Running a Clean Game: What are your hygiene factors?

I really am a big fan of Herzberg’s Two Factor theory. There, I’ve said it. The idea that there are things (called Hygiene Factors (HFs)) that cause you dissatisfaction and stop you from being motivated, and others (Motivating Factors (MFs)) that cause you to be motivated seems obvious. Add in that simply eliminating the HFs doesn’t lead to motivation, and having lots of MFs doesn’t over-ride the HFs and well, it just makes a lot of workplace activity seem obvious. The colleague who cannot seem to go beyond the fact that someone gets paid more than him? The worker who is obsessed with how complicated changing a password is? Both are struggling with HFs that need to be dealt with.

But what does it have to do with gaming?

Well, have you ever considered what might be the gaming versions of hygiene factors? The external things that can contribute to a poor gaming session or a fractious gaming group? Rather than looking at the nuances of your gameplay, is it the environment and organisation of your games that stop them from being awesome, even before the first dice has hit the table?

The first of Herzberg’s HFs address poor or obstructive policies – what’s the gaming version? Group rules! Even if you don’t have written rules, you have unwritten ones; implied rules like ‘When is it too late to cancel a game?’ or ‘Do we bring food and drink, and if so what sort?’ or even just ‘How long do we chat before the game?’

Unpacking that last one a little more, in the world of online gaming, you can easily see the difference between those for whom time is gaming and tittle-tattle at the start of the game is just wasted potential and those that like a bit of a catch-up. Unless you find a happy medium, someone is going to be frustrated and have a poor start to their play experience and that can colour the rest of the game.

The work environment is another HF that is raised by Herzberg. This can be the physical environment, and also the social one too. Consider the space that you game in? Is it conducive to good gaming? Is it comfortable and have sufficient space for movement and game hardware? Is it quiet and secluded enough to allow for some IC silliness if needed without embarrassment? Does it accommodate all of the needs of your players? And, does it also take into account the other people who share the house/room with you? If any of these things are awry, it can seriously hamper your gaming.

Example: When my group first started gaming together, we played in my kitchen. We were slimmer then so we could all fit around the table fine, but it was directly under my youngest daughter’s bedroom and we were constantly being told to keep the noise down … until one time we were reminded by the waving of an actual meat cleaver at us, alongside a promise to use it if we work the baby. We never woke the baby!

The social environment can be equally as critical and sadly, is the part of this mess that is sometimes the hardest to deal with. As time passes, people change. Sometimes what they want from games and gaming changes too, and they grow apart. However, we’re a sociable lot, us gamers and we sometimes end up in some pretty intertwined personal friendships, not only between us but our partners and children as well – especially if you visit each other’s houses for gaming. Leaving a gaming group can therefore sometimes have more baggage than you might think and people might struggle with that, prolonging a situation that is beyond repair. In the world of online gaming, there are maybe fewer bonds, but there is also maybe a higher possibility of communication being misinterpreted too. Those social interactions are a massive HF to how people can settle in a group.

We also talk about respect and dignity as being HFs within a business, and the same is true in a gaming group. Think about how your group allows all players to take part with dignity? Sometimes there are running ‘jokes’ within groups that might have tripped over the line between funny to irritating or even bullying. Or standards within play that are accepted within the group, such as not talking over each other, or avoiding unilaterally provoked PvP, or even something as apparently as basic as who sits where and why?

It’s also under this topic that we address the topic of safety tools. In my opinion, there’s no reason why, especially in a newly formed group, something as basic as an X-card should not be used. When everyone is on the same page about it, it does no harm to the game but offers a safety net for all players and a signal that player safety is something that is taken seriously. Another good technique to show you take player dignity seriously is checking in with people after the game, individually, to make sure everything is ok. And players? It’s not just the GM’s responsibility to do this, you can do it too. And you can check in with the GM. Try it

The next may seem a bit weird as a gaming concept, but Herzberg addresses competitive wages as an HF. In gaming terms, let’s consider the opportunity and transactional costs of gaming? You don’t just spend money on gamebooks, dice, and travel, you also spend the time that could be used elsewhere, you spend ‘brownie points’ with significant others to have a night out, and if you experience chronic illnesses, you might spend ‘spoons’ on the effort to simply turn up. When you factor all of these together, on a purely utility-based level, your game better be paying you back more than you ‘spend’ in terms of fun, entertainment, drama, memories, friendship, and all of the other good stuff we get from gaming. If we are ‘gaming at a deficit’ – enduring a dull, boring game on a night when you really could be doing something else – you will be less inclined to play, or play well. And then everyone suffers.

Another HF is job security which I am going to morph into game security. As we get older and slide into that money rich/time poor status, we cannot afford some of the habits that we had as younger games. One that I suffered from greatly was the start/stop campaign. You know the one – someone gets the new hotness, you make characters, you play one or two sessions and then the excitement wanes and someone suggests a different game. Rinse and repeat. The problem here is that this behaviour expends huge amounts of energy, goodwill, and time for very little reward. If your gaming group is constantly changing the game* with little or no rhyme or reason, then any expectation of a longer campaign is lost and eventually, this loss of game security will lead to people seeking something a bit more long term elsewhere. This is worse if the game is promised to be a proper campaign length and then it peters out after two sessions. Once, ok? Twice? Hmm? Three times? Now you’ve lost the table and its going to take a lot to get them back on board with you as a serious long-term GM.

So, you’ve addressed all of these hygiene factors and that means you’ll have a great game right?


Whilst having disfunctional hygiene factors will almost certainly cause issues around your gaming table, addressing them does not simply make your game awesome. It gives you the foundation for a great game; a stable base to build upon with all the basics sorted.

Now you have to deal with the motivational factors … and that, you will no doubt have guessed, is the next article!

* With the obvious exception of groups who specifically champion one-shot play. For advice on how to make excellent one-shots, check out Guy Milner’s Burn After Running blog

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