Monday, July 20, 2009

What Makes a Beautiful Player? (Part 3)

Appearance, or What? I’m Only Three Hours Early!

I’ve long been plagued by non-punctual gamers. I had given it up as a regrettable, if necessary corollary to gaming: people just can get to the game on time. It always starts an hour later than the “official” start time.

Then, I moved to Cleveland, and started a new gaming group. The first few times we met, I tried to make it clear that because we were playing on a Tuesday (school night for some of the players) and because a couple of players had to leave at certain times (work, curfew, etc.) I wanted people there by six. That didn’t seem to help much; I had a couple of problem players who showed up a half hour late consistently. By the third week, I was annoyed, so I took them aside and explained that I was serious about running this game and that if they were serious about playing in it, they would show up on time or at least call if they couldn’t.

They showed up early from then on. I love it when people pay attention.

Appearance has nothing to do with how a gamer looks (mostly, it doesn’t, but we’ll get to that). It has to do with putting in an appearance. An Apparent player shows up on time, with all the necessary accouterments: his/her notebook, a pencil (they disappear real quick around my place), and dice in hand, ready to play. It all goes back to the gaming group being a commitment, and respecting that.

Are there acceptable reasons to be late or to miss a game? Of course, and even the most Apparent player will run afoul of these things sometimes. However, whereas a non-Apparent player won’t call, or waits until the last possible minute to do so, an Apparent player calls as soon as a crisis emerges, so that the Storyteller can compensate. An Apparent player realizes that the Storyteller should never have to play a player’s character because the player didn’t show and the character is too important to sideline. I commonly cancel games or run one-shots instead of the planned game because of one last-minute no-show, just because the missing character was that important to the plot. I have also given characters fates far worse than they deserved because their players weren’t there to save them. (Vengeful, yes, but it’s therapeutic, and even death’s reversible in some games.)

So, showing up, as Minnie Driver says in Grosse Point Blank, is a good start. But there’s more to the Apparent player than simple physical presence. The Apparent player considers the feelings and preferences of the group and tries to work within them.

For example: I hate cigarettes. Anyone who knows me also knows that I’m a total psycho about smokers. I have bad habits, too, and I do unhealthy things to my body, but the difference is that what I do won’t give anybody else health problems. You may smoke, but if even one gamer in your group doesn’t, you should respect her wishes. It is not disrespectful or inconsiderate for a non-smoker to ask a smoker to go elsewhere to indulge; it is inconsiderate for the smoker to do so.

That in mind, the Apparent player does not show up smoking and expect to be let in, if the rules of the house prohibit indoor smoking. Players who smoke should also wait until their characters are not immediately involved in the action or until a break in the game to trot outside to smoke. And, once outside, they should pick up their leavings and throw them away, not leave butts all over the place. Eww.

The Apparent player also knows how to abide by house rules. By “house rules” I don’t mean rules of the game (though that’s a consideration, too) but literal rules of the house. If the Storyteller doesn’t want the player drinking alcohol during the game, the players need to abide by that. If there are players in the group who are underage, this shouldn’t even be an issue. This principle also applies to other mind-altering substances; the Apparent player not only shows up on time for games, but shows up sober, or at least able to function. I knew a fellow who routinely showed up to our games high; I didn't notice until he mentioned it. It's great if you can do that. I can't, I'm a total lightweight, so I don't alter my brain chemistry with anything but coffee during games.

Apparent players must also be aware of their general appearance. I’m not referring to physical beauty or attractiveness, of course. By appearance I mean silly things like hygiene. One of the unpleasant stereotypes about gamers is that they are plump men who don’t bathe and wear the same clothes day in and day out. The Apparent player breaks that stereotype over his knee. Show up for games clean, and using the proper tools of personal cleanliness (toothbrush, deodorant and so forth. And before the female gamers reading this get too smug, I’ll gently mention that the only instance in which I actually had to speak to a player about this involved a female player. I won’t get into detail, but you can probably figure it out).

On the subject of physical appearance, one last note should be made. A lot of younger gamers live with their families, and that might mean that gaming night is held in mom’s basement under her good graces. I was fortunate in that I have parents who didn’t regard gaming as a demonic act and were kind enough to buy us pizza or cook for us quite a lot. However, the Apparent player understands that sometimes parents get freaked out easily and that means that weirdness sometimes needs to get curbed. That can mean not dressing like a total gothed-out freak, going easy on the makeup, turning a piercing so it isn’t visible, and choosing one’s T-shirt with care. It can also mean being careful with language, both in terms of profanity and subject matter. Rant all you want about how folks can be closed-minded and how they don’t understand about gaming but in the end, respect the people to whom the house belongs and try not to offend them. (This is especially true if they happen to be your parents!)

Sometimes, players get a little too zealous. This drives them to show up early (anything more than about 20 to 30 minutes before the established time should merit a phone call), or bring guests along to play or watch.

Some Storytellers might have issues with uninvited guests showing up. I don’t mind so much as long as they abide by my rule for “gaming voyeurs” - which is, simply put, “Stay out of the way and shut up.” If you want to bring a friend along to the game to watch, ask them to bring a book or some homework, in case they get bored. Make sure they understand that you won’t be able to explain everything to them right then, as you’ll be involved in the game. You should probably make sure that the Storyteller doesn’t have a problem with an audience, if for no other reason than it might require an extra chair.

If, however, you want to bring a friend and actually have them play in the game, you must clear it with the Storyteller first. Some games are loose enough to allow a character to float in and out in a single session without wrecking the game’s rhythm too much. Much of the time, however, it’s difficult to suddenly introduce a new character without either leaving the new character largely out of the action or forcing him into it. Neither of these options are good starts to gaming.

If you’ve got a friend who’s interested in gaming but doesn’t wish to or is unable to join an existing group, talk to the Storyteller about running a one-shot or a spin off of your current chronicle. Do not bring someone along and say “We made a character this afternoon. My friend can play, right?” I’ve been put on the spot like this and I’ve turned down such requests. Remember, gaming is communistic, and the Storyteller has to make the decision that works best for the group as a whole. If you make those decisions easier for the Storyteller by giving him/her warning about guests, you’re making a good Appearance.

By the same token, stay off the phone during games. If you’re having family or relationship troubles, don’t try to work them out over the phone during a gaming session. If it’s that serious, apologize to the Storyteller and the group and leave. But don’t put the entire game on hold while the group waits for you to sort things out with your girlfriend. That’s inconsiderate (of both you and her), and it puts the Storyteller in the uncomfortable position of having to either listen to the arguments or wait for them to end.

How’s your Appearance?

Do you show up twenty minutes early for all games and pass the time chatting with the Storyteller about the ongoing chronicle?

Have you ever broken a date because it conflicted with a game?

Have you ever voluntarily missed a concert, play, or other one-time-only event to make a game?

Do you take notes?

If other players are short on pizza money, do you cover because “it’ll all equal out sooner or later”?

Have most of your friends “guest-starred” in the game you’re playing in?

If you answered affirmatively to any or all of these questions, it’s apparent that you’re Apparent.