Propaganda Data Slate: How to Play at Fair Play

Avatar Tabletop Tactics April 15, 20199  36 1128 Views 9 Likes

How to Play at Fair Play 

It’s something that has always kind of been there, but never really clarified or made “law” – how to conduct yourself in a game. Warhammer has, for nearly as long as I can remember, had The Most Important Rule. Looking at the 4th Ed. Rulebook, you can find the following, literally as you open the book (after the requisite “THERE IS ONLY WAR” blurb of course): 

“The most important rule about playing games of Warhammer 40,000 is to have fun. Now while having fun can often be gained by mercilessly crushing your opponents forces, never ever forget that you are both here to have fun… If you can play nice and treat your opponent with respect and mercilessly crush their forces at the same time, you really are a winner. “

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Note this doesn’t tell you how to do this, or what you should do. And so, more and more, there are talks of Codes of Conduct, Player Guidelines, even official rules on how to behave at events, expanding on this notion and going into more detail on exactly how to behave in a game. Suddenly there is this big focus on how people are meant to behave when playing a game of toy soldiers. 

From the ITC’s Player Code of Conduct, to the Shadespire Grand Clash Tournament Rules, to the latest White Dwarf containing an Age of Sigmar Player’s Code, (drafted by Jervis Johnson no less) due to appear in the next General’s Handbook, as well as being stated to be applicable to all games – there seems to be more and more focus on how to act when playing.

So we have these guidelines. But why have these suddenly appeared. Well, let’s break down something that’s really changed over the last 1-2 years. 

The New Dawn of Technology

Social Media. Video on Demand services. Streaming. These are all great things that have expanded wargaming (amongst other games) far beyond anything that could have been thought 10 years ago. Someone living in Australia can stay up to watch the top tables of the biggest US tournaments, whilst reading the latest sass from the GW community team based in the UK, because someone asked about the plastic Lion in a plastic Thunderhawk crewed by plastic Squats…again.

All these things have also allowed previously unseen or unknown things to come to light. Be it from rumours or allegations of cheating, bad behaviour, or otherwise something that just rubs people the wrong way – it’s no longer he said, she said, about ‘That Guy’ that your friend’s gaming buddy once played 4 years ago at a 20 person event. It’s there, live, for the world to see, on some of the biggest stages the wargaming community has to offer.

Let’s go back to early 2018. It’s the Las Vegas Open. It’s one of, if not the biggest 40k tournaments in the world. It saw grand tactical play and incredible skill being used among some of the best players in the competitive scene. But it also saw something else. A name becoming synonymous with being ‘That Guy’, even if only for a short time. Deserved or not is not what we’re here to talk about, but rather how the Internet took it, ran with it, and how it seemed to open the floodgates. Now this is not to say this was the sole catalyst, or perhaps even the main reason, for the sudden interest in Codes of Conduct, but even amongst a FLGS* that doesn’t play competitively, people were talking about this. It was no longer a thing restricted to the “hardcore tournament” scene. And that’s because people were hearing about it, as it happened or within a few hours. Before, you kind of had to be there and even then, it was dark whispers in the depths of the Internet that got lost in minutes behind other topics. Now, it is a hot talking point amongst gamers halfway across the world. 

Other situations and controversies have come and gone. But be it on forums, social media, private group chats over WhatsApp or in person over a beer at your gaming club cos you read about it on a Facebook page, they’re being discussed, more so than ever, because they’re accessible. 

So this is the why it’s more prevalent but what has made it become needed to have an official stance made? Whether its from GW or more and more event organisers, I mean, we’ve managed so far right? Well, we should start by comparing a big event to a gaming group. Neither have had these explicit rules before, so where’s the difference? 

Vigilante Justice of the FLGS

In my experience, if someone consistently misplays, acts inappropriately, or is otherwise unpleasant to play against, they find themselves ostracised or reprimanded by their gaming community. Be it that one person who just stands up to call them out, the gradual silent group shunning of the perpetrator, or even the manager of the store or club talking with them, something happens to the perpetrator that causes them to begin to change their ways, or eventually stop attending this specific club. Either way, the problem is removed by the wider community standing for a conduct of play that is in keeping with the spirit of the game. When ‘That Guy’ breaches the social contract of the game, the unspoken golden rule that all involved should have fun and play fairly, they find themselves unable to find opponents and thus unable to continue to play, at least in this club or area. So why is this not always the case with tournaments? 

Let’s make up an extreme example. ‘That Guy’ attends a tournament. He doesn’t want to show you his list. He doesn’t answer questions about his army. He measures poorly and interprets the same rules differently across games, so as to give him an advantage. Then, even though he knows its wrong, consistently rolls his dice out of line of sight of his opponent and despite all this is quick to call his opponent out when they do something he himself is guilty of. He is clearly not playing in a way that is fair to his opponent. He acts like this consistently at an event and then doesn’t get called out on it, or it otherwise goes unnoticed, their unsuspecting opponent trusting that they are playing correctly. There has been no repercussion, no downside, no problem. So why not continue to do it? If ‘That Guy’s’ opponent doesn’t catch it, that’s on them right? They should be watching like a hawk, know the ins and outs of all 700+ units and the 1000s of rules interactions in the game and stand up for themselves. And if someone does say something, or calls him out, hey it’s an ‘honest mistake’ and will then likely get forgotten.  

