dealing with a problematic member of a board games group

Here’s an example of how clear, direct communication can solve problems in all areas of life, not just work. A reader writes:

I wanted to write and say thank you.

I am part of a local board games group, and started to run the group a while ago. It’s a great group of people who all enjoy coming together to play board games and have fun, and it was one of the key factors in making my husband and I feel at home in the city where we live. We have both made friends with people in the group, and it’s now a firm part of our life here. In addition, a regular member who left recently said that the group was the highlight of his week, which was lovely to hear. I love running the group!

However, there is a member of the group, Q, who has been in the group since it started (seven years or more) and has been displaying problematic behavior since he joined (rude comments, refusing to play anyone else’s games, losing his temper at times, leaving games in a huff when he’s losing, and generally making the atmosphere unpleasant for others). When we joined, we were told that Q bothered everyone but was just something that was being in the group, so we went along with that. At the time, the group was very serious and inclined towards more serious board games, and only three people ever brought games. There has been a real change of culture since then, with a range of games being played (light games, traditional games, and heavy games) and everyone brings games now. The atmosphere is a lot lighter, with more emphasis on having fun and being social, and this is something that Q does not enjoy and has not adjusted well to.

When I started to run the group, I noticed Q’s behavior was having a terrible effect on the group (people not coming back because of him or doing anything to avoid playing with him, and his preference for playing games in reverential silence making sessions less fun for everyone). I also realized that some people were at breaking point with this and it might contribute to them leaving.

The deputy (Kelly) and I wanted to ensure that we did it fairly and using the right procedure. We gathered feedback on the group, (which was useful in itself!), which confirmed that Q’s behavior was an issue, and I spoke to him, named what we were seeing with clear examples, and explained what we needed to see change. Q said he would take it on board. Your scripts and language were very helpful, as Q takes things very literally and factually.

Q’s behavior improved for four weeks, which was great. Some people have put up with it for so long that no amount of change will make them want to play games with Q, but some people were willing to give Q a chance. Unfortunately, Q’s behavior started to slip after four weeks, culminating in a session where they almost put a new member off coming back by lecturing them about group etiquette and insulting their game shelves with what was meant to be a joke, but did not land.

I spoke to Q again and explained that since the behavior we discussed had returned, if this did not improve, we would have to ask Q to leave as the group is for everyone and I need to do what’s right for the group as a whole.

Q took the points on board and was visibly upset at the thought of being asked to leave the group. Since we spoke to them, they haven’t attended of the two sessions since then, but they are still chatting on our Discord channel and seem to be trying to make amends by promoting the group to a students’ group in the city we live in.

We don’t know what will happen, but Kelly and I have agreed what behaviors will mean Q will be asked to leave, and your scripts and posts were invaluable in thinking about how to tackle this, and what language to use. Your posts have helped me realize that being the group leader means that the buck stops with me. For example, my husband and I disagreed on how to handle the situation (he was in favor of asking Q to leave immediately) but I had the confidence to think it through, follow the process through fairly, and know that if it didn’t work, that responsibility would rest with me.

This isn’t related to work per se, but I wanted to say thank you very much for the invaluable and free advice which has really helped me in navigating this situation!

{ 172 comments… read them below }

  1. Andy*

    I guarantee that you’ve lost dozens of potential members due to Q. I hope his second and third and fourth chances were worth it.

    I was in a board game group with a similar problematic player. I raised my concerns to the group leaders, they waffled a bit, and then eventually decided to ban him permanently. His reaction was so toxic to the banning that the group leaders were forced to not publicly disclose the location of future meetups because otherwise he’d show up.

    I never went back, despite the group leaders’ “favorable” response to my concerns.

    Is it more valuable to have a “success story” about how you reformed a misanthrope, or would it be better to continually maintain a positive gaming space at the expense of one person that you and everyone else has known (for YEARS) was problematic?

      1. Andy*

        Mostly because the banned player was engaging in stalking behavior and I felt it wasn’t safe to attend. His comments did contain violent threats and I didn’t feel it was worth the risk.

        But also, in the several weeks that it took for the leadership to decide how to handle him, I had found a better gaming group that moderated its membership more effectively. I gamed with them for years before moving out-of-state. In that group, problematic players were not invited back on a first offense and it was a much more pleasant experience.

        1. ferrina*

          Even if there wasn’t stalking/safety at stake, I wouldn’t have gone back. The first time I’m trying something, I’m always a bit nervous but try to be positive. If I run into a seriously negative experience, I want it dealt with swiftly and decisively. That lets me know that it was a one-off anomaly. More often there’s some hemming and hawing and dragging of feet, because it’s not an anomaly and they’re only kind of dealing with it because I complained, and once I’ve committed more they’re going to stop trying. That pattern has happened more times than I can count, and it inevitably leads to me investing too much emotional energy and not actually enjoying my free time.

          So now a place gets one shot. If it’s awful, I don’t come back. It’s not my job to give everyone/everything second/third/fourth chances because they’re ‘really a good guy who just made a mistake’. They can live with the natural consequence of their “mistake”. I get to move on in my life and find activities that don’t require so much work

          1. Andy*

            This, exactly. I was fortunate at the time to be living in a big city with an active board gaming scene. There were plenty of other groups available. They knew this guy was awful before I started showing up and decided it wasn’t worth handling.

            I really feel for those who don’t have the luxury of many options in situations like these.

            (And while my situation *did* involve a dangerous individual, one does not have to pose a safety risk to drive members away.)

          2. Kit*

            I once joined the leadership team of a hobby group because I noticed there was toxic behavior from members of the group and I wanted to help put a stop to that. Turns out, the other members of the leadership team were reluctant to do anything to deal with it. In some cases they had known the problematic individuals for a while/they knew them personally, they knew they would face retaliation if they actually did anything about it, the list goes on.

            Even despite valuable members of the group starting to leave and fade away, and warning that they were doing so, or just not participating as much, still nothing was really done. I guarantee that many a potential member has left as well due to the toxic behaviour being turned on anyone who seemed slightly clueless.

            It was really frustrating and demoralizing. I did what I could, but if the others who are in charge will not back you up, it is really difficult to actually affect any change. It wasn’t helped by the fact that, in terms of demographics, I was an outlier and fully aware that there was already a small target on my back, which would only grow larger if I really pushed. The other members of the leadership team did not have this problem, so it was frustrating.

        2. Happy meal with extra happy*

          From this information, it sounds like your situation was much more serious and dangerous. There has been no indication that Q is a safety risk to others. I think it’s unfair to OP (and Q, to a degree!) to compare this to situation where someone was making ongoing violent comments.

            1. Rob*

              “ I can confirm that Q was not a saftey risk to others”

              Ah the famous quote always followed by “We never thought he’d ever actually do something”.

              Basically the same reply as every owner of a dog that bites.

        3. Wintermute*

          I think you raise a very good point, indirectly.

          The longer you allow problem people, whether it’s a gaming group or anything else, to hang around, the more of a sense of investment and entitlement they develop. While this doesn’t completely eliminate the risk of an unhinged or violent response, the risk goes up the more of a sense of investment and connection someone has to the group.

          It’s rare for a problem to spring from nowhere, in a live action group I was in it did once, out of all the issues we ever dealt with ONLY ONCE was it a longstanding player who never posed us an issue before who suddenly decided to drop a racial epithet (one of the nastier ones, in fact) during an in-character argument. Every other time the person had a long history of bad behavior, sometimes only mechanically/rules-based not interpersonal and sometimes only minor, but it was never out of nowhere.

          The longer you allow problem people to hang around the worse their reaction to being booted is going to be, and minor bad behavior is a bellwether of things to come. It’s best to be a little elitist and be a little restrictive, expectations of player/volunteer/participant/whatever quality tend to be self-fulfilling in that way

    1. Elisabeth M*

      You’re surely right that Q’s behavior has already cost the group a lot, but you’re wrong to denounce this as a “‘success story’ about how [OP] reformed a misanthrope.” This is a story about how OP claimed their agency as a leader, set an intentional direction, and became empowered to respond to pushback with fairness and firmness. Which is very valuable, and has huge impact way beyond the gaming table.

      1. Andy*

        I agree with you to a point – I think going forward their group will be much improved because of it, and that future problem players will be dealt with more quickly and effectively. I also agree that those skills are supremely valuable beyond the context of a board gaming group, as OP concluded.

        I just disagree that treating Q as though he were on a PIP is the right course. He doesn’t have employment protections; it’s fine to just show him the door.

        1. AsPerElaine*

          I don’t know that I would give Q as many chances as OP has, but I DO think that it’s important to have a clear process for what asking someone to leave a group feels like — one that feels fair to other members. While there are definitely “leave, do not pass go, do not collect $100,” kinds of behaviors, I would also leave a group that felt like it arbitrarily kicked people out for not adhering to unspoken etiquette — quite possibly EVEN IF I didn’t like the person/behavior in question, and wanted them to leave. It’s important to me to feel like a group follows a fair process, even with people I don’t like.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            This.

