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Cracked LCD- Hell is Other Gamers

As we speak, the World Boardgaming Championships are going on in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This nine-day event, attended by some 1,500 gamers including our very own Bill Abner, features organized competitions, retailer and publisher exhibits, and of course tons of open gaming. I was asked by no less than eight people if I was going to put in an appearance, and I’ve also been asked from many different quarters if I would be at Origins or Gen Con. I’m on a large mailing list featuring pretty much every game player in the metro Atlanta area and I get invited to get-togethers, meet-ups, conventions, and other gaming event all the time. The answer to all of the above is always “no, Barnes will not be there”. Usually I cite my “won’t drive more than 15 miles to play games” policy, a parameter that has decreased over the years. But ultimately it’s because I’m done with playing games with strangers- particularly gamer strangers.

Let’s be clear. I love playing games and I love getting together with friends like my wonderful Hellfire Club gaming gang and local gaming celebrity Frank Branham and whoever is playing at his manse. He’s got good taste in games and friends, for the most part. As much as I love playing games 100% of the time the main attraction that gets me to leave my hermit-like lifestyle as well as my family behind to spend an entire evening over a game table is actually the socializing and catching up with good friends. I really don’t care what game we play.

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But as I’ve stated in the past quite plainly, I’m done with playing any games with strangers unless they’re vetted and vouched for by friends and invited into our closed, secretive cabals. Or if I’ve “met” you online and I have a good sense of who you are and how you play games. But random “mind if I join you guy”? Sorry, table’s full. Lost the pieces for the fifth player. Bye.

Call me inhospitable, call me a jerk. But the fact is that my gaming time, especially with two small children around, is very precious and very limited. I don’t want to waste it. I’ve done more than my fair share of accommodating random “mind if I join you” guy between decades of gaming at weekly public events, demoing games at conventions, and running a game shop where practically every day I was playing something with some people I didn’t know. And I’ve had far, far too many bad experiences with this character than good ones.

Fred Fredburger, the original Fun Murderer that yelled at a child over a rule in War on Terror, was a random “mind if I join you” guy. The table of people I played Das Zepter von Zavandor for six hours at Atlanta Game Fest while my friends played Fury of Dracula in a third of the time were unknowns. I couldn’t have known that they were human abacuses. Playing with strangers has resulted in some of the worst, most unfun gaming sessions I’ve ever experienced and at least one unforgettably disgusting quote- “you’ll have to excuse me, I ate a large quantity of sausage before I came here”. It’s totally different when my buddy and TI3 champion Will Kenyon says something like that. We have an understanding.

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The problem is that socialization is first for me, the game second. If I just cared about getting a game in, then I wouldn’t mind posting up at a random table at WBC with Joe Carcassonne or whoever and playing whatever. But I want to play games with people I like, people I can relate to and talk to about something other than the game that’s on the table in front of us while we play. If all we have between us is that game, we have nothing.

Yes, I do feel like an anti-social curmudgeon and I’m well aware that most well-adjusted gamers just want to be accommodating and welcoming to both nebbish newcomers that don’t know anyone in the room and awkward old-timers, like the poor guy that used to come into my shop and set up old Avalon Hill wargames, waiting patiently for random “mind if I join you” guy since he was too shy to ask someone to play on his own. I’m glad that there’s kinder gamers out there willing to spend their time with these folks, because I’m not. Not any longer.

I’ve met some truly phenomenal people while gaming. Like Richard Launius, the designer of Arkham Horror and the man I would likely nominate as the Greatest Gamer of All Time. Seriously, there is no one on this planet that is as passionate and enthusiastic about games as this man. And then there’s John Clowdus of Small Box Games, a man that understands that any game is good when played with Evan Williams. Then there’s my good friends the Philosophale family, Dr. Dan Baden, Steve “Tanktop” Avery, and pretty much everyone in the Atlanta Game Factory family. All were strangers once. Now they’re friends.

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These days, the odds of me meeting these kinds of great people through gaming are slim because I’m so ruthlessly elitist and unfriendly. I’m OK with that, because again I think back to all the gamers I’ve met that have been awkward, embarrassing, weird, nasty, rude, or otherwise incapable of carrying out normal human interactions without the social media of a game through which to communicate. Hell is other gamers, which is why I prefer to strictly game with friends.

