group is a 55 year old lady (she gets really annoyed if someone tries to give her advice or remind her of a rule). And just remember someone's bullying (and I'm not talking about the obvious derogatory abuse) may just be the someone else's, or even the groups, table banter and strong negotiation.

This is another example of certain groups thinking they can come and sit with people and then call them out when they don't agree with how the others act. I would not stand for it in a community I was a member of just like I would not stand for direct bullying within that same community.
Last edit: 27 Mar 2019 15:51 by southernman.
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25 Mar 2019 11:22 #294411 by mads b.
I think Knizia sums it up pretty well when he said: the goal of the game is to win, but it's the goal that is important, not the winning.

Games are competitive, but what can be toxic is people playing primarily to win and not to, well, play the game. And you don't really need to care all that much about winning in order to play competitively.
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25 Mar 2019 11:25 - 25 Mar 2019 12:11 #294412 by Gary Sax
I think I agree with the gist of your pushback...? To me, this is the Knizia quote about winning and the game, right? It isn't shitty to be competitive within the game but it can be very shitty to enact competitive behavior above the table in a meta-way (and yes, toxic, and super off-putting). The distinction is fragile but important. I wouldn't tease anyone or talk shit during a game that I didn't know well for this reason, very easy way to alienate people, especially if they're already on edge about where they are/strangers they're playing with. I know this isn't everyone's experience, but I see, for example, the game stores I've been at as a pretty hostile environment and I think I would personally be even more on edge if I was not a white man.

I do think there is something to the idea that nerd demographics tend to have a lot of trouble with the social distinction between game/above the table.

edit: haha, beaten by mads!!!
Last edit: 25 Mar 2019 12:11 by Gary Sax.
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25 Mar 2019 11:39 - 25 Mar 2019 12:24 #294414 by Erik Twice

Nate Hayden wrote: High level play will have bullying, and it ought to, as bullying is part of gaining edge.

No, sorry, bullying is not a necessary part of competition and if you allow it in a tournament or league then your event is garbage.

Having to tolerate harrassment is not a valuable skill and should not be part of competition. I don't know what games you play, but I don't like playing games where calling the opponent a f***** and mocking his dead parents or his gender is part of the strategy. I prefer my tournaments to be about, well, playing the game instead of being a massive dickhead.

I don't know, I don't think the latest Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour would have been better or more competitive if players were throwing transphobic bullshit to the eventual winner. Or if everyone tried to cheat like a Chess hustler.

Really, I still don't understand why harrassment or bullying somehow become acceptable if you are competing. That shit is not tolerable in either circumstance.
Last edit: 25 Mar 2019 12:24 by Gary Sax.
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25 Mar 2019 11:44 - 25 Mar 2019 11:44 #294416 by Matt Thrower

mads b. wrote: I think Knizia sums it up pretty well when he said: the goal of the game is to win, but it's the goal that is important, not the winning.

Games are competitive, but what can be toxic is people playing primarily to win and not to, well, play the game. And you don't really need to care all that much about winning in order to play competitively.


Yep. I used to have a forum signature from an old public school song, which phrases the same thing in a slightly more poetic way.

Forward where the scrimmage thickens; never stop to rub your shin;
Cowards count the kicks and ha'pence, only care to save their skin.
Oftentimes defeat is splendid, victory may still be shame;
Luck is good, the prize is pleasant but the glory's in the game.

Last edit: 25 Mar 2019 11:44 by Matt Thrower.
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25 Mar 2019 11:48 #294417 by GorillaGrody
On the whole I agree with the author and with the cited article.

I don't agree that "bullying" is a natural part of healthy, competitive gameplay. I understand that it is an essential part of the types of competitive play we have now.

It's funny that, when I consider sports, I think of a little chest bumping alphaness as being genderless because I've seen so many women do it. Of course, these are all young people in their physical prime, whatever their gender, admiring one another as they insult each other, physically demonstrating their physical power as part of the limited rhetoric. It all takes place in a framework of larger organizational laws, of which Title IX is one. It doesn't repulse me. And I'm not a sports guy at all.

I do not extend that sense of grace and purpose to, say, Magic the Gathering players. Seeing edgelords practically drool on themselves attempting disqualify the other person on the basis of their sleeve sizes and calling each other little Hitlerianisms does not fill me with a sense of noble respect for the physical form, nor the mind at its competitive peak. It's toxic because it pretends to be lawless, and with all lawless arenas, the laws are very clear. The worst write the rules, hide them when necessary, and win.
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25 Mar 2019 11:51 #294418 by DarthJoJo
I agree with southernman in that the context of the group and its own competitiveness matters a lot. From my own experience with the Thrones LCG, don’t go to a regional tournament and complain that your super thematic Baratheon deck that won’t play Robert and Melisandre together isn’t winning against the Greyjoy/Stark Alliance decks, and maybe don’t bring your mind-numbing builders deck to a casual night. Sometimes people want to push the limits of the game and their own abilities, and sometimes those same people want to try something a little offbeat. To adapt out, read the room, the table at an open-play night.

