Perception is Everything: Cynical Players

Perception is everything.

It's something that I have impressed on other people when running a game before, and it's something that I seem to need to re-teach myself.  No matter what your intentions are, what your goals are, or what you have in your heart, there will always be someone cynical enough to question what you are doing.  Perhaps these critics are just a necessary part of life.  Perhaps they exist only to challenge us.  Or perhaps we should thank the cynic and move on, and hope that something they said will make us better.

As anyone that has ever started their own game (or hell, even run one-shots in their backyard) can tell you, there will always be detractors.  As an example, some old friends might be upset that something you used to provide to them for free now suddenly costs money because their production values went up.  I remember playing in one game where it used to be free, and they started charging player site fees of $3 to show up.  Collected from all the players, that was just enough to buy some paper towels, garbage bags, and maybe a prop or two for a story every few games.  But oh, the hate that ensued.  People raged about it on forums, some handed over their money with a clenched fist, and others quit over it.  Quit over $3 that was just meant to make it so their STs didn't have to foot the bill for everything that happened at the game.  There was always a cynic running numbers in hushed corners after game, "Ok, so there were 30 people here and that stuff costs about $45.  WHERE DID THE OTHER 45 GO?  HMMMMM?"  That person was a cynic, intent on spreading that divisive bug that seems to infect so many games these days.  They are the same people that would play one genre and bash people for playing another, and the same people that looked at STs and game organizers like the enemies that they, as players, were supposed to defeat.  But part of the problem was that perception is everything, and if the perception could be created that the $3 they were collecting every game wasn't being used properly, then it would forever remain a divisive issue.  Of course, in that situation, it's easy enough to create accountability.

I'm realizing now that some people just get the wrong idea about you, and that perception is pretty difficult to change once set in stone.  Sometimes their perceptions seem like they were concocted by pinning strings together on a cork board.  Sometimes a moment of emotional weakness may have led to some evidence that can be dog-piled on if they ever want to really try and prove what they've said all along.  Once you overhear their opinion, it's hard to get it out of your head.  For a moment, you can even start questioning what you are doing as a game organizer.  Someone can be really valuable to a game and still be one of these anti-game organizer types, or they can be one of those people that just passes from game to game, complains, and then finds another.  We all know people that do this, and it's only until their laser cannon targets us that we often realize how impactful some words can be.  Once they start trying to color other people's perceptions and get enough people imitating their brand of rhetoric, something that is often a real leap in logic or simply a conclusion drawn without all of the pieces of the story can end up becoming an almost-truth.

History gets written by the winners, and sometimes you just don't want to be the winner.  Or a history writer, for that matter.  Sometimes, you just want to have fun.  If your naysayers succeed, the bottom line is that there are few courses you can take in college or experiences you can have at any job where you are put into the role of having your ethics, morality, and decision-making skills questioned on a daily basis.  Sometimes it stings.  You will see your art criticized, your methods questioned, and once you survive the Scylla, you will see the people you choose to surround yourself with often sucked into the Charybdis that is just around the bend right along with you.

Mr. Michael J Pucci posted a very nice blog article at the start of this whole thing where he talked about the need to create his "game-owning" persona to put a shield between his personal life and his gaming life.  Sometimes, I think I relate to that better than I may have initially realized, even working on a much smaller scale.

But back to my initial statement:  Perception is everything.

I sometimes wonder, is the onus on me to be so careful and so diligent that I do not even create the perception that something happening may be wrong?  Should me and my fellow organizers accept that we will be subject to the kinds of snipes that sometimes are too personal for comfort?  Is there always going to be a perceived notion that one person is favored over another, or that your method of running a game is less than altruistic?

I've come to realize, it takes a lot more energy to fight against that tide and enact very little change as a result.  Sometimes, I have to remember that I have placed myself in a spotlight and that it is silly of me to say "Waaaaah, people are saying bad stuff about me" even when that stuff hurts.  But hey, with each and every little prick, you get a little more numb to the bad stuff and it makes it a lot easier to pick out the legitimate criticism.

So do I thank cynic guy/gal?  I don't know that I should.  They make running games difficult, whether they attends them or not.  If anything, they cause division.  Maybe, like me, they have the best of intentions in mind and aren't just tooting a drama horn.  And maybe, like me, they aren't the best at showing off their good intentions and end up coming off in a way that they don't want to.

Maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt, because perception is everything.