There has been some pretty juicy discussion on troublesome players over at the Chatty DM and Dungeon Mastering. Something I felt about handling such players, is that it can be very tricky if the jerk player in question is your friend, or a friend to one of the players. If the person is simply an acquaintance that you happen to run the game with, then I’d have no problem throwing down the ultimatum of ‘shape up or get out’. Yet, this point really got me thinking about fun with games, and more importantly, our fond memories of past sessions and campaigns.
I’m convinced that with RPGs, people derive fun less from the game design and mechanics, and more with the people around the table. It is the social interaction that drives these games. I really think what clouds our fond memories of playing past games, is not the actual love for a system or rule set, but really with the people you were playing with at the time.
I’ve heard something which I’ll paraphrase here, ‘You can’t relive that past experience of your high school D&D game.” I believe it. And I truly think these memories of good times are mainly derived from remembering the time you spent with your friends, sharing an experience playing a game.
That is the key point with RPGs (that make them stand apart from other games), social interaction with other players is so integral to having fun. If you have a jerk player, that social interaction is troublesome and stressful, making the fun factor an all time low. If people are backstabbing each other and doing spiteful things, that might just be fine in some groups but a death knell with others. And I think the key difference is that in one group, people are solid friends and their relationships recognize such antagonistic behavior as non-threatening. In other groups, although they may be good friends, such behavior is seen in a poor light, making the experience unpleasant.
I think fondly back to my college days playing Illuminati. It’s a goofy board game, where players actively seek to grasp power by making under-the-table deals that can be broken on a whim. Tons of backstabbing and trash talk were abound in those games. When I look back at it, I really think it had practically nothing to do with the game (I wouldn’t consider it a great board game). I think all my real fun had to do with socializing with my friends around the game table.