You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do: Booting A Problem Player

My long-time readers may remember my article from just over a year ago about dealing with a problem player. Well, another one cropped up at the game club, and specifically at one of my game tables. We did everything I’d outlined in my earlier article to give him a chance to straighten up. He received multiple warnings about his behavior – both game-related and not – and in retrospect, maybe we gave him too many chances, but we were trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, despite the tensions that were building.

On Saturday night, the poo hit the proverbial fan when he and another player got into a heated argument. The argument started about gaming styles (specifically metagaming) and escalated into the problem player (let’s start calling him PP for the sake of brevity) throwing personal attacks at the other player. The fight started while the GM (my husband) was away from the table, and by the time he returned it was a full-out row between the two, with my brother and I (the only other players present) sitting by in awkward silence.

In the end, the GM kicked PP out of the game, and while PP was not happy about that, the rest of us were relieved and in agreement that it was the right decision. Did we all handle the situation in the right way? It’s hard to say, and I’ve been mulling it over a lot the past couple days.

What PP Did Wrong

Had PP kept his arguments to the game and gaming in general, he might have been told to just go home and cool down, and come back next week so we could discuss things calmly. Instead, he lost his temper, started slinging personal attacks, and I don’t think I was the only one afraid that he was going to start getting physical. When you start getting violent, no one is going to have any more patience or sympathy for you. PP shot himself in the foot when he started in with the verbal attacks, and a temper like that has no place at the game table.

Was Silence The Right Path To Take?

I’m not a fan of confrontation. I was also mentally exhausted from working 20 hours in two days’ time. As the fight ensued, though I agreed with my friend who was being attacked and wanted to support him, I found I didn’t trust myself to remain calm and logical if I interjected. I also wasn’t quite up to having PP turn his wrath on me. And I knew that if anyone could handle himself in an argument this heated, it was the friend being attacked. So I chose to keep quiet.

Was that the right thing to do? I’ve struggled with that decision ever since, and thought of many things I could have or should have said. The friend who was attacked was actually glad that I kept silent, feeling that silence can speak louder than words. And if I had jumped in, PP probably would have felt ganged up on, and that likely would have made things worse. So even though I’m still beating myself up over it, I have to admit I made the right choice.

Did The GM Handle Things Correctly?

I feel for the GM, who left the table for a bathroom break, happy with how the game was going, and returned just a few minutes later to find two players at each other’s throats. He called for silence, and once he finally got it, asked for an explanation of what happened. He reminded PP that he’d been talked to before about a number of issues that we as a group needed him to resolve, and he hadn’t done those things. The GM tried to remain as calm as possible, but when PP started in again with the personal attacks, that was the last straw.

The player who was attacked said he wasn’t going to continue to game if PP stuck around. The GM decreed that no player would drive another away, so PP had to go. I think he made the right choice, and the only choice.

What We All Should Have Done Differently

One can rehash a confrontation a million times over and think of many different ways it could have been handled better. Ultimately, I think the mistake we all made was letting it go this long and letting it get to this point. We all could sense the confrontation was coming. Over a month ago, I returned a book PP had loaned me, even though I wasn’t finished with it, because I could smell the storm on the horizon and knew it would be devastating. We were trying to give PP a chance. We knew he had a lot going on in his life, and kept hoping he’d pull it all together. Honestly, we were hoping that pulling his life together would take him to another city, and we wouldn’t have to face the problem head-on.

In the end, he couldn’t pull it together, couldn’t make the changes to his behavior that the rest of us needed for game night to be happy instead of stressful, couldn’t see that he was bringing the rest of us down at every turn. For the health of the group, he had to go. Maybe he should have gone earlier, but hindsight is always 20/20. I sincerely hope that PP gets his life straightened out and can maybe be a good player in another game group further down the line. But he’s burned every bridge to our table.

So what’s the point of this article? A cautionary tale for other game groups. If you haven’t had a PP of your own, odds are you will eventually. If you’ve given them every chance to improve, and they continue to make the game a miserable experience, don’t just keep hoping they’ll get better or walk away on their own. They won’t. Take the health and happiness of your game group into your own hands, and make the call that needs to be made. Will it be easy or fun? Oh my, no. But it will be the best thing for your group.

Have you had a similar experience with kicking a player out of your game?

About c

By day, Connie Thomson (aka Ariel Manx) is a mild-mannered shoe salesgirl, geeking out about insoles, outsoles, and shanks. But when night falls, she takes her turn at the helm of 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, where she writes, edits, and does layout for table-top RPG products. Regardless of her persona, C is always a fangirl, bookworm, and craft diva. (Email C or follow @arielmanx on Twitter.)

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