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When the Game Gets Ugly

Written by Tanja de Bie

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No matter how good you are as a game-manager it will happen one day. A player disagrees with your decisions and posts a heated reply. Two players get in each other's hairs over an IC detail. Two moderators disagree on the interpretation of a rule. It is at the verge of getting abusive. If you do not act decisively more people will get involved and take sides. Your whole game might go up in flames, leaving you feeling out of control. So how do you deal with conflict situations in games effectively, minimizing its negative effects?

First of all I'm going to assume that you have previously taken steps to prevent conflict as mentioned in my first article on game management:

  • Open Communication:
    Fostering a safe environment where people trust you enough to speak their mind by showing that you appreciate constructive feedback. Invite this feedback by having channels of communication like a forum.
  • A deal is a deal:
    Keeping your promises to your staffers and your players is vital. Don't promise anything that you are not sure you can deliver within a reasonable time span.
Yet conflict has arisen nonetheless. The first thing to do is making sure that normal gameplay can continue while you deal with this issue. Take it to email/ICQ or when it concerns a large group of people a mailing list or specially designated forum. Secondly take a few seconds to calm down and lose your own anger before you continue. Conflict is an important instrument to use for constructive change to the game. Realize that in most cases the anger of the person is not directed directly at you, but you are the representative of an organization.

1. Don't Cover Up
Somehow the first impulse of any moderator always seems to delete letters of rebellion while trying to figure out what to do with the crisis. This of course is very counterproductive, since not only the poster but all those who read the message will be very upset about this. Instead reply openly to openly posted messages. Remain reasonable. Point out that you are still figuring out how to deal with the issue and ask for patience. If absolutely necessary close the discussion, but do not delete it! The only exception are insulting remarks of a sexist or racist nature (so called hate crimes).

2. Show Respect and Understanding for all View Points
Paraphrase the arguments in your own words to ensure you have understood the problem and then check if you are right. Choose your words carefully, not giving value to one argument over another. Apologize immediately where appropriate without making excuses. Add words that make your comments relative and part of the way you feel. "In my opinion..." "the way I see this.." "This makes me feel.." "I need.." Mention what you perceive about emotions in the other participants, in a way that is not assuming but seeking verification.. "I sense you are very angry about this.." .."Am I correct in stating that you feel cheated?" "You feel treated unfairly, right?"

3. Explain the Reasons behind the Rules rather than just Quoting Them
Don't say they have to obey because that is the policy. That only brings on an authority conflict. Instead be firm but explain why a certain rule exists, or why you made a certain choice. Be reasonable and the chances are your costumer/player will be reasonable in return (after losing the initial anger).

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