            Q has been a problem for a while… but nobody attempted to set up a process to get rid of him until now. So he has to be treated in a similar way to a new problem so people can see a new process in action. I probably would have kicked him out at the backsliding, but one more chance isn’t excessive. (Two more would be.)

            1. Momma Bear*

              This was my thought process as well. Make it clear to Q the direction it’s all going, give him a chance to change, and then show him out if it still isn’t working. Given that he’s not violent and was a founding (or nearly so) member and OP is a new leader, I think this was an acceptable way to go. I would also encourage OP to reach out to the people they haven’t seen in a while and invite them back when (because it sounds inevitable) Q leaves.

              This also lets people know that a first mess up or one incident that is not egregious (like assault) will be discussed and another chance given but that ultimately the code of conduct of the group will be upheld. If there is no formal code of conduct, now might be a good time to craft some.

          2. thisgirlhere*

            But I also want to point out that OP hasn’t given Q a lot of chances, it was the past leaders who did so. It sounds like they recently inherited the leadership responsibilities and didn’t want to immediately change the rules, which makes sense. You also don’t want to alienate people who aren’t familiar with the situation and think that the new leader, OP, is just going to be kicking everyone out willy nilly.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              In communities like this it’s highly likely people have already been alienated from hearing about what a pain Q is and how the group keeps him around anyway.

          3. Nesprin*

            This is entirely the geek social fallacies- unspoken etiquette is not don’t be a jerk to the new people, and if OP has told Q a few times to knock it off, it’s no longer unspoken etiquette.

            Excluding people is far from the worst thing- Q has probably lost the group more members than anyone realizes.

            1. JSPA*

              Is OP in an elected position? This matters.

              The way I see it is,

              person A, with a great love of just one thing, done one way, helps to start a group to do that one thing, that one way.

              person B, with better social skills, ends up in charge and person A is expected to get on board with all the changes.

              I’ve seen it happen with a singing group (madrigals to barbershop, let’s say, to anynymize slightly). I’ve seen it happen with an arts group: started by woodworkers who wanted to share tools, but there were more painters, so the woodworkers and their sawdust were chased out.

              Sure, “most fun for most people” is the obvious laudable goal; but for gaming, I’d think that having a similar club on a different night, and drawing off the collegial folks, might be a fairer way to partition, than by driving out the most intense of the old guard.

              Note that this would not be the case if he were harassing, race-baiting, making threats or ass-grabbing. But this seems like it’s almost entirely a question of style, tone, and ability to read a room.

              Gaming is something that was deeply uncool for decades, then become cool (and thus a new haven for the easily sociable). Seems like sociable people should be able to start their own club really easily, compared to the unsocial folks who already pushed way past their boundaries to make the old clubs happen.

              1. Sandgroper*

                I agree! Thank you!

                Gaming groups that have operated for more than seven years, and suddenly have a change in focus, present unique challenges to members who were there before the group was a hip cool social fun light thing.

                If this gaming group is anything like the ones I’ve known over the years it was a refuge for the socially quiet, awkward or introverted. Now it sounds like it’s got a focus on fun, light, conversation (noise!) and social demands that exceed possibly the abilities of (some) of it’s members.

                This is a cultural change in the group, as much as a people problem. Yes, Q does need to be pulled in. But it sounds like Q also has a range of social challenges that make this very hard for him (I am not going to arm chair diagnose, but it sounds like these are long term, wide reaching challenges). A question I’d ask the OP. If Q came out and said “I have *insert mental/developmental condition label here* and that’s why I am like this” would you suddenly accept his behaviour challenges? If a label might make you find a way to work around them, could you do that without forcing him to out himself (if he does indeed have a label)? I say this aware that I’ve only ever met one truly nasty person in decades of gaming groups, and in decades of gaming I’ve never met someone who was able to ‘change their behaviour to fit with the group’ on a whim. (The same can be said for any adult – sudden behavioural change isn’t normal at all!)

                I’m wondering if there’s other ways the OP can work with the change in culture, without tossing out the now unfavourable members. Can they create an offshoot session at a different time that’s for “serious gamers”, announce the games that will be played ahead of time (so people adverse to light hearted stuff can elect to sit at different tables or time), and a fun light “new to group” sessions that allow new gamers to meet the more social and light members of the group first.

                And I agree that Q’s behaviour needs to be reeled in, but I also feel there’s been a very typical extroverted take over of the gaming group (yes, I am putting my own experiences into my assumptions here, but I’ve heard this story quite a number of times before), and the fun light social beings can easily create more spaces for themselves, and leave the introverted, dark, quiet corners to potter along some times too. Q needs to be firmly told he’s not able to continue bashing the group, and simple clear examples are wise, but I’d pick one person that Q respects and will listen to to buddy him for a while, rather than have it coming from someone he mightn’t like and won’t listen to.

                Running the least popular person out of the group is another way to kill a group. People might think they are ‘saving’ the group by doing this, but it sends a message to the next up the social ladder that they will be next, that the group is going to keep going until they get their extroverted happy fun fun times group. Pushing out senior (long term) members is challenging, and I’d try some other tactics first.

                And remember, this isn’t a workplace. It’s a social network, that’s existed in happy dysfunction for years. While some might say they never liked Q’s approach, the reality is that Q isn’t the only problem here.

                1. coffee*

                  Someone insulting other players game’s shelves has nothing to do with being socially quiet. It sounds like Q is quite happy to be socially loud!

                2. Polly*

                  That is a whole lot of assumptions stacked on top of each other (some of which, as coffee points out, aren’t at all supported by the letter).

                  The OP isn’t on an “introverts begone!” campaign: she gives examples of Q’s behavior including “rude comments, refusing to play anyone else’s games, losing his temper at times, leaving games in a huff when he’s losing, and generally making the atmosphere unpleasant for others.” OP also says they were told “Q bothered everyone” but the others just dealt with it. Trying to pass that off as a “fun light social being” railroading a poor misunderstood introvert out of a group they founded as part of a “change in culture” is an insult to introverts and gamers alike.

                3. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

                  Uhhhhhh…you sure are having a LOT of arguments over words the OP never said, or which were already disproven in the letter here….

                  ~Neurodivergent, extreme introvert who’s never been told they might be kicked out of a social group. Because I try to be a decent person, and neurodivergence and introversion are no excuse for poor behavior, especially when the person has been called out on it.

          4. whingedrinking*

            Yeah, I would agree. “Alice grabbed Bob’s butt even after he told her he doesn’t like to be touched” – instant banhammer. But “Alice brought beer and we want this to be a sober event”, or even “Alice takes the games a lot more seriously than everyone else and we’d rather she lightened up a bit” are things that people might not just magically pick up on and would be happy to change if they were clearly informed.

        2. Nannerdoodle*

          I think it’s fair to give him a second chance, but only because the former leadership allowed his behavior to continue for so long previously to the point where Q probably didn’t realize his behavior was a problem. If leadership changed to the LW and she (to him) suddenly banned him from joining, that could have caused many more issues including Q reacting poorly in a public setting, Q trashing the group in person and online, Q trashing the LW by saying that she suddenly banned him from the group, etc.

          I do think that she could have banned him after he slipped back into his behavior because he was warned and his behavior sounds horrendous. But I’m glad she was empowered to start making changes in fair ways. As someone who has attended many board game groups and RPG groups, I’ve run into many people like Q, who behave horribly but don’t have the awareness/social skills to realize how they’re pushing everyone away because others think it’s easier to just put up with it than deal with it. I’m glad the LW is dealing with it in a kind way.

        3. MCMonkeyBean*

          I agree, I think OP has learned a lot from this and it sounds like things will hopefully be much better going forward but I think it was a mistake to treat this situation like it required some kind of proper “procedure” when everyone was apparently in agreement for years that this guy was ruining game night. If I were in the group, even a “reformed” Q would have me on edge wondering what might set him off again at any moment (especially if he already “reformed” for just 4 weeks, I would have no reason to believe any change I saw was permanent).

          It also sounds like the situation isn’t really fully resolved yet and still up in the air as to whether Q will actually reform or leave or finally be kicked out?

    2. Venus*

      You sound like someone with bitterness from your own situation. I hope that you can move away from that.

      It sounds like Q was given a second chance and isn’t pursuing it because he hasn’t gone to any games since then. I would have preferred that OP have spoken to Q years earlier, but sometimes it can be hard to act without the skills shared by AAM, and I’m glad to hear that OP did say something to Q because many games group leaders ignore the missing stair completely.

      1. Payne's Grey*

        And to be fair, OP hasn’t been leading the group this whole time – they were just a member to begin with and took over the leadership relatively recently, at which point they did take action on the Q problem.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          It sounds like two changes happened around the same time: the group began to move from more serious to more lighthearted, and at some point along that spectrum, OP stepped into the leadership position. So 1)Q’s jack-assery seemed especially pronounced in the context of a group that had evolved to be more about fun than about taking the gameplay seriously, and 2) OP became the new leader and had plans to deal with Q’s behavior whereas the previous leader never did. Seems like Q was slow on the uptake that his situation had changed, but the new sheriff in town put him on notice and gave him a total of two chances to shape up.

