Building Goodwill at the Table – Part 2 – Positive Action

In Part 2, we’ll discuss how crafting positive experiences makes a difference!

Be positive and understanding

I mentioned in one of the “Teaching Games” posts that I can’t tell you how to feel. True.  But, if you want to be successful at teaching games, you have to practice setting up an environment that is conducive to positive experiences.  What are some techniques that you can use to be more successful?

1) Know the common new player errors

New players mess up.  Many newbies have a complex, being nice people, that they feel ashamed when they mess up because they don’t want to “ruin” the game for their teachers.  Whether that sounds crazy to you or not, its a common occurrence in game teaching.  Your job isn’t to fix their neuroses.  But you can have a positive effect on them by reassuring them when they do mistakes.  “It’s normal to not understand that.”  “When I first played the game I made a lot more mistakes than you!” “You’re doing really well.  When you moved your Panther into that hex it stopped me from having a safe movement path into this hex.”

Know the errors that new players are apt to make when they first play.  Reassure them when they make those errors.  Show them the benefits of avoiding those errors.  Give specific feedback.  In school a “good job” is pretty useless.  “You did well here because X, Y and Z” helps the learner to recognize exactly what they did well and throwing in a “thinking about A, B, and C” can give them something to work.  Positive, yet constructive.

2) Make it winnable

“Make it winnable” and “let them win” are not the same thing.  Some people play games because they are looking for a challenge.  Some people are competitive.  Some people like the social time.  Some people play games simply to help them feel good about something in their lives.  I do let players win games sometimes.  I do it rarely, because there are benefits to giving players a controlled struggle as they get started as well.  I only let new players win when (in doing my calculations of what they “need” in my head), the win comes up as what they need.  Its rare, but sometimes I decide that is a good early outcome.  Call it a gut feeling or my desire to help people be happy.  I reject the notion that it is “never” ok to let someone win a game.  That is an unwordly perspective, in my opinion.

Most of the time, a little struggle is healthy for most people.  We need to strike a balance here.  You want the person to come back.  And frankly, if the challenge is too great, some people just won’t be back.  Rather than judging them or thinking them weak, consider that their appreciation of and feelings while playing games may be very different from your own.  The other side of the coin is that you don’t want to make the challenge so easy that they don’t consider the game to be worth their time or effort.

The proper balance depends upon who the player is, what type of gamer they are, what they like and don’t like about games, and many other factors.  Its your job to figure it out if they don’t tell you directly.  There are some experienced gamers who are in tune with their gaming selves and will flat out tell people “this is what I like and this is what I don’t like.”  Since this level of assertive self actualization is rare, it becomes your job to be more empathetic.  To quote Denzel Washington in Crimson Tide:  “Now it’s all up to you, I know it’s a shitty deal but you got it, can you handle it?”

3) Having fun should rank above all else

Please don’t be a robot.  This is a lot to think about and it is easy to overthink any or all of it and end up capsizing your efforts by over-compensating.  Relax and make it about everyone having a good time. Here’s the rub:  the more relaxed you are while doing it, the more things you’ll notice about what people need and where they are struggling and the better you’ll do both in the short term and long term.

If you sense that someone is having a good time, how can you help the group feed off of their energy?  If you sense someone who is bored, how will you excite them?  If you sense someone who is frustrated, how will you help them see a positive end?  If someone is angry, how will you deescalate the situation to help them get justice for the problem?

In Part 3, we’ll finish up crafting goodwill in games by discussing deescalation strategies that you can use to swing bad situations to good.

Part 3

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