Within a gaming community or club, people see each other regularly. They’re more likely to observe or watch a game and enjoy casual banter around the table, week in, week out. They are more likely to notice these repeat offenders, or these constant ‘honest’ mistakes. They know people like ‘That Guy’ and will eventually call him out or otherwise cut him off for his behaviour in their community. At an event, if nothing is called out, or noticed, how can it be reported? If the same opponents don’t encounter him again, how can anyone say “Hey hang on, you did that to me, and it was wrong.” The advent of social media, streaming and forums have enabled ‘That Guy’ to get called out but its still a case of he said, she said. If any issues aren’t raised during the game itself it’s very difficult for a TO to action anything after the fact. Now the player will have to provide proof of what ‘That Guy’ did, which under most circumstances, won’t be possible.

All’s Fair in Love and Warhammer

Now, obviously this is an extreme example, but the principle is sound, as even if someone doesn’t go full ‘That Guy’, just one of these things can sour a game. However the problem of how to confront this is there. Not everyone is confident enough to call them out. And for those that are, you can’t just yell “cheat!”, you can’t call for a judge, as you have no proof. You have to have your word taken at face value. You have to be trusted that you are following the social contract, even if your opponent is not. You need an external observer to verify these things, but you can’t have a TO or judge at every table. Maybe you’ll see them at the top tables of big events, but what about the 5 people that were getting a raw deal on their way there? And on the flip side, it might have legitimately been an honest mistake. Now you look unreasonable, a disturber of the peace, being distrusting of an opponent or looking for advantages. 

Now, I would argue these things shouldn’t be needed to be said. These should not have to be written rules, enshrined alongside “Roll a dice to do this thing”- these should be part and parcel of playing a collaborative game with another living breathing person. And yet we need reminding, because this isn’t just a game sometimes – it’s a competition, with honour, glory, prizes and in some cases, cash money up for grabs. There has to be a winner and a loser. It’s a game versus someone, so inherently its win or lose.

The blur between a game and a competition has become narrower and narrower as competitive events become bigger and bigger. The competitive mindset has led, at least in a very minor capacity, to perhaps this more unscrupulous play. I’m not saying all competitive players are like this, in fact the opposite is true. The vast, vast majority are not like this, and they conduct themselves in the spirit of the game just as much, if not more than most due to how they impact the perception of themselves and of the scene. Let’s face it, ‘That Guy’ isn’t exclusive to tournaments or competitive gaming, despite these Rules of Conduct now making an appearance on the competitive scene.

Most people, I would guess, would rather win due to greater skill, the better list and more favourable luck, rather than as a result of loose rules interpretations, gotcha moments and unscrupulous play.  With TO’s and GW now creating their own Rules of Conduct to play by, the focus on more positive behaviour around these events can be used to celebrate the skill and sportsmanship of the players that participate.

The Fightback Begins

And so we come back to why the Codes of Conduct are being seen, at least in my opinion. Accountability. 

With that in mind, I believe these guidelines have a far more empowering purpose to us as players.

These “rules” shouldn’t be necessary. No-one should need a rule saying “When you measure, measure what you’re supposed to measure, not what you’re supposed to measure plus an extra 3 inches and give them a nudge when your opponent isn’t looking because why not”. But what these rules do provide, is power. They carry weight. They put the backing of the organisers and creators on your side, not ‘That Guy’s’. It is written. It is law. There are no ifs ands or buts about it. You don’t follow the rules, you are breaking them and there should be consequences. 

Enforcement of Conduct will always be an issue. There will be your word vs theirs, lack of evidence or people just trying their luck. But the sheer fact that these are being addressed, will mean that those that might consider trying it might have second thoughts. Knowing there is set of explicit instructions on what actually isn’t ok, may give courage to those who didn’t want to say or do anything before. 

Players now have an avenue to deal with issues professionally with their opponent. They have a set of guidelines that they can refer their opponent to during the game, if they feel that their opponent is not abiding by them. Failing that, they can raise the issues officially with TOs and judges, referring to the failing in the guidelines. 

Now, this is of course easier said than done, in extreme cases, you might need evidence. How one gets that is a trickier situation, although the simple raising of the guidelines with your opponent will often be enough to circumvent the behaviour. 

An idea I’ve personally been toying with for when we begin running events (Soon!) is a Conduct Scorecard. Across all your games, your opponents mark you on your fair play, per the guidelines. Consistently low marks is by no means clear cut evidence of foul play, but it does give a good indicator that multiple people had issues whilst playing. Why would 5-8 different people mark the same person low on fair play if there’s wasn’t a reason? Is this fool proof? Of course not. Like everything it would need time and tweaking and playing around with. But it might be a start, just like how these Codes of Conduct are a step in the right direction of, “Hey, everyone deserves to have fun as much as you do. This is how we’re going to do that.”

I suspect no-one would ever actually say a Code of Conduct is a bad idea. The huge majority of people are all for it, as they do it anyway. But now, for the first time, we have a code to reference. Only by using it, as a whole community, regardless of whether we are a competitive or casual gamer, can we encourage the game we love to be played in the spirit it was intended to be. So let’s get to it and make the game better for everyone.

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