          1. OP*

            A very perceptive and succint summary! Pretty much that, although the timeline is slightly longer – lockdown meant we weren’t meeting for some time.

            We’re getting closer to a more balanced group now in terms of light and heavy game fans – I am firmly in the light to medium game camp, with a few exceptions. :P

      2. Bunny Girl*

        I think it’s more that it’s super demoralizing for people who are acting poorly get chance after chance after chance, it doesn’t matter if you are at work or in a social setting. I am all for giving people a second chance but not third, fourth, fifths, etc.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          This. It suggests that group leadership/admin are more invested in either the problem person/missing stair and/or their own comfort zones than in everyone else in the group, and the health and longevity of the group itself.

      3. C. Baker*

        You sound like someone with bitterness from your own situation. I hope that you can move away from that.

        Wow, what a rude thing to say.

        1. Phryne*

          Agree.
          It’s fine to say something along the lines of ‘this sounds like it’s heavily influenced by a specific personal experience and this case might differ’. It’s not ok to do the slimy passive-agressive ‘I’m so nice and emphatic, I am only saying this cause I wish the best for you’. No you don’t. If you did, you would not be using this language.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            It’s honestly not that specific of a personal experience, this is an *extremely* common issue in the board game community! (And I would imagine in pretty much any social community that has regular meetups)

          2. Andy*

            I was not foolish enough to read kindness or empathy or sincere well-wishes in the comment, don’t worry ;)

    3. Not a fan*

      Good point and I think this is a challenge for people in leadership positions trying to do the right thing. I was sexually harassed the first time I went to a convention in my town. The team I reported this to said they took it seriously and would create consequences for the person who did it, but the experience still poisoned the well for me and I haven’t been back.

    4. Sunshine*

      Someone being a problem player doesn’t automatically mean they’re a bad person. If Q has been a longstanding member and seems like a generally okay guy who just happens to rub people the wrong way, it’s worth seeing if talking to them will improve the situation. It sounds like Q was surprised that their behavior was a problem and is making attempts to remedy the situation.

      It’s not second, third, and fourth chances yet – there was an initial warning, some improvements, and then a final warning when those improvements weren’t enough. That sounds fair to me. Ideally the group wouldn’t have waited this long to address the problem, but OP hasn’t been in charge this whole time so it’s not their fault.

      1. ferrina*

        It is second and third chances- the first chance was when Q first interacted with the group (first impression, no direct feedback). Second chance was after LW spoke to Q and outlined the behaviors that needed to stop. Third chance is what Q is on now (after relapsing into problematic behaviors).

        I agree that being problematic doesn’t inherently make someone a bad person. And it sounds like Q is genuinely trying. But the question is whether it’s worth it for the group to become Q’s recovery group. I think LW has done a very good job thinking through what behavior she will and will not allow, and what behavior is an automatic ban vs a warning. I don’t know if I would set the same lines she has, but I applaud her for setting those boundaries and being clear about them.

      2. Rob*

        Handy tip: Doing things that make you appear a bad person, means you are a bad person.

        “Johns fine, he only gets violent during sports games”

        “He’s only racist when asians are around”

        “He only gets abusing when we won’t do exactywhat we want”

    5. SJ (they/them)*

      I hear you on how damaging problematic players are, and how much damage they can continue to do on their second chances and so on.

      I also think there are some upsides to the way the OP handled this – their course of action sounds like it will be robust in the face of questioning, and may have created a model for handling future situations (either with this same leadership, or for leaders in the future).

      “Abusers ruin everything” is a line I often come back to in my own life – ideally none of this would happened in the first place / it would have been shut down from the jump / some kind of immediate and permanent course correction was possible to robustly execute / etc.

      It sounds like OP used their judgment to carry out a replicable process here. Something that could work for other people, in other situations with maybe more complexities (safety concerns, or factions of the membership that support Q, or whatnot). So, I’m appreciative of it for that reason as well.

      I do hear your pain on this, though.

    6. I'm just here for the cats*

      interesting take. I don’t think that the OP gave that many chances. Once she became the leader she called out his behavior and when he slipped up she told him if he does it again he will have to leave. Afterall the OP has not been the leader the entire time and it would be really odd to just throw him out once she became leader, without having a conversation first.

      1. Rob*

        You are not required to “give chances” to abusive people.

        How weird it is you are worried about the feelings of ONE person over a large group and god knows how many others that left because of the one bad apple.

          1. laowai_gaijin*

            That was what immediately came to mind for me, too. I started reading the letter and was like, “Classic missing stair situation.”

      1. SJ (they/them)*

        Visit captainawkward dot com, on the right hand side there is a tag cloud and “Geek Social Fallacies” is one of the tags. Enjoy!

    1. H.Regalis*

      Same. It sounds like the OP is having some success in combating those, and I am glad to hear that!

      But, yeah, I get Andy’s point about this likely being somewhat of a pyrrhic victory. People have left because of Q. Maybe even a lot of people. Men like Q are the reason I’ve been hesitant to join a lot of public gaming groups and RPG nights hosted by local game stores. Things are better now than they were years ago, but there is a lot of hangover of “I know Neckbeard is super aggressive towards new players and makes jokes about raping women all the time, but I was ostracized in high school and I just can’t bear to do that to someone else.”

      1. Person from the Resume*

        But the LW wasn’t the leader/manager when she joined, and it sounds like once she became the leader she handled the problem. We don’t have an exact timeline. Perhaps it could have been more immediate, but you can’t really tell. It sounds like she didn’t ignore it for years like some people do.

        1. H.Regalis*

          I get that, and going forward it sounds like this group will be a lot better, but Q’s already done damage. That’s not OP’s fault, but it still happened.

          Overall, I think this is a positive story. OP didn’t stand idly by and do nothing. She was in a position to meet this head-on, and she did that brilliantly. She’s being a good group leader.

        2. GythaOgden*

          I love the people I play games with. That said, we all have clashing egos and there have been stresses within our WhatsApp group where trivial bugbears have got under the skin of people (including me) and blown up. What we lack are people like my late husband who had less of a strong personal opinion on a lot of topics, and could puncture a tense atmosphere with a well-timed joke.

          My other strategy has always been to have multiple groups of friends, so no one group dominates and isolates me. This doesn’t always work — it results in birthday parties where no-one knows each other, or worse, people know each other but come from radically different political backgrounds because I had a quite diverse political interest and while being a member of the Labour Party, was nerdy friends with a couple of Tories who I was in class with and could natter about philosophy with rather than the more nuts and bolts issues of partisan RL politics.

          It does feel like I’m at the fringes of a number of groups but not at the centre of any, but it means that I don’t have such high stakes riding on one set of friends.

          1. Six+Degrees+of+Separation*

            I so relate to this, GythaOgden: “Fringes of a number of groups but not at the centre.” Do you ever wish it could be different, or do you think that’s ideal for you? I’m at a place now where I wish I had closer friendships, but I’m so used to being a casual friend.

            I love the idea of a gaming group, but my schedule wouldn’t allow for a weekly game night.

      2. Happy meal with extra happy*

        I think framing this as a pyrrhic victory is really discouraging. No one’s on here saying that Q didn’t cause damage to the group, but fixating on the prior damage rather than the fact that OP has now addressed really comes across as “why even bother at this point to try to fix it”? Calling it a pyrrhic victory is literally saying that OP and the group would have been better off it they did nothing.

    2. Jackalope*

      Yes, and the tough thing is that you want to be fair to everyone, and make it a good experience for everyone, and sometimes it’s hard to figure out the best way to do that so that actual creeps and jerks are kicked out, but others have a bit of grace and can feel welcomed as they are.

    3. JSPA*

      But a lot of that focus is on people who massively violate safety, consent and bodily autonomy.

      That’s why the metaphor is a missing tread on a staircase–dangerous, and even more dangerous when other people just kind of step around, so you don’t even see the danger until you’re thigh deep in the hole, or dangling by a broken ankle.

      That stuff and this stuff are not the same stuff.

      “I play REAL games in REAL silence” is self-important, stuffy, and weirdly prescriptive and proscriptive. Sure it’ll turn people off, but not leave them scarred for life.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      Yes, I thought these details were important:

      named what we were seeing with clear examples … as Q takes things very literally and factually

      Alison asks a lot of letter writer’s “have you told your [employee/coworker] this behavior is a problem?” and “how clearly did you tell them?” This letter writer clearly took those questions to heart and told Q very clearly what was happening and what needed to change!

      1. GythaOgden*

        We had a thread a few weeks ago about a game shop where this was happening. Truth be told, the shop recovered from the problem person and the bad member of staff leaving made it a generally better place to be.

