Playing as the Stranger

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:18

I did something new for me this past weekend: I went to a prerelease event for the new Magic: The Gathering set. Because I’m an introvert and a bit of a homebody besides, I went in with a little trepidation and got there fairly early so I could check with the owner of the hosting store about any etiquette or procedures I needed to observe.  (In the event that you’re wondering, there’s not much – you need a DCI number, which is very easy to get signed up for at the store, and then you’ll play four best-of-three matches with a deck you make from six packs of the new set. Buy in was $20.) I went 2-2 overall, blowing out my first opponent, being blown out by my next two, and finally winning 2-1 against my final opponent. Folks were fairly nice, and I really enjoyed the experience, but I was nervous going in, and I’ve experienced a similar phenomenon at cons and when I’ve joined a new gaming group, so here’s what I’ve learned about making yourself a welcome presence in an unfamiliar gaming environment, whether it’s a CCG event, a con game, or the first few sessions with a new gaming group.

  • Be helpful: I carry a multitool and a couple of good-quality ballpoint pens with me, primarily out of habit (I use both at work on at least a semi-regular basis) so when we got the prerelease kits handed out and people were fighting with the shrinkwrap, I opened the knife in the multitool and passed it around to folks near me. I did similar things with the pens all day. Whenever somebody near me asked if somebody had one, I lent them one of mine. I brought a lot more dice than I needed for tokens and counters and cheerfully lent them to my opponents if they needed them.
  • Be prepared: It’s definitely easier to be helpful if you’ve got the tools to be. Bring writing utensils, dice, and scratch paper when you go to an unfamiliar gaming event and be ready to share them.
  • Ask questions: If you’re at an unfamiliar event, ask the other participants if they’re more familiar with the goings-on than you, and if the answer is “yes” and they don’t seem eager to break off the conversation, ask them for advice. Most people like to demonstrate and share their knowledge, and most folks will be happy to assist in matters of gaming you if you ask. I find it’s best to start this early on before things really get rolling, but it’s generally better to ask than guess and do something that can cause problems if you’re unsure.
  • Be humble: If you make a mistake, apologize and correct it, but also try to let it go as fast as possible. Getting gunshy after an accidental faux pas or play error is going to ruin the experience for you and will probably make others feel bad.
  • Be presentable: Show up clean and groomed in clothes that are clean and in good condition. (And if you’ve got a cool geeky t-shirt you want to show off, this is most definitely the time!)
  • Be a good sport: If what you’re playing is competitive, it is highly unlikely you’re going to win more than half the time. If it’s cooperative or collaborative like most RPGs, something will probably go wrong in the game. You’re going to blow an important die roll, miss a clue, etc. Taking setbacks graciously immediately makes you less threatening and more pleasant to game with. Likewise, if somebody else does something really good, acknowledge it and congratulate them! If you’re at a CCG event and somebody gets something really expensive or powerful in their pulls, suppress your envy and congratulate them, too. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to keep up a constant stream of conversation or be charming, but being gracious and polite goes a long way.
  • Remember who you’re representing: If you’re a Christian, this has obvious implications: you want to model love, grace, and charity in an appropriate way at the event, but even if you’re not a person of faith, it’s worth remembering that your behavior helps contribute to the overall perception of gamers inside the community itself and potentially outside it.
  • Have as much fun as you can wring out of the event without ruining anybody else’s: Regardless of the reason you’re there, whether you sought it out on your own or went with a friend, it’d be silly not to do all you can to enjoy yourself. If a hobby’s no fun, it’s not much of a hobby.
  • And finally: Don’t talk yourself out of something you’ll enjoy just because you’re nervous!

Good luck out there folks! As always, I’d be interested in additions to this list, supporting or conflicting anecdotes, etc. I love reading your comments, so please, don’t hesitate to post them!

 

-Peter

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