Michael Barnes

Games writer Michael Barnes is a co-founder of Nohighscores.com as well as FortressAT.com. His trolling has been published on the Web and in print in at least two languages and in three countries. His special ability is to cheese off nerds using the power of the Internet and his deep, dark secret is that he's actually terrible at games. Before you ask, no, the avatar is not him. It's Mark E. Smith of The Fall.

14 thoughts to “Cracked LCD- Hell is Other Gamers”

  1. I can understand your hesitation, and indeed it can be a problem, but honestly I don’t see it as big of a problem in board games. True the sentiment behind it is what keeps me from engaging in almost any multiplayer video game, but for board games people are (usually) a pretty friendly bunch.

    Perhaps it’s just the circles I travel in, perhaps its the store I go to for pickup games, or it may just be a Chicago thing, but I can only think of a few times where I couldn’t enjoy a game with relative strangers. Perhaps it’s because I’m more than willing to try and engage the group myself. My friends and I like to play games a bit loud and rowdy, generally steering away from your Agricola type games. So when playing with people I don’t know I try to get a little back and forth smack talking.

    Granted were I to play with a group of ‘games are serious business’ types it would suck, but I’ve not come across many of them (usually easy to avoid in large setting too).

  2. I pretty much agree. I’m 38 years old. I’ve been playing role playing games since I was 6. I am pretty much past including new people in that particular hobby, save extraordinary circumtances. I am a little less strict on boardgames, but not much. If there are too many unknown people playing, I will find a convenient excuse. Luckily, for me, that rarely happens since most of my friends are even more hermit-like than I am.

    In two weeks, I will be going to GenCon for the 16th time in a row. The first couple of years, me and my friends used to sign up for all sorts of games, pretty much all role playing games, though some ventured into miniature games and board games.

    We quickly learned, however, that the quality of game and other players was really not worth the effort. The only games we ever truly enjoyed were those in which we managed to get all, or the vast majority (4 out of 6 or so) slots. (Though I did always enjoy the Chthulhu Masters Tournament even to the extent that we ran a few of those games for a while).

    For the last six or so years, however, we’ve stopped signing up for games entirely. In fact, only a few of us even get badges to go to the convention. We spend almost the entire weekend, save going out for meals, in our hotel room running our games and drinking massive quantities of beer.

    We understand that we really don’t need to go to GenCon to do this and would probably save money if we just held “GenCon” somewhere cheaper, but it’s all about getting together with friends who now live far apart and doing what we all love doing. I enjoy going to GenCon, walking around the streets of Milwaukee/Indianapolis, seeing all the geeks and geekery. And though we have had success in throwing our own little “cons” at times, there is something about that fixed, permanent GenCon date that seems to draw us all together.

    1. That is almost exactly how my crew views Dragon Con, which I’ve been going to for *gulp* 20 years this year. None of us giving a flipping shit about the useless geek culture celebrities (read- Z-grade actors and actress slumming on a couple of marginal roles), all of the terrible events, buying a bunch of worthless junk in the dealer’s room, or whatever.

      We get together, drink Old Fashioneds, hang out, and go to dinner. Might play a game. Usually go and heckle the “art show”. I didn’t buy a badge last year and I won’t this year. Like you said, we always say “hey, we don’t have to do this at Dragon Con”…but somehow, it works out just right for our “family reunion”. I’ve got friends flying in from Texas, California, and Boston this year. There is something there that draws us together, and none of it has to do with the convention.

      1. I’ll tell you this “you arent useing my fucking badge this year that’s for dam sure.” Just to let you know whats up I’m not almost getting kicked out of the con again.

  3. Revel in your luxuries, Michael. I, on the other hand, have to take my gaming where I can get it. I’m not the “mind if I join you” guy, mostly due to a tendency toward introversion, but I can sympathize with the Avalon Hill guy. My close group of friends tends to bond over sports-and-a-brewski, me being the only one born with the highly prized geek gene. Solo geeking? I’ve got all the bases covered. Anything involving more than one geek? Coercion and trickery are the only tools I have at my disposal. I still have the Red Box I bought in 8th grade, unplayed.