        Things are never totally perfect. A member of our friendship group is behaving a bit like Q. He’s not a neckbeard (although from the sound of it, neither is Q), but has been cranky lately and blown up the chat over a few off-hand remarks made by a few people. Unlike Q, he’s welcome to come back — we’re all friends in meatspace — but these problems often naturally have to come to a head for anyone to realise there’s an issue. But he pulled himself out because he was obviously at BEC stage with all of us.

        Let’s not get like this and tell LW they should have done it sooner. You don’t want to live in a world where you make one mistake and get thrown out of a place altogether for ever and a day, or fired from a job for one mistake. That just puts everyone into a state of fear. That’d probably be much worse in practice.

        FWIW, the bad behaviour doesn’t sound like he was making other people uncomfortable along the lines you’re suggesting he is (you’re making assumptions about gamers that are themselves a tad offensive: I know people like Q who are pretty liberal, never make offensive jokes etc yet with whom I’d never share a gaming table with; additionally, this is NOT D&D, but board games) but more about the way he goes about playing. My family calls bad behaviour during board games ‘doing a Fred’, because my cousin Fred once upended the board after he was knocked out of one game. There are ways to be a bad player without insinuating someone is a ‘neckbeard’. Recently, someone’s partner left him and thus left the social group, and everyone had had enough of her. Not because she made offensive jokes, just because she wore out everyone’s patience and needed more medical/MH help than we could give her.

        I get you took one look at the word gamer and made assumptions, but really, people give others a bit of latitude in case their bad behaviour is something out of the norm, and close-knit groups have all sorts of dynamics at play that mean people give them the benefit of the doubt. There are certainly people that I know that I’d prefer not to play with for reasons other than what they joke about, but I know that people generally deserve a chance to get better.

  2. ME*

    ‘leaving games in a huff when he’s losing’

    This is such a huge party foul in a board game group. It can throw the whole game into chaos! Who gets their resources!? Are they occupying territories next to someone!? What happens to their game pieces? Emergencies can happen and someone needs to leave. But leaving because of sour grapes is such an upset to the whole game. Our group had someone do that on their first night because they were losing and got bored and we never invited them back.

    He probably should have been kicked out a while ago. But I get it. Power dynamics in such hobby groups are sometimes even harder than work because things are supposed to be relaxed and the stakes seem lower. I’m conflict avoidant and would have struggled with that. I’m so glad you found your voice and have a way forward!

    1. OP*

      Yes, thankfully it was never a game like Risk where it derailed the whole game. Most times, people just kept playing and ignored the fact that Q had left the game.

      And yes, it not being work did make a difference for some people in how to deal with it. :)

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I had a boyfriend in college who managed to turn Parcheesi into a contact sport. Our other playing partner and I banned him and started just playing two colors each. I liked the guy, but it was ridiculous.

      1. OP*

        “I had a boyfriend in college who managed to turn Parcheesi into a contact sport.”

        The phrasing of this made me laugh! :D

        1. Dust Bunny*

          He was very smart and excellent at strategy but couldn’t deal with the element of chance. The fact that you can think through all your moves and then get completely derailed by one bad roll was just too much.

          Ironically, that’s one of the reasons my family likes Parcheesi–my mom is the youngest by several years of a bunch of kids so it was one of the few games in which she could score against her older and more savvy siblings.

          1. OP*

            I can imagine!

            I like a mixture in games – chance and some thinking! :) It usually takes me one play of a game to “get” how it works, so chance can really help! :P

        2. Fanny Price*

          My husband’s college friends use “playing parcheesi” as a euphemism for sex, so this was doubly funny for me.

    3. JSPA*

      Agreed that this is the biggest foul, and not in keeping with “takes games seriously.”

      Unless “in the process of losing” now means there is “good natured” teasing. Which, if he’s a literal person who needs to concentrate, could be the gaming equivalent of an icepick between the eyes. Teasing is only fun if it’s fun for everyone involved.

      And yes, he should be able to take as much as he dishes out. But if he’s not experiencing the jokes of others as kind fun, then his own attempts are more likely to fly wide of the mark, as well.

      Leaving him (and others who do want to interact) to be their own side-league with a dedicated table sounds potentially doable? Unless there’s an undercurrent of Other Bad Stuff that OP didn’t get into.

      But if he’s mostly silent, except when he’s trying and failing at sociable (perhaps out of a sense of duty to try?) or if he’s taking it over-literally that all members are expected to be collegial and reach out and interact, then having a conversation about what he can better do, that does come naturally to him (than try for the new group normal) might be productive.

  3. OP*

    OP here! :)

    Since I wrote in to Allison, Q has not attended the three sessions after the second talk, but they were there last week, ( they didn’t post to say they were coming, just turned up). They were on good form, and it went well. Some people were a bit off kilter when Q just turned up out of the blue, but the session went well. :)

    As I said in the letter, we know what behaviour will lead to Q being asked to leave the group now, and we just have to see if they can maintain the good behaviour.

    However, we have had several lovely new members, one of whom just watched a game, ( arrived late and left early), and is still coming back! :) So yay! :) Onwards and upwards! :)

    1. OP*

      Also, in the spirit of total honesty, and to provide some missing details which I didn’t put in the original letter, ( it was long enough already! :P ):

      – I became joint leader of the games group before COVID, but I was joint leader and my co-leader was very much of the opinion that we should give Q a lot of chances, so that probably stopped me from mentioning it then. I should have done something sooner though. There was, and still is, a strong disagreement between the co-leader and I on how to handle it.

      – I started thinking about tackling this about March/April this year, when I was still running the group with the co-leader. However, my co-leader hasn’t been back to the group after the lockdowns ended, and once I realised that I was the one leading the group now, that was when I made the decision to manage the situation. It took a while due to the collecting feedback etc., but it was worth doing it properly.

      So I should have done it sooner, and that is my fault, but I’m very glad that I did it. People seeing that something has been done, ( especially long standing members who have been putting up with it for years), has meant that they know that things are happening. And from a pragmatic point of view, we have new members who haven’t had years of it, so they are less bothered by it, ( some not bothered at all).

      We have lost members due to it, ( some we know about, some we don’t), but going forward, it is much improved, and right now we have a lot of members, all of whom enjoy the group. :) ( And I have learned how to use Discord, as we use that as well as Facebook! :P )

      Thank you for the comments! :)

      1. Lenora Rose*

        Well done.

        And while I understand the grieving over the lost potential and actual other members, I’d rather see a robust new system being put in place, even if it means taking a bit more time to get rid of someone if their behaviour doesn’t change, than see a sudden 180 in policy or an arbitrary “You. Out.” replacing the previous arbitrary “we accept all behaviours here”. I’ve seen social groups fail wit problematic people in 2 ways: Giving them an eternal pass (or claiming there is a policy but not following it with longstanding members because of “history”), or having too hard and immediate a policy with no recourse if it’s wrong or biased.

        1. Princess Xena*

          I second having a robust system. A lot of the pushback on kicking people out is based on people not wanting to arbitrarily hand out bans (and also from being conflict-avoidant). Having a definite, qualifiable system solves both those problems and should make it a lot easier to remove future problematic players. Otherwise what can happen is that a group gets rid of a REALLY problematic person and then all other behaviors are compared to problematic person, and then when people complain they hear “well, Jane isn’t as bad as Fergus so we don’t feel she should be made to leave yet”

          1. GythaOgden*

            The other important thing to note about kicking someone out for one misdemeanour is that everyone has off days, yourself included. Whether it’s Hanlon’s Razor (never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity) or rules about etiquette, you don’t want to make a policy about behaviour that you then find does not give you the benefit of the doubt on an off-day. What goes around, comes around: if you end up becoming too dictatorial, then you’ll probably become the victim of your own rules.

            I know I’ve been an idiot in games before. When D&D turns took 20 minutes for people to calculate the optimum move, I’ve totally been following the cricket Test on my netbook. I’ve role-played in some situations that didn’t warrant it and not roleplayed when I should have done. I’ve appeased a bad player rather than jettisoned him because he was basically bankrolling the group. I really don’t want to be the victim of rules set too tightly that mean everyone is on their guard and can’t at least relax and play the game how they want to.

      2. bookworm*

        Nicely done OP, and I also really appreciate that you seem to have a really clear sense of what you could have or should have done sooner to take away as a lesson without it being something you beat yourself up about. Leadership of these kinds of groups can be a hard and really thankless job for something that’s supposed to be fun. That’s especially true when the problems (and problem people) are entrenched and there’s a lot of disagreement about how to handle it. I witnessed this happening in a book club I was part of years ago and how challenging it was for people in leadership to kick out someone in a way that didn’t further inflame the situation, made harder in this particular case because the leaders were women and they were trying to address the behavior of one of the few men who attended.

      3. learnedthehardway*

        I’m glad for your group AND for Q that you are addressing the behaviour issues.

        I suspect that Q needs some direction on how to behave in public settings. Won’t speculate on why that is, but being direct and having consequences is probably a real benefit to him.

