How do you handle a player who brings out the worst in you? One Geek offers some advice.
Dear One Geek,
I’ve tried to write a pretty letter you could publish and answer, but GAH I’m too frustrated to string words together all good an’ stuff.
Here’s the situation I need help with: I’ve joined a gaming group with some old friends. I know everyone there except one person, a new roleplayer who’s a friend of the gamemaster. She’s obnoxious and pushes my buttons. This unfortunately brings out the worst in me, and I’M going to end up being the one who’s a jerk.
During character creation, she’d snort derisively and/or disapprovingly at the character names people came up with. It didn’t matter if it was a joke name we didn’t intend to use, or a serious name. She can’t be bothered to learn our names, or our characters’ names, so makes up unflattering nicknames. She makes her derisive snort at the decisions players and characters make, whether they’re good decisions or the sorts of bad decisions you consciously make because it’s “in character”, because those aren’t the decisions she’d make. She’s openly said that when something big goes down in the game, she’s not going to have my back.
I’m told “that’s just the way she is”. So when she pushes my buttons, if I respond, I’M the jerk. If she were doing this in character, and grasped that my character’s actions toward her character were not personal, I could deal with it. If I were the gamemaster, I could definitely deal with it. But I’m a guest in someone else’s home, playing in someone else’s game. I don’t want to get kicked out for not getting along with the GM’s friend, and I don’t want to quit because it’s otherwise a good game and I get to play with wonderful old friends. One of the other players told me to look at these as teachable moments, to lead by example and help her be a better roleplayer. Which is sage advice, and the kind of thing I’d say, but I really just want to slug her.
On the social etiquette scale, the only thing worse than someone being rude and insulting is when the rest of the group recognizes that they’re being rude and allows it to continue because it’s “just the way they are”. It just enables and encourages the poor behavior. Some folks even end up thinking that the rest of the group likes their rudeness, thinks its clever, and wants them to continue.
And, sadly, in some groups, behavior that one person might consider rude is just the norm or at least acceptable for that particular combination of people in that particular setting. The first thing you need to determine is if this is a personal “you-her” issue, or if the rest of the group (or at least others within the group) are made uncomfortable by her behavior as well.
If it’s the first, and the rest of the group is comfortable with her rudeness, then you may be fighting a losing battle. Unless she’s the kind of person (and it doesn’t seem like she is) who is willing to alter her behavior to make someone else more comfortable, then the efforts below have little chance of working without a larger group peer pressure. But, since you’ve expressed that you’d prefer not to leave the group, your options are really either “grit your teeth and bear it” or confront her about it and risk being perceived as the instigator in the situation.
While you obviously don’t need my advice to “grin and bear it”, I do have some suggestions if you choose to confront her about her behavior. My advice in this kind of situation is to do take the extremely logical, utterly controlled perspective.
If you want to (and can manage it), approach the person politely out of game (preferably in a situation where there are others around so that you have witnesses to the situation) and mention that while you realize that everyone has a different “snark level”, that you’re uncomfortable with some of her comments and would appreciate it if she’d tone down the “bite” a bit. I wouldn’t go into details here, because that’s only giving her ammunition to justify any given action. Keeping it general is probably best. If she asks for clarification or denies it, you can say something like “You know, I don’t want to drag up the past, it’s just been a general trend I’ve felt. How about next time it comes up, I’ll point it out?” which may encourage her to watch her tongue a bit, because she doesn’t want to be proven wrong.
Chances are, to be honest, she’ll respond with something along the lines of “I was just joking! Touchy, touchy!” or something that puts the “blame” back on you, so be prepared for this. Don’t allow her to bait you into being emotional, or she’s won the conversation by “proving” that you’re just overly sensitive. A response like “I realize I’m a new comer to the group and that there’s obviously a lot of jabs that are comfortable between you who have more history together, but I’m uncomfortable with them, and I would really appreciate it if you’d tone them down. Thank you. I really appreciate it.” Then you should immediately go to another topic (preferably something light, interesting and in game which includes her (and the rest of those witnessing the conversation).
This should do a couple of things. First, you’ve avoided being “the jerk”. You’ve been utterly reasonable in expressing your feelings and desires, you’ve presented her with a solution (tone it down) and you’ve thanked her, which carries a certain assumption of “I know this is an okay thing to ask, and I’m going to assume you’re going to do it.”
Thanking her and going on to another topic is an important tactic. Your change of topic not only ends the conversation, leaving it up to her to bring it back up if she wants to try to start an arguement about it, but it also relieves her of the need to justify her actions in order to fill the “next space” in the conversation. The conversation is over; you’ve expressed your feelings, made a request and thanked her for hearing your feelings and your reasonable request.
But just as important is following up immediately with a new topic and including her (and the rest of the group) in it. By making certain that your next train of conversation is one that is friendly, polite and includes her, you’re expressing that you’re not hostile, that you don’t believe your earlier conversation was anything she should be hostile about, and that you want to continue to have friendly conversation and interaction with her. It’s harder for her to get her nose out of joint if you follow up immediately with an unrelated question that is asking for her opinion on something or praises an aspect of her roleplay or a past event that involved her. You’re being the good guy, and if she wants to be the jerk, your politeness will put it into stark contrast.
It’s not an easy situation, but I hope that helps some. Hang in there, and write us back to let us know how it goes!
Have questions about how to handle a geeky situation? Need advice on social etiquette relating to games, movies, fan groups, conventions or other geek-ful settings? Write us at OneGeek@jesshartley.com <!– document.write( ‘‘ ); // –> and your question may get answered in one of our future One Geek to Another columns!