The Line

I wrote the following post late last night. Reading it in the harsh light of day with a more critical eye, I can see several ways it can be interpreted and understood in a less-than-positive way. I’m not going to change it, though: I don’t like to do that once something is released into the wild. What I will do is preface it by saying that I mean the post in a positive, charitable, and constructive way. It’s more introspective than most of my posts, and that can lead one to see it as self-indulgent, or a passive-aggressive attack. Neither is the intent. The intent is summed up as follows:

Even the best of us can have a bad day. We need to watch how we handle it, because we’re responsible for how our behaviour impacts others.

This is especially important in roleplaying games, where strong emotions are often being evoked by the scenario and characters, but it’s also good advice in everyday life. Remember Wheaton’s Law.

So, if you read on, please assume positive intent on my part.

Normally, I try to be pretty positive about gaming experiences, because they’re fun. They’re my main hobby, and I enjoy gaming, and I enjoy the people I game with. So, when I write about player behaviour, I like to talk about good behaviour – stuff that contributes to the fun of the game.

Tonight, though, at Clint’s New Centurions game, one of the players got frustrated, argumentative, and confrontational. The GM even stepped in to calm things down. That’s totally not cool.

The worst part is that I was the player.

I like to think I’m a pretty laid-back guy, and a fun person to game with. I like to think I enhance the play experience for everyone at the table. Generally, I think this is the case.

But tonight, I got frustrated ((No, I’m not going to talk about why I got frustrated. It’s not really relevant to the point I’m making.)), and it soured the evening for me – and, I assume, for others in the group. I started to argue, and to be uncharitably critical, and basically turned into a jerk. And it was player-to-player stuff; I can’t even cloak the incident in the guise of roleplaying ((Not that I think that’s an acceptable excuse.)). It’s not like I called other players names, or threw a tantrum, or ruined a friendship, or anything like that, but I was, indeed, a jerk.

So, before going on to talk about the lesson this has to teach, let me say this.

Clint, I want to apologize for creating the situation where you needed to intervene to make me realize what I was doing. You shouldn’t have had to do that, and I’m sorry.

Penny, Tom, and Fera, I want to apologize for being a jerk to you fine folks. No excuse. I was out of line, and I’m sorry. I hope it didn’t ruin the session for you.

But aside from a little public self-flagellation, why write about this? Because I didn’t see the line as I crossed it, and that was the problem.

I’m gonna make an assumption: most folks are not jerks. We like our friends, and like to get along with them, and like to treat them well. But sometimes, we don’t live up to it. We’ve all got our own baggage, our own hot buttons, and our own moods. And if things converge properly – one of our hot buttons gets pushed while we’re tired or in a bad mood – we cross the line and become jerks.

Crossing the line happens. Emotions aren’t always simple and easy to control. When you get that adrenaline hit, and the anger or frustration ramps up, your mood takes a sharp left turn, and you’re over it. The key, I think, is recognizing when we’re doing it, so that we don’t have to act on it. If we don’t recognize it, we’re going to act on our current messed-up emotions, and be jerks.

Easy to say, right? But it’s harder to recognize the line when we’re in the process of crossing it. I know what it feels like to be over the line, but part of the experience is caring more about the current problem – the frustration, in this case – than about how to deal with it. Most of the time, I can see when it happens, because of the responses that come to mind at that point are rather less than charitable, and at least a little confrontational. When my first three responses to what someone says are sarcastic, mocking, or critical, I usually see where things are going and shut my fool mouth before I make things worse.

See, the secret that I figured out tonight is that, while I may have made the game less enjoyable for the others tonight, I totally ruined it for myself. The rest of the evening, I kept thinking about what a jerk I had been, and it soured the rest of the game for me. Because, you see, I had been a jerk to my friends. I sat there the rest of the evening feeling guilty and ashamed of my behaviour, while they got on with playing the game. I ruined my own fun – probably more than I ruined theirs.

What am I trying to say? I’m saying that I think lots of people are basically like me in this respect.

I’m saying that we need to think about where our own jerk line is, and get good at noticing when we cross it.

I’m saying when we cross it, we shouldn’t act on the impulses that emerge. We need to think about our behaviour more carefully when we’re over the line, because we can’t trust our first reactions.

And I’m saying that, when we do act on those impulses, we need to do what I did after it was pointed out to me tonight: recognize that we’re in the wrong, apologize, and shut the hell up until we’re fit for human company again. If that means we stew in silence for a while, so be it; it’s better than digging the hole deeper.

So, here are the three things I’ve decided to keep firmly in mind next time I find myself crossing that line:

  1. These are my friends I’m gaming with.
  2. It’s only a game.
  3. Jerks don’t get invited to play with nice people.

Now, it’s quarter to three in the morning, and I’m going to go to sleep. But I wanted to get this post off my chest before I did.

Goodnight, everyone.

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One Response to The Line

  1. Karla says:

    I’ve had a few moments like this. Not at a gaming table but certainly with friends and it is always harder to forgive myself than someone else who made the same mistake.

    I sometimes think the only real requirement for adulthood is the ability to say, with compassion and clarity, “Man, I am such a dick.”

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