        1. Presea*

          +1. This is such a common problem, especially in circles related to hobbies that are attractive to people without social graces. Making it part of the process to give clear direction on what someone’s doing wrong before ousting them, as well as making it clear that any ousting is for the benefit of the group itself, is just such a great way to make this sort of thing more accessible.

      4. bopper*

        I think at about week 3 of Q returning maybe mention that his behavior is much better now but he needs to keep it up because next time you won’t invite him back.

      1. OP*

        Thank you! :) Q has also been trying to help, ( promoting the group to other groups in the city to up numbers, still chatting on Discord to keep chat on there going), so the hope is that they can stay in the group. :)

        The advice on this site has been worth its weight in gold!!! :)

      2. Heidi*

        In some ways, navigating this type of social situation is more difficult than it is for a work situation because at work you can point to productivity and other work-based metrics as a justification for changes. In a social event, the effects on the group can be a lot harder to identify and quantify.

    2. Nannerdoodle*

      Hi OP, so excited to read your story! I go to local board game and RPG groups and have seen plenty of times where problem members aren’t dealt with, so it’s great to see you taking action.

      Does your group have a formalized set of “behavioral standards” which includes who to contact when having issues and consequences? In some groups I’ve been in, people don’t know what the consequences are or that the leadership can and will deal with things similar to the Q situation, so they just leave the group or take extreme measures to avoid that person rather than talk to group leadership when they think they’ll be ignored. It also stops all the gossip of “this person suddenly disappeared…did someone talk to them and they’re sulking, did they get kicked out, or will they reappear tonight to haunt my game?”

      1. OP*

        No formalised set of rules, but that’s largely because the group was started by someone else and I became joint leader and then sole leader. Had it been me starting the group, I might have started with that. :)

        1. redflagday701*

          I like the word “expectations” (rather than “rules”) for something like this. It feels a little friendlier and conveys that the guidelines in question are about everybody being on the same page because the group wants to get along, rather than the person in charge telling you what to do.

            1. Wintermute*

              I agree because aspirational is always better than limiting.

              “We welcome players of all abilities and enjoy teaching as much as playing” is a way friendlier way to say “Don’t make fun of people for unskilled play or not remembering rules”, “We enjoy games for their own sake, win or lose” is more friendly than “don’t be a cheating cheater who cheats”

              1. A Becky*

                This can misfire – your examples read as SUPER patronising to me. “We enjoy games, win or lose” is something I’d say to my toddler, not to an adult. Maybe “good sportspersonship is expected”.

                1. Rob*

                  How can that misfire? Will someone take offence because they feel talked down too? Get in a huff? Complain loudly?

                  Those are the people you need to boot.

    3. Langerhan*

      Just to make sure I’m being accurate, what are Q’s pronouns? You’ve used both he/him and they/them, so I wasn’t sure if the they/them was anonymising or whether Q uses both sets.

      Well done on the progress and long may it continue!

      1. JSPA*

        I’m guessing (hoping) that if Q were anywhere in the greater genderqueer / NB space, and were the only such person (or one of the few) in the group, that OP would have mentioned it.

        While “they/them” have become relatively common self-identifying terms, the older usages persist, and that includes, in informal speech or writing, refering to someone who’s a he or a she, but without focus on gender, or when it’s more of a reference to a person as a “someone” than as “they, themselves.” (And there’s another correct use of “they” for, “gender not specified.”)

  4. MoinMoin*

    I really appreciate this letter getting published! I take to heart a lot of Alison’s perspectives and find them useful in all aspects of life. I’d love to hear more on guiding principles and general thought processes to approach problems. I know this is primarily a work advice column and you wouldn’t want to stray too far into life advice, but I’d enjoy more letters or Alison opinions in this vein.

  5. Frankie Bergstein*

    This is such helpful content, along with yesterday’s post. Thank you both OPs for showing how direct communication (and having a spine!) can work wonders for health(ier) gaming and work environments for many people.

  6. Janeric*

    I’ve been in exactly the same situation (uh, more than once), and I have to say that the way you handled this has opened my eyes to new vistas on ways to address issues in gaming groups. I think this is a healthy approach, and I’d also like to point out that it looks like you’ve made other changes to make the group more welcoming and that this speaks well of you.

    1. OP*

      Thanks! :)

      The group does feel more welcoming now, ( different types of games, classics like Scrabble and Monopoly which previously were seen as “not games” or not for the group, and more welcoming for shyer new members), so yay! :)

      Restarting during COVID was a risk financially, but it was worth it to get it going again. :)

  7. Baron*

    This has probably been said before, but I love that this isn’t just a work blog – Alison’s approach to direct but kind communication can be applied in so many contexts.

  8. Narvo Flieboppen*

    I was in a group who had a similar toxic player. He was also very misogynistic. The people who ran the group and owned the space refused to ban anyone for any reason, even after there was a massive blow up midsession about his sexist statements. Sadly, this was the final blow and a few months later the entire group permanently disbanded.

    Taking a hard stance is really necessary in these situations. You’re better off without the toxic folks.

    1. Wintermute*

      there’s a reason that the “geek social fallacies” was written and got such immediate traction and acclaim– it’s incredibly common for groups to take a hardline “no bans, ever” stance in reaction to the fact many geeks and nerds have a painful history with ostracism.

      But it ends up becoming one of the most toxic parts of gaming culture because the entire group has to put up with bad behavior and uncomfortable interactions because their group attracted just one jerk.

  9. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    Sometimes I think this blog should be called “Ask a smart person with an excellent grasp on communication and boundaries.” Allison’s advice is amazing for work situations, but can be so useful in a lot of group and social situations too. I frequently remember to use my words, share information breezily and with a swift change of subject when I have decided I’d like some privacy, and let other people sit in the awkwardness of their own creation.

    1. Rocky*

      Thoroughly agree! I’m getting better at setting boundaries and using my words…and with only ten years to go until retirement I’m glad to be still learning :-)

      1. OP*

        One of the best scenes ever! :P ( The scene with Garak and Sisko after ITPM is better, and also involves a punch, and is also amazing.)

        I’m not a huge fan of Picard, and I think that Q being in a lot of TNG episodes probably has something to do with that!

        I like your username! :)

        1. allathian*

          I can’t stand Q, either! The only episode where I find him even marginally tolerable is the one where he’s temporarily mortal and doesn’t know what to do with himself. But otherwise he’s just an obnoxious jerk who happens to be pretty much omnipotent.

          But I really loved how you handled things with the gaming group, and I really hope that your troublesome member has learned his lesson. That said, some of your members may never be very comfortable around him, so I hope that you’ll take a really firm stance with him if he starts behaving badly again.

          1. OP*

            I completely agree about Q! And I only like that episide when he’s human: the minute he’s immortal again, he’s back to annoying me! :P

            That is true, and there’s nothing we can do about that to a large extent, ( especially people who have been at the group and with the situation for years), but like you say, if the behaviour starts to slip again, it’s firm and fair. :)

  10. Michelle*

    I’m taking notes here, as I am about to start a board game group for our church. A group I was in previously, which was primarily aimed at school-aged kids, was derailed by one dad who regularly attended with his preschooler, toddler, and infant, and then expect others to watch his kids so he could play with the adults. Our church is big on events being inclusive of kids, and I know my own kids will want to participate, so I want to make sure not to have a repeat of that experience. Clear communication!

    1. learnedthehardway*

      It may be a good idea to organize babysitting in the church nursery for young kids whose parents can’t attend without them.

    2. bopper*

      Sometimes at church you have to assume that sometimes the people attending may have child care issues…Can you see if any teens who need service hours will watch them in the nursery? or could the parents with kids chip in for a babysitter?

    3. JSPA*

      Can you spring for a large playpen and some soft toys for littles, and kiddie beanbags and craft supplies for the slightly olders, with the game tables around the outside, so anyone with kids can be sitting with eyes towards the middle?

      (And chutes and ladders level games for the “old enough to start gaming” set.)

  11. Liane*

    I am one of the 3 GM-moderators for a play by post RPG game on Discord. We have had to ban one player and are dealing with another troublesome one currently. It is not fun. We are currently doing what OP and Kelly did, clarifying exactly what will get someone removed and what kind of warning we will give to Problem Player. At least this person isn’t as bad as Q – but we are agreed we won’t allow any repeats.

    I am probably going to send my 2 co-GMs a link to this. So we know we aren’t alone, if nothing else.

    1. OP*

      Definitely not alone! :) As a lot of the comments said, this is a problem which can be harder to deal with in a non work situation. And being agreed on what will and won’t fly is important, so that’s great! :)

    2. Dawn*

      I also run a Discord server, though it is part of a creative group for a specific fandom. We have a #read-me-first page where newcomers land* that spells out our group’s policies and norms and, among my comods and I, this is our bible. When we have a member acting out, this is where we go and pull the exact language of the policy in violation. (This helps us from responding to someone annoying us versus actually breaking the rules … which does happen from time to time and so has proven a good safeguard.) I or one of my comods then message the person with what we’re seeing, what group policy/norm is being violated, and what we need to see going forward. A second “strike” is an invitation to consider if the group is a good fit. The third is a ban.