My own problem with competitiveness is when it finds exploits in the rules, perhaps intended and perhaps not, and functionally ruins the game. Take Summoner Wars. It was one of my favorite games when I started in the hobby, and my wife and I played regularly. Then I visited the forums and learned about killing your own units to deny your opponent resources and build your own bank to just play your champions. That was not the game I was interested in playing and was pretty well the beginning of the end. I couldn’t play online because that was the only strategy people would run, and I couldn’t play with my wife because it felt like I was pulling my punches.

Maybe that’s an argument for the churn. Don’t play anything long enough to learn to break it, or find the twenty or so games well-designed enough that there is no 80% win strategy and still meaningful choices.
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25 Mar 2019 11:54 #294419 by Nate Hayden
Eric

I never implied any sort of subject or context to the bullying. You did.

To bully - to use force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate or aggressively dominate others.

Obviously this is not boxing so force and abuse are out of the question. But the others will certainly be applicable in even board gaming, and especially in high competitive play.

High level gaming may have:
Threat: "You will be destroyed by me, and utterly defeated"
Intimidation: much the same as threat "You will be destroyed" "You will not beat me"
Aggressively Dominant: "I am the best and must reign" "I will remain 1st place"

These are part and parcel of gaming and can be found in Chess, Go and even Monopoly and Diplomacy events, also video gaming events. I've never been to a high level con like WBC but I imagine there are some serious players there that occasionally employ bullying tactics. I have played with players that use these kinds of things with a humorous jest, to being rather serious.
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25 Mar 2019 12:02 - 25 Mar 2019 12:38 #294420 by DWTripp
So much wrong here Matt. At least you extracted some of your usual common sense out of this subject after starting it with the most bogus and ridiculous premise:

"Angry male nerds are a blight upon the earth. Almost every dreadful cultural phenomenon of the past decade, from internet harassment, to social media bubbles, all the way up to cases of mass murder has been propelled by bitter, socially awkward young men."

How you managed to recover from that stunningly uninformed and colossally silly premise is beyond me.

Your point about poker and levels of competition is well taken and I think spot on. There are people I don't enjoy sitting at a game table with and so I don't sit at a table with them. I'm pretty sure, given my cantankerous and unfiltered nature that there are plenty who wouldn't like gaming with me either. That's why more gamers is better.

We used to invite a guy who was comptroller for a chain of Pizza places. He did two things that eventually got him uninvited 1) he insisted we order discount Pizza from him and he collected the money. I later checked the menu pricing and figured out he wasn't paying anything, was getting it essentially for free and pocketing the cash. That's not "toxic" behavior, it's just a person cheating others for money. 2) He abused every other player's time, purposely. He intentionally spent easily five or even six times longer taking his turn than even a slow player would normally take. When finally confronted he responded that he usually won and that was how he did it. Huh. So we decided to never play with him again. I don't call that toxic or typical white male nerd -- he was and still is a huge guy rated as one of the top SCA fighters in North America. Huh, SCA? Pizza? Gaming? Maybe he was a bit toxic.

The overall thing, in my view anyway, that makes board gaming groups work is enjoying the games and having stiff competition at a level that makes you sweat. Too much politics or gender-shite creepiness or preachy religion or human rights lectures and it's not the right group for me. YMMV but the only board gaming blight I've seen in the last 30 years has been the flood of overpriced, poorly written, stupidly themed board games that cost $80, $90 or $100 and up.
Last edit: 25 Mar 2019 12:38 by Gary Sax.
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25 Mar 2019 12:10 #294421 by Sagrilarus
So . . . Matt's recommendation to read the table and adjust appropriately is not going to be part of the discussion?
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25 Mar 2019 12:12 #294422 by GorillaGrody

DWTripp wrote:
"Angry male nerds are a blight upon the earth. Almost every dreadful cultural phenomenon of the past decade, from internet harassment, to social media bubbles, all the way up to cases of mass murder has been propelled by bitter, socially awkward young men."

How you managed to recover from that stunningly uninformed and colossally silly premise is beyond me, but you pulled it out. 'It' being your head . Well done.


Hm. I don't know about the Earth, but we could be getting near that point in which bitter, socially awkward older men are going to become a blight on this discussion forum.

Matt's statement is totalizing, and begs for a fight, but I agree with it. Bitter, socially awkward young men are a big problem. There are underlying factors that go into this, but whether we're talking about young men who grow up in Syria or in Montana, they make up the bulk of spree murderers, as well as of the normalizers of political and economic instrumentation of human bodies which makes the world such a shit place to try and improve.
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