Friday, January 29, 2016

Gaming and the social contract

Recently our friends group absconded to the shore to celebrate Dara’s birthday and transgender unveiling. Kids were stashed with caretakers while 26 adults spent the weekend energetically socializing, gaming, and eating a metric ton of junk food. It was a glorious celebration.

I greatly enjoyed my 3 day vacation. It was worth every penny to see Dara out in public for the first time. I got to see old friends, play games, walk on the boardwalk, eat great food, sip excellent Scotch, rejuvenate my gaming drive, and build treasured memories. Those positive experiences caused me to reflect on the nature of my particular circle of geekdom. I have been dealing with this malaise for a while—d40con simply offered me further fodder for consideration.

It seems like all the quirky asocial tendencies that made one a dork when I was growing up have evolved into dysfunctional neuroses. For example, several of my friends have decided to cease all communication—not “I hate you and I am not going to talk to you any more” but “I have decided that years of friendship is no longer relevant and I am going to put you aside without discussion or warning.” I don’t get it. Look, if I have done something to offend you, let’s at least talk about what prompted you to stop responding to my communications. It is your right to associate or not associate with whoever you want. That being said, common courtesy says that you owe me at least a warning—for the love of god, being a nerd doesn’t exempt you from the social contract. If I have given such offense to render my very digital communication intolerable, then by all means sever the link—I wouldn’t want you to feel obligated to continue associating against your will. Just…tell me. Due me the courtesy of notifying me that for whatever reason you have decided to end all forms of dialog.

As another example, some of my friends have diagnosed mental and/or medical conditions. Whether it is a tendency to lash out, to seek affirmation of their self worth, straight up ADD, or an inability to recognize social cues, there are good reasons why a lot of us geeks grew up on the fringe. I would argue that little bit-of-something different is in fact what makes us interesting. However, several of our friends have notoriously taken our acceptance of the “different” as license to do whatever they want, say whatever they want, and inconvenience whoever they want without expectation of consequence. I understand that if you have ADD focusing is going to be difficult. If you are dealing with depression a certain amount of mood unpredictability is to be expected; however, “Issues” are an explanation for bad behavior not an excuse. I have recently been snapped at, left hanging without notice, and mocked without remorse. I have endured people butting in to private conversations and activities where they were not invited or welcome. I do not understand why they think that this behavior is acceptable. I heard someone actually criticizing the way a second friend had organized an event and then when advised to do it themselves if they were so opposed, they said that it was too much of a hassle—and then went on to attend the event anyway.

I am not saying this very well. I have noticed a creeping tendency toward self-centered obliviousness to basic social niceties in our circle of friends—not a lack of please and thank you but outright rudeness. Part of the reason I am so confounded is that I was raised understanding that basic courtesy is not optional. You do not have to pretend to like everybody you meet. Indeed, one of the benefits to the social contract is the ability to dismiss people we do not like without provoking a negative response. In order to claim that benefit you must observe minimum contractual social obligations. Many of my “friends” are acting as if that last component doesn’t apply. When we were kids the individual with aspersers or borderline personality disorder, or ADD or just no social awareness was different. All of the people in my high school gaming group were a little weird. That weirdness was, along with gaming, the shared trait that bound us together. We were all trying to find a way to make our little piece of fucked-upped-ness fit in. It feels more and more as if my friends and acquaintances no longer care about the damage their broken behavioral tendencies inflict. It feels like, now that geeks and nerds are mainstream, they don’t have to pretend anymore.

Maybe it is a product of getting older. Maybe it was always like this and I just never noticed. Whatever the reason, I find myself more and more often drawn to the self-described assholes and bitches among us. It is an odd preferential realignment. I have come to appreciate people who if they are going to be hypocritical are at least honest about it. I have come to prefer those who may not be as socially polished but who seem to have genuinely good intentions. It bothers the hell out of me that people I used to consider close personal friends think that status is, once granted, inalienable regardless of their behavior. As of now there are only a couple people I look towards when planning games or get togethers. Others get called in to fill gaps in the ranks, but the unrestricted list is vanishingly small.

I hope I am not falling into the same trap I find so objectionable in others. This is not a cry for commiseration or reassurance. If I have given offense, if I have fallen into bad habits, please tell me. I hate the idea of causing anyone else to feel the way I do lately. I used to celebrate the diversity in our friends group. I used to glory in tribe nerd. Now I do not know what to think. I want to be tolerant but not to the point where I drive people to bad behavior. I want to have functional friendships but not to the point where I accept abuse and excessive inconvenience. I am starting to question where the line between tolerance and enablement lies and what, if anything, I can or should do about it.

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