      We rarely get that far. People either fix their behavior (they are often influenced by the culture of the fandom on Twitter or Tumblr and legit don’t realize that we’re different … and of course no one actually reads the #read-me-first that spells it out) or decide to go elsewhere, as they realize we’re not a good fit and not going to change because they want things done differently.

      We hear a lot that our server/group is civil and friendly in a way that other groups in our fandom are not. It has taken a lot of work to create our policies and isn’t always pleasant when you have to reach out to someone brand new to enforce them, but it has been worth it to create that kind of community.

      *We are also a Community server, which allows us to require people to agree to terms before joining. I’m not sure if that’s available on non-Community servers, but choosing a landing page like our #read-me-first and unofficially holding people to it still is.

  12. Wintermute*

    As a general bit of advice for anyone in a similar situation, especially an org that’s scaling up or at a larger size. Beware gamer tendencies leaking into org management.

    Gamers like rules. I think most gamers feel more comfortable with clear-cut procedures for how situations are adjudicated; that is ultimately what makes a game a game, after all.. They also have a trained habit of looking at any set of rules looking at the edge cases and corners and trying to figure out where they break down, so they can take advantage of that in play. Give a veteran gamer a list of units and statistics and they will be able to pick out which units will give you outsized bang for your buck, give them a list of rules for magic and they’ll figure out how to turn a sorcerer into a fully automatic artillery gun using elves drinking inordinate amounts of coffee.

    as a result disciplinary processes for gaming groups tend to be over-engineered to the point of uselessness by people who fear any possible abusable “mechanic” and are uncomfortable with ambiguity and judgement calls.

    Pretty soon what should be a simple “if anyone says or does anything that makes you uncomfortable, find a member of staff and tell them right away” turns into “if someone does any of this list of things go find the membership ombud or membership coordinator who will convene a panel of three board members to investigate, and hold an adversarial trial before a tribunal of yada yada yada.”

    This is not the way.

    Additionally, bad behavior rarely starts bad. I’ve seen in-game behavior presage behavioral issues in general, someone who isn’t there to have fun and collaborate with the group, who is overly focused on “winning” even at the cost of making it unfun for others, bogs down games arguing rules minutiae or other run-of-the-mill bad game-related behavior is a great risk of other kinds of bad behavior later (or concurrently that you just haven’t heard about yet).

    Also, make sure you have women on the board, ours was about 70/30 women to men and that gave us absolutely invaluable insight into the “whisper network”, what women were telling each other in private in the dressing room, who wasn’t safe, who said something creepy, who made sexist comments, even if it wasn’t at our events but at someone else’s or outside of game. I never saw any of the misconduct, no one ever told me about it directly, but I knew because my board members knew, and could either take action or ensure someone was watched very closely if it was inconclusive (the downside of a whisper network is sometimes information is conflicting or sketchy).

    1. OP*

      My aim here is to have something between the two: structure, but also an awareness of what’s going on, how people are feeling etc.

      I think we’re pretty much there with that – as you say, you don’t want to end up with every decision requiring going through instruction 1, page 2, sub section 1, asterisk three. :P

      1. Wintermute*

        you just gave me Starfleet battles flashbacks: 19.7(f)– overloading torpedoes, 19.7(g)– Holding charged torpedoes over turn end, 19.8– plasma torpedoes, and so on.

        And that’s a good point, some structure is nice. No one wants to feel like “one little thing and I’m out the door” or that they’ll be damned on someone’s say-so. The reason for my warning was just that usually gamer groups tend to veer HARD the other way into convolution and behavior rules that seem like they were written by a demented HR person who was really into Campaign for North Africa (for the uninitiated, a famously detailed tabletop wargame which can take up to 300 hours to finish a full game)

        1. OP*

          I have heard of the game, but not played it! :)

          The middle ground is the aim, as you say. :)

          ( And some board games now have a lot of rules, and sometimes more than one rulebook! :P )

  13. kilo*

    Thanks for posting this OP. This is very timely for me. I am about to start working with someone who joined my organization 3 years ago, had one not good performance review 6 months later, and then his supervisor left. For various reasons, he has not had an effective supervisor since, and we were about to not renew his contract. He has an unusual skill set I’m interested in, and given that he really hasn’t been effectively managed (like Q), I think it’s only fair that we give him a second chance with effective management. Logically, I’ve known I need to be very direct with him about our concerns with his performance (and resist my people-pleasing urge to soft pedal it), but your story has helped it sink in that I really do need to do that. Thank you!

  14. Be kind, rewind*

    Bravo! It might also help to have a short list of group rules/expectations (if you don’t already) so that everyone is on the same page about proper behavior and etiquette.

    This way you have something to point to when someone acts out, and new joiners know what to expect and feel comfortable also calling out anything that is against agreed guidelines, especially since you might have to deal with more people like Q in the future.

  15. pcake*

    Letter writer – Good job dealing with Q.

    I hope when you say “Kelly and I have agreed what behaviors will mean Q will be asked to leave”, the same behaviors being unacceptable will apply to any and all members.

  16. Probably a Grognard*

    The bad behavior, temper at losing, rudeness, etc. is inexcusable.

    That said, this part really stuck out to me: “At the time, the group was very serious and inclined towards more serious board games, and only three people ever brought games. There has been a real change of culture since then, with a range of games being played (light games, traditional games, and heavy games) and everyone brings games now. The atmosphere is a lot lighter, with more emphasis on having fun and being social, and this is something that Q does not enjoy and has not adjusted well to.”

    As someone who enjoys serious board games and knows how difficult it is to even get a chance to play them, I feel for Q a little bit. They were an original member of this gaming group that was focused on playing that type of game, and the group changed around them so that now they are playing a whole lot of games that aren’t as much to their liking.

    For me and many gamers who enjoy heavy board games, we don’t play them for the purpose of socializing. With some games that require a lot of concentration, casual conversation can actually be detrimental to enjoying the game. And it’s really hard to find players for very complicated games in the first place. And it sounds like this group has moved away from them, presumably making it harder for Q to play those types of games at all.

    None of that excuses bad behavior. But some people wouldn’t necessarily see the shift in the focus of the group as a good thing. I wouldn’t. I don’t like casual games all that much.

    I bring that up because I think the analogy to work is still applicable here. Sometimes your job changes around you. Even though it was once one thing that worked for you, over time it becomes something else. And it might be better for you to just move on to something that still fits you.

    1. OP*

      I agree – the group has changed completely since it started, and it’s unrecognisable from the way it started now. As you say, whether this is good or bad depends on your gaming style and tastes. :)

      Yes, there are still some people who like big, complicated games, but they like playing them in a jokey way, ( so some casual conversation, and jokes they all know), which doesn’t match with Q’s style.

      The last paragraph of your post is very apt. Sometimes situations change and it’s best to move on.

      1. JSPA*

        It’s comparatively so much easier for the “light games” people to find each other, and find a space, and socialize than it is for the “serious games” people, though. Gamer grace really ought to compel you to bend overbackwards to maintain some vestige of the “serious games” space that the (much smaller) dedicated cadre built.

        “Games for socializing” may persist, or it may be one of those ebbing and flowing trends, like painting pottery while sipping wine, or “social not serious” knitting circles, or any of many other “this is how the cool geeks socialize this decade” things.

        Calling it a fad would be too dismissive, given the time scale. But serious scrabble is a thing. Serious bridge is a thing. Serious chess is so much of a thing that social chess is pretty rare! Serious anything is a valid desire, and if someone made that sort of space, they ought not to end up “game homeless” primarily for desiring “serious” space.

        (The other stuff–the going off in a huff, or mansplaining, or hazing newbies–that’s toxic from anyone, and should be shut down, regardless of the source.)

        But if there’s no other “serious game” home, please consider that there ought to be one! It could be as simple as, “serious games start at 6:30, social games start at 7 PM.” That way, the (usually shorter) and fun stuff happens once the deep folks are all set up and engrossed in their process.

        Or see how chess clubs deal with the competing desires of members who want to play trash-talking speed chess, with a lot of clock slamming, and members who want to deliberate in silence. (I don’t know how they handle it, but presumably they do!)

        Another thing might be to have multiple leader boards, where people progress on some based on success in a particular game, but another that prioritizes wide experience, rather than directed success. That can encourage people to try more variety.

        1. Mewtwo*

          It wasn’t clear to me how OP’s group works, but it seems like this group is structured to only be led by one person and the entire culture is based on the whims of that one person (whether Q or the OP). It seems like this group would benefit from a system of rotating game night hosts, so that everyone gets a chance to lead a game night and people can attend the game nights that match their preferences. Q/people like Q can carve out their territory with recurring DnD or whatever and OP can do their Taboo/Hangman etc.

          I think OP was good to directly address Qs problematic behavior but they didn’t seem to address the root of the problem, which is the power struggle of who gets their way with the group.