    Even when one of the tools works, it usually amplifies the difficulty in finding someone just serious enough, but not too serious, to play with. As fun-rending as a Rules Lawyer can be, someone who can’t figure out how to play The Resistance because its competing with their mouth or their iPhone can be more despairingly frustrating. My attempt at starting a game night with a bunch of non-gamers did not work. Of course, it took me a year to admit it to myself because of my eternal hope that a couple of 1.5 hour games of Dominion (playing in teams) meant they were finally turning the corner. Yes, my hope was that great.

    This month I “rebooted” that attempt and have invited a few guys that I know are gamers; former co-workers who are the ones that introduced me to games like Puerto Rico and Robo Rally. If our schedules align, and everyone stays interested, and all of our levels of seriousness are just right, and we like the same games, maybe it will work this time. I hope.

    Anyway, all of this to say: count your blessings. You’ve spent enough time working at it, and got lucky enough that you probably have the opportunity to play games with people who share your interests any time you like (modulo: time spent with the kids). Think how frustrating it is for those of us on the other side.

    1. Indeed, count your blessings. I’ve been playing videogames a long time and playing pretty much exclusively solo. I was always the one in my family who wanted to play board games, but I was a sore loser Recently though, in a miracle known as getting the entire immediate family together, I introduced everyone to King of Tokyo, and after changing the rules to hearts and power gems counting double it was a roaring success (seriously, play it that way).
      I also found out about SPIEL in Essen recently and since I live in the Netherlands, I am driving up there with my folks for a day. So that will be my first convention experience. Gotta brush up on my German ein bißchen jetzt genau jawoll.

  4. We have a local boardgaming group called BOGA it’s pretty big. I went a few times trying it out and I think if I flew solo it would be a good time. But when you bring a gaming group with you to those types of things it doesn’t really work. We want to play together and there are at least 4 of us.

  5. I’ve had a very similar experience while playing MMOs. When I first started playing WoW I was very willing to engage random party members in conversation, point out boss mechanics, and otherwise make doing a random dungeon a social event. By the time I quit 2 years later, I could hardly be bothered to unmute the ventrilo channel. Just too many experiences with players who were loud and either bad, rude, or both. The only times I made use of my mic was on guild-only raids or when doing arena with my personal friends.

  6. I’ve found that co-op games are the best games to put a new player into. If they can’t help the whole team beat the table with a decent attitude, you know to de-invite yourself from future encounters.

    Certainly, though, MB’s answer is more definitive.

  7. Random Joe gamer is the spice of life. You never know what you will get at Origins and Gencon. I’ve made a handful of good acquaintances at both, but I have earned some war stories from some of the worst. I still enjoy it as part of the experience, but I totally see you point Michael.

    Plus, I might actually get to play a game with Abner and Brakke this GenCon. So that will be full of win.

  8. At my Wednesday night gaming group we talk so much sh*t as to make each of our mothers faint from shock. That’s something I don’t feel comfortable doing with random strangers. And seeing as we all drink copious amounts of beer that one night a week, it’s a group of folks I don’t mind being tipsy around.

  9. Funny I ran a game of Descent 2 last night with a random stranger as a player for our local meet up and it was a she no less.

    Having said that I am in agreement with you I won’t usually play with strangers and even people I know who are just bad gamers. Lots of people in our group feel it necessary to play with anyone but not me. “Old Jim” wants to play, no thanks you guys go ahead.

    I’ll be at GenCon again but I mainly go to look at goodies, talk to publishers and designer friends. Play some demos and possibly a game or two in the open board game room. Mostly it’s to go out at night though.

    Plus this year I get to see Todd and Bill I hope. We can all grab a beer and complain about the state of sports games

  10. I’m definitely with you, Mr. Barnes. While I travel more than 15 miles at times to play games, it is always with a great group of friends that I have a blast with. Cons, on the other hand, have been about a 50-50 split – some fun games, some terrible times. Not interested any more.

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