Play Culture One: Do Your Homework

My first core principle happens before you sit down to play the game. The first principle is that you have responsibilities beyond turning up and playing the game.

What does this mean? In my opinion, it’s about respect for your other players. Time is a precious commodity and wasting someone else’s time is really quite rude. There are a load of gaming behaviours that do exactly that though – through not doing their homework, players waste each other’s time. Want some examples?

  • You’re playing a game that has levels and spells, and you have leveled up since the last session. However, you come to the next session having not done any of the leveling, any of the new spell choices, any of the choices needed. So, everyone else has to twiddle their fingers waiting for you to make your choices.
  • You’re playing a character that has a distinct set of rules that only they use. You might be the only one with psionics, or decking, or sorcery magic. You might be playing a game that uses playbooks that have their own unique foibles. However, you fail to learn these rules and everyone has to sit around as you stumble through them.
  • In the most obvious example, the GM has asked you to do a little bit of background work. Sometimes its reading a passage or two about the setting, or coming up with a couple of NPCs or whatever, but you just don’t do it, and expect everyone to wait when you start playing.

In each of these examples, doing a little bit of game prep between sessions is all that’s needed. However, especially in recent years, I have seen a distinct drift towards the game only happening at the table. As soon as the game ends, all mental engagement with it ends until the next session. I think this is really quite rude – it’s not like you’re expected to manifest your character in an hour-long mediation – you’re just expected to know the rules, do your character, and contribute.

Of course, it isn’t just the gameplay that we are concerned about here, it’s also the physical and social aspects of the game. These things differ between home games, convention games and online games, but the basics are the same

  • Confirm your availability, or lack thereof as early as possible and – this is the controversial part – prioritise that game time as part of your life. One thing I have definitely seen across all gaming channels since Lockdown is an increased ease with which people find something else to do when gaming. If you commit to run a game at a con, or attend a regular session for a game, then bloody well turn up, unless there is a good reason not to. I liken it to playing in an amateur sports team – imagine being the goalie but not arriving to play every other match for whatever reason. You’re not going to be on the team for long! I see no reason why games should be any different.
  • Bring your bloody stuff! Character sheet, books, paper, pencil, dice (or whatever), minis if you use them. You know the score. Turning up to a game regularly without dice just isn’t on. Not having your character sheet? Why do you bother?
  • Computers can be annoying things, but after three years, still forgetting to plug your laptop into the charger? Or at least trying to get the audio set-up sorted before the game, or not logging into Roll20 (other VTTs are available), etc. It just wastes everyone else’s time.

I’m not a monster – everyone has life issues that mean they have to cancel last minute, or their PC decides to reenact the digital remake of The Exorcist – that’s all understandable. But when there’s simply no learning curve and it happens time and time again, it just shows that you aren’t really that interested. And if you’re not that interested in the game, why should everyone else be interested in having you in the game?

My first principle is simply about being prepared to play. It’s simple, it’s practical and everyone can do it. Next time, I’ll look at the second principle – you are there to have fun, to make sure everyone else has fun – including the GM. That’s a LOT more complicated than it looks!

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