    2. Dinwar*

      If there are enough people who want to play heavy games, could you have a separate night for that? Where the expectations are “This is serious play, not social hour; game takes center stage and requires concentration”?

      1. LB*

        Or even just a progressive structure – starting with light/silly opener games, then medium games, and then those who want to can stay (or show up late) for super-thinky Eurogames?

        1. OP*

          Hello! :)

          One commenter speculated that there might be details that I had missed out, and they were right on the money – I didn’t want to go into too much detail, just in case.

          We have people at the group who enjoy heavier games, but the other issue is that Q comes to the group to play their games, and no one else’s. What usually happens is that when we’re picking games, Q doesn’t pick anyone else’s games, heavy or light, and just waits for other people to pick their games. This usually leaves Q and 3 others left at the end, at which point Q usually has to play someone else’s game.

          There is also the fact that the length of time the situation this has gone on for means that some people will do almost anything not to play games with Q, and most people try to avoid it. The newer people are more willing to play games with Q.

          It’s unfortunate, but the fact that Q is there to play games to win and to strategise, and not to be social and chatty, means that tables they are at tend to be less fun. Consequently, people usually try to avoid playing with them.

          It’s understandable, especially with the current cost of living crisis: you’re paying for the games session, and you want to enjoy it.

          1. JSPA*

            assuming everyone else has left this thread, but now there’s insight into the process…

            Is the picking process sacrosanct?

            It seems likely to always put people who are new or diffident or awkward together with anybody who waits long enough… which is to say, Q and people least equipped to deal with Q.

            From Q’s perspective, is it possible that after having been warned off of insisting on their games… and on getting irked at newbies for not having the skill to play their games… and being told they’re not popular… they’re now feeling obliged to wait until the last minute?

            Seems like designating certain tables for new people to rotate in, suggesting that existing groups try to bring in new people, using something like ranked choice, or asking that new people play through some easy or mid-level games before progressing to complex games, might make the entry process smoother? When there is a Q, it’s easy to locate all the dysfunction with Q. But aside from Q, are there other long time practices that could bear a shakeup?

            Another thing that might help is categories. Say I’m allergic to empire building / points for resource exploitation games, I like science games, I like word games, i like 3-D puzzles, I like a few specific sports. I’m new. My friend likes space empires and pirate / thief scenarios. My other friend likes football and basketball, and is looking for a gaming equivalent of her fantasy leagues. Is there a cheat sheet to help us slot in? Or do we end up sitting together, with Q or not, playing that game nobody else wanted (or the one we brought that we could have played together at home, for free)?

            1. OP*

              Hello!

              I’m not sure if there are notifications on this or not, but yes, I’m still here! :P

              I wasn’t sure about adding more details in the letter, just in case. :) It can be a small world!

              That is a very good point, thank you! :) I was actually wondering last night if the picking process could be amended in some way. I’m not sure if Q has picked up on his always waiting for their games to be picked, ( possibly not), and you could be right and they’re now hesitant to say anything.

              We have considered more structured picking processes before, and it might be that we’ve just always picked games this way, so we’ll keep doing it that way. Food for thought though, thank you!

              I keep an eye during the picking process to make sure that no one ends up in a game they won’t cope with, or is too long for them etc., and in general, it works well. The factor of Q never expressing a desire to play anyone else’s games is still there though, albeit possibly with different causes, as you say.

              It’s swings and roundabouts I suppose: for a while we were low on numbers, then the numbers perked up. Yay! But now there are more games to choose from! :P

              I do sometimes think that I’m choosing a lot of the games simply by being the person who says “What about X?” all the time, to get things moving, but most of the people are there for the social aspect and will play most of the games, so for most people, they are genuinely happy to play anything.

              We’ve also recently started meeting outside of the group in various configurations for games that are too long for sessions, or just groups of friends who go to the group, and that has taken the pressure off the Sunday sessions: if a game doesn’t get played on Sunday, it can be played another time.

          2. Mewtwo*

            Maybe I’m slow but I didn’t understand any of this. Do you play one game per night or multiple games in one night? And is everyone playing the same game at once or do people group off into different tables for different games?

            In other words, going beyond Q (who probably is just an unpleasant person), is the group inherently inclusive to people with different gaming styles, and do people have a way to select for the games they prefer?

    3. t4ci3*

      Why do you join social groups if you don’t want to socialize? I’m not being sarcastic, that is a genuine question: If you want to play seriously and don’t want to socialize with people why don’t you play independently or online? Why do you feel like you need to join a group? I lie about not having seen movies because I don’t want to talk about them with people, so i just refrain from doing it instead standing around hating every second of it.

      1. Gerry Keay*

        Because not all board games can be played independently or online…? People join intramural athletic leagues all the time because they want people to play/compete with others as opposed to pure friendly chat.

      2. Dinwar*

        “Why do you join social groups if you don’t want to socialize?”

        Did you join a social group, though? If you’re the type that likes to play games requiring so much thought that casual chatter is detrimental to the game, you likely didn’t. You joined a game. There can be a difference.

        “…why don’t you play independently or online?”

        The game may not exist online. One’s internet connection may not be up to the task. The experience of online play may be so different from the experience of in-person play as to render online play a non-option (this will be highly individual). There are other options, I’m sure–I’m not 100% on what the term “heavy gaming” means in this context, I’m not in that culture–but those are a few that are pretty easy to come up with.

        I can turn your question around: Why do you view heavy gaming as something that requires justification for in-person play? Why should casual play trump other play styles? Whether you intended it or not, that’s what your comment implied.

        This is a question the video game community has had to address. The notion of “filthy casuals” has been extremely toxic, especially given that most gamers are casuals. Intelligent gamers have taken the view that while casual games may not be for me, it’s their taste and it’s valid, so let’s just enjoy ourselves. There is no inherently superior style of play; there’s only what one enjoys (which often isn’t temporally consistent at any scale anyway).

      3. Adric*

        As somebody who can definitely be in that category, here’s a few of my answers:

        Because playing a game IS socializing. It may not involve a discussion of what movie you saw last or what restaurant you want to try next weekend, but it is an interaction with others and thus “social”. It can also be fun to play with the same people over time.

        Because I’m OK with casual socializing out of game. If we play golf together, I might joke around between holes, but while you’re setting up your shot, I’ll step back and shut up, and expect the same courtesy from you. Serious games generally don’t have a lot of “between holes” times.

        Because some games aren’t available or as enjoyable online. I think RPGs are much more fun at an actual table than online.

        I enjoy the challenge of competition, and other people make the best competitors.

        And in a spirit of sincere inquiry, I’d like to flip your question around and ask: If you really just want to hang out and socialize why put a game in the middle of it? Why not just grab a drink and a chair and shoot the breeze without a game in the way?

        1. t4ci3*

          I can’t answer that one personally because I don’t like hanging out with other people, so I neither join gaming groups OR just grab a drink and chat (I also don’t drink), that’s why I asked why, if the social aspect isn’t your thing, you feel the need to include it instead of playing games that can be done online or single player. Yes, this does mean that there are games I can’t play, but I play other games instead.
          BUT, judging by the people I know who do enjoy social gaming, they view it as combining 2 things they enjoy: gaming and socializing. Like if a nice restaurant started having a movie night.
          (disliking being around other people is why I started reading a work advise column back in 2016, when most jobs did involve being at the workplace)

          1. Adric*

            My apologies, I misapprehended your intent. I’m more used to being asked why I’m such a loner rather than why I’m such a social butterfly.

            From that side, I prefer social interactions that have some structure and a game provides that structure.

            I also find gaming against people a richer and more satisfying challenge than just playing against a computer. Other people will come up with ideas and strategies I would never have considered.

            That said, if you like what you’re doing, keep doing it.

          2. JSPA*

            A restaurant with music (or venue with food) can be lots of fun, but some people prefer their live music without food, and their food without music. There’s a reason operas and symphonies offer refreshments at intermissions, not in the concert hall. (And no, “you can listen on the radio or internet” isn’t the same.)

      4. JSPA*

        Because just being in a space with other people IS social activity for some. Experiencing the other person’s brain is different, when they’re in the room with you.

        Especially if you’re super-aware of others, “just being” can be plenty of social stimulation (and the “noise” of intentional, conventional, scripted interaction can feel shallow and distracting, by comparison).

        If I’m playing against you, I want to see how you’re sitting, hear you breathe, see your gaze and how your eyes narrow or widen. Competition and interaction both existed long before language existed.

        Yes, that’s intense, and it’s personal, and it’ll make some people uncomfortable. It’ll leave other people feeling like nothing at all is happening.

        If you skirt the edges of a chess tournament, can you tell when you pass the tables where people are doing it “with awareness of the other person” as opposed to a clinical assessment of the position? Pretty sure I can–it’s so intense as to almost be a physical sensation.

      5. JSPA*

        1. not everything voluntary, in meat space, is “social.”
        People can come together to share resources. Or to jointly create a physical experience.

        2. You could as well ask, “if people want to chat and flirt, why don’t they do that via chat or cam, rather than going to a gamer space?”

