What Did You Say?

Justin Suzuki

Yesterday I got in a brief discussion with some friends about some of the annoying things that players and GMs can do to disrupt a game. Some of the discussion was just about issues that are pet peeves, and nothing so blatant as what I want to talk about today. Which is…Texting/Taking phone calls/Surfing the internet/Reading a book while in a game.

This seems to be a universal annoyance of GMs. But let me start off by saying that I would never, ever ask people not to check texts or take phone calls. Real life happens, and should be more important than any game. The beauty (or curse) of technology is we can be in constant contact with our friends, loved ones, and work. I check my phone during game sessions, but I try to never do it when I need to be engaged in the game. I try to only do it when I do no need to be involved or there is a break at the table. If I ever look up and realize I don’t know what is going on, it is time to pocket my phone and pay attention.

What’s the big deal about this? Flip the scenario for a moment. The game is going, the players come up with a plan, they lay it all out for the GM, and after it all the GM looks up from his book and says, “I’m sorry, what?” Now imagine he does it three or four times during the game. Who would want to play a game run by this person? No one!

If you have never been a Game Master try to imagine this…You talk for a minute or two describing the scene, you have done your best to set up the drama of this moment, you ask the players what they want to do, most start telling you their action, but then the quiet one looks up from his iPhone and says, “I wasn’t listening, could you please explain that again?” Ugh.

With my regular group of players this was, and sometimes still is, a problem. What did I do? I asked flat out if the game wasn’t fun. Perhaps, I was not providing a game that everyone was enjoying. I wanted them to be open with me and let me know if there was a way I could make the game more entertaining for them, that is my job as a GM after all. But when every single person said the game was great and it wasn’t my fault, well then I feel that is a fault of the individual not understanding how disheartening it is to have someone do that to you. It’s like giving a speech and at the end half the audience only looks up as the other half applauds.

There is a social contract here between all parties at a game table. One person prepares and runs the game, the others play in it. The GM tries to make sure the game runs smoothly and provides an entertaining game. The players participate in said game, and provide a level of interaction appropriate to the situation. And both sides of the GM screen pay attention to each other as to not be disruptive or rude.

I know it is somewhat cliche, but communicate with each other. Players, if the game is dull or you aren’t having fun let your GM know. Tell the GM what your expectations are of the game and provide useful ideas on how you think the game sessions can be improved. Game Masters, if your players are doing something that is disruptive or affecting your enjoyment then provide some feedback about what you view as an issue. But this communication should be a positive discussion and not devolve into childish name calling.

It is my belief you should make the most out of the times you can get a group of friends together and game. Maybe some of you can game anytime and your life allows you to pick up and game anytime. I cannot. I have other life commitments that must take priority over gaming. So, the times I do get to game I want to make the most of.

I promise next week’s post won’t be me pointing out something negative about gaming!


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5 Responses to What Did You Say?

  1. Lee Langston says:

    I have had a similar experience in the past. One member of my group is not allowed to have his phone out as he has quotes and special effect noises that really annoy me! It is fine once in a while… but don’t hold a conversation with sci-fi quotes!

  2. Joel says:

    I had a similar situation happen to me. All communication, like with Justin, came up “no, the game is awesome, we love you, you’re a god among men,” and so on. Two sessions later, I looked up and realized that I was the only person who wasn’t working on a laptop, and I’ve not run for that crowd since.

  3. Ron Blessing says:

    Great post, Justin.

    Funny story. I was sitting at a game table tonight, playing in Justin’s new, weekly AoO game. It wasn’t my ‘turn,’ and I thought to myself, “hey, I didn’t check Justin’s blog post today.” I brought up this post on my phone, read the first paragraph, and put my phone down, feeling like a douche. Sorry Justin! You ARE an awesome GM, I just have an unreasonable attachment to my tech.

    To my credit, I left the phone alone, shut off the iPad, and gave my full attention to the rest of the game. Then I came home and read the rest of this article. Thanks for the gamer etiquette check, friend.

    • Justin says:

      Like I said, I don’t mind if people check their phones or whatever. I just don’t like it when things come up and I am describing or it is a player’s turn and they aren’t paying attention. It screws up the flow of the game.

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