        3. linguistic confusion: “social” can mean “of a society” or “interactive in person” or “for the primary purpose of chatting, maybe eating, perhaps flirting, perhaps touching, and intentionally or subconsciously doing all the little social ranking behaviors that humans do, in person.” People can want to do the second of those, but want to opt out of the third.

        4. game playing dates back to at least the game of Ur, in the 3rd millenium BC. Dice (of animal bones) fade into augury, and thus back to the dawn of human societies. Coming together specifically to game is literally a hallowed tradition. You could equally ask, “why do people come together to do religion, when they could read a book or light a candle at home?”

        Look, I find most gaming tedious (scrabble and chess excepted, and maybe backgammon). Especially those with many rules. (I follow enough rules and do enough analysis at work.) But if I’m going to game, I’m going to concentrate on my cards, on my pieces, on the look and feel of the setup, and on the “tells” of my opponent. Same for various arts or crafts. I know how to socialize (and how to flirt). I don’t lack for places to do those things–there’s the entire face of the planet. I’m not going to do that over the game board, or while making some as-exquisite-as-i-can-make-it-be art object.

    4. Rob*

      Two things: things change and you don’t ignore the entire group to keep one member happy.

      He is paying the new games perfectly fine, just becoming abuse if it’s not the game HE wants or poof HES losing.

      Stop making excuses for the one abusive person ruining it for everyone.

    5. Mewtwo*

      This is a good point. I wonder if OP could institute a system where everyone gets a turn at bringing games including Q or people like Q (since Q himself left). And generally do a temperature check to make sure that there is a diversity of games/gaming interests represented in the group.

      I actually understand this distinction. A few years ago, I joined a meet up group that did “social” party games like Taboo and stuff, which is perfect for me because I like socializing and have too short an attention span to learn games with very complex rules. A couple of my friends, on the other hand, are more into the latter and have joined groups dedicated to specific games for this reason.

  17. SallyForth*

    I just used similar clear communication in breaking down the issues around a personality conflict between two volunteers. I learned it on AAM as well. They are actually old friends and the issues were very distressing to them because they each wanted a situation to change but were scared to put their friendship at risk.

    I hate conflict (especially when I’m not getting paid for it!) and just dreaded handling it. It went surprisingly well. They both came out a little disappointed and a little happy, but still friends and still volunteers.

  18. ProducerNYC*

    This sort of behavior happened in my second week volunteering at a rescue. One volunteer physically and verbally attacked another (much younger) volunteer, and the verbal harassment continued out into the public area. People coming by to look at potential pets saw and heard the whole thing. I wrote an email to the board and they said they appreciated my feedback, and I think they had them stay away for a week or two, but they ended up staying ‘because (this person was) such a devoted volunteer.’ That was the first red flag and I should have left immediately, but I stayed for several more years because I believed in their mission (though I made sure I interacted with this person as little as possible). They eventually apologized to me but it was a hollow one (why apologize to me? I’m not the one you harangued), but I did get the chance to tell her to her face how off-putting and unprofessional it was.

    It’s so weird to me, this idea that you can’t ‘fire’ a volunteer. You absolutely can and should. They lost several more reliable, non-volatile people because they catered to this person’s outbursts.

    Thank you, OP, for making your place a welcome spot for all.

    1. Bubba*

      Sorry you had to deal with this. It is such an injustice when someone like that is allowed to remain in an organization, whether they are an employee or a volunteer. Some problematic behaviors do deserve a warning and a second chance but, harassing and physically assulting someone? Absolutely Not! Besides costing the organization other good volunteers, letting someone like that stick around is opening them up to liability. I wish decision makers in such groups would deal with this sort of thing logically instead of acting with emotion and a misplaced sense of loyalty. I don’t care how nice/helpful/productive/devoted a person has been for the last x number of years, the minute they harass or assult someone that all goes out the window. The safety of the person they assulted should be the number one concern.

  19. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

    Good job, OP! I hope for the best outcome for you and your group.

    (I was also shuddering reading this because, weirdly, I was violently stalked for about half a decade by someone who went by the nickname Q, though it wasn’t a Star Trek reference; it was just the short version of his screenname. Seeing so many people talk about how terrible Q has been, even though it’s *probably* not the same Q [some eerie similarities here], has been very cathartic.)

  20. Dawn*

    I have run an online creative group centered on a specific fandom for 17 years now. I have learned, similar to the LW, that you have to address issues with problematic members directly, or you will lose the people who are contributing positively to the group. (I see the first commenter on the post doesn’t think the LW acted swiftly enough. This is something I also learned the hard way: I’d give too many chances or let a behavior go on too long before addressing it–kind of like the less-competent managers Alison addresses all the time in this column!)

    These days, if someone puts a toe across the line of problematic behavior for our group, I message them right away and let them know the group norms and what we need to see. If it continues, I ask them directly to consider whether they are a good fit for our group because the next offense will be the last, and they will be banned.

    This has worked well for us. Most people either shape up or realize that the culture of the group isn’t actually what they want, and they’re not going to be able to shape it to what they want, so they’ll do better somewhere else, and they go to that somewhere else.

    If I were to offer the LW advice, it is that you do need to act swiftly, but I also understand that you inherited Q as your problem, which can make a situation like this feel more delicate than if a newcomer came rampaging in, insulting the game choices of members left and right. I view timeliness as a kindness (much like Alison’s advocacy of timely and accurate feedback, versus weeks of hints and softened messages and beating around the proverbial bush) because it lets people shape up quickly before they end up blocked by half of the group or find a group that better fits the kinds of discussions they want to have.

  21. Adultiest Adult*

    This letter resonates with me because I was a 10-year volunteer at a local charity and for a few years served on the all-volunteer board. At the outset, the leader V was a charismatic if idiosyncratic man, and about a dozen core volunteers and members would hang out socially after events. But unfortunately, after a series of personal setbacks, V’s demeanor began to change and some of his quirks went from simply strange to actively harmful, both to the people around him and the cause. This ultimately split the board between the people who wanted to act and set limits on V’s behavior, and people who ‘didn’t want to rock the boat’ and wanted to honor his status as a fixture in the charity for many years.

    For about three years, a couple of us tried to course-correct (I guess I’m Kelly in this situation) and see if we could refocus the group and set reasonable limits on V. Unfortunately, we were not ultimately successful and all of us have left the charity at this point. It continues to limp along as a shadow of its former self, but there are frequent clashes with the larger organization about the way this group is representing them, and I expect at some point in the near future they will be shut down entirely. It’s sad because I miss the good times of the group and do believe in the underlying cause, and wish there were a few more people who, like you, were willing to support setting firmer limits on unacceptable behavior. May you have better luck!

  22. BeeKey*

    Hi, everyone.

    I scrolled down the comments and didn’t see it, but might have missed it – are there any specific scripts that would be helpful here? As someone who has organized and run various meetups of this sort, and who has seen groups absolutely shredded by one person, I’d love to have access to something concrete.

    I’m going to poke through the site myself, too.

    Thanks so much!

    1. OP*

      If you search for the posts, you’ll get it in more detail, but the gist of what I used, ( with someone who takes things very literally, and needed very specific examples), was:

      We recently gathered feedback on the group, and wanted to let you know that your behaviour was mentioned in the feedback as having an adverse effect on some people at the group. We wanted to discuss this with you in person. The types of behaviour mentioned were:

      a) leaving games early e.g. when playing Dominoes with Bob and Sisko.
      b) raising your voice e.g. when playing Risk with Janeway and Boomer.
      c) interrupting other people’s rules explanations e.g. last week during Snap when Sisko was explaining.

      This behaviour is having an adverse effect on other people at the group, which is not acceptable, and it needs to stop.

      That’s a paraphrased version: there were pauses to let Q speak and ask questions etc., but that’s the rough structure.

  23. Worker bee*

    I’ve been playing in a dart league for a couple of years and it took many years for them to finally remove our problematic person. To give you an idea of what kind of person he was, on my first turn in the first casual event I participated in, he yelled at me for making an error (I didn’t realize at the time what I had done), then made snarky comments about me the rest of the time. When I said something to the group, they all just said that “was just X. He’s a jerk, so just ignore him.”

    X was very, very good and hated playing against anyone who wasn’t close to his skill level, but since he had been banned from every league in the city, he was stuck playing with our inclusive to all skill levels group. To say he was unpleasant to play against was an understatement. He enjoyed being intimidating, openly and loudly criticized the team he was playing against, and was basically a jerk, to the point that his teammate would tell him to knock it off.

    He was warned many times about his behavior, but what got him kicked out was when he physically threatened a member of a team he wasn’t playing, then waited around until they finished playing, in order to have a “conversation” about how he was disrespected. Nothing physical happened, but the league said they had enough and several long term people said they were done.

    As far as establishing rules/guidelines for behavior, we do a thrice yearly meeting of the group to discuss any changes we’d like to make. Everyone has a change to speak their mind, it’s discussed by the group, and majority rules.

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