On courtesy, phones and the generation gap in tabletop roleplaying

So I came across this on Twitter. But first, a quick caveat.

This is a rant. It is not a rant aimed at @GMRaphi in particular, even though I’m using his Tweet as a springboard for the rant. I’m taking issue with what he’s saying — and okay, with his generation (or what I assume to be his generation) — but not with who he is. Because a) that would be a dick move and b) I don’t know the man but he looks like a decent chap.

And an extra caveat a few days later. Yes, it’s all generalisations, that’s what a rant is. Do I think entirely in generalisations? Do I assume what I’m saying applies to each and every possible situation? Of course not. Do me the courtesy of understanding that and understanding that a rant is, by its very nature, a complaint against a general order of things. Yeesh.


I couldn’t find a way to respond in 140 characters so here we go.

  1. It’s impolite, at least to basically anyone of my generation or older. I’m 47 — which, by the way, doesn’t make me decrepit, doesn’t make me incapable of understanding the internet (we invented it, assholes), and doesn’t make me stupid — and where/when I come from, using your phone at the dinner table or while you’re out with your friends is just plain rude. It’s the same at the gaming table — we’re gathered to be here together, not to sit here individually checking our Twitter feed. If you want to sit in your social media bubble, do it somewhere else.
  2. It’s beyond self-centered. Just because my character isn’t in the limelight and it’s somebody else’s turn to act, I get to switch out and do something else? Seriously? Why exactly are you getting together with 3-6 other people to play a game if all you give a shit about is your character’s rolls and shining moments? If I were older and more curmudgeonly I’d say this is a perfect example of how entitled and self-centered the millennial generation is, but instead I’ll just glower and tell them to get off my lawn.
  3. To me, it’s a sign that you can’t really be bothered to be there, and/or that you’d rather be tweeting about what you’re doing than actually taking part in what you’re doing. Which, I know, is life these days — we don’t go to events to enjoy the event, we go to events so that we can take selfies of ourselves attending the event so that… I dunno. I don’t get that, which is probably another sign of my lack of hipness with the times. (Which my use of the word ‘hip’ just confirmed.)

I also know that responding in any way to what could just as easily have been a troll on some random forum is largely pointless. I don’t know the chap in question, he might just want to be provocative (because I’ve never done that, nope), and I just happened to come across some Twitter friends’ responses. If it’s a troll, responding is useless. If it’s a generation thing, responding is equally useless because we have the cellphone-grafted generation that prefers to read a thing on social media than to be at the thing and we have the pre-cellphone generation that still understands what it’s like to attend a thing and not just for the sake of filming it on your iPhone — and never the twain shall meet.

It’s ironic. Not so long ago, I was of the generation of young assholes that were destroying all that was good and kind about the world and the reason we couldn’t have nice things. Now I’m the one complaining about the young whippersnappers.

Except in this case, I’m right. If you’re going to attend a tabletop game (or a virtual tabletop game for that matter), ask if it’s ok to use your phone or tablet or whatever. Some GMs won’t have a problem with it. I sure as hell will. And if it’s not OK, then don’t pout, don’t sulk (no matter how good you millennials are at the whole passive aggressive thing), just fucking put your fucking phone away and BE AT THE THING like a normal human being. Show some interest in someone else other than as a link to your own coolness.

In short: don’t be a dick.



10 thoughts on “On courtesy, phones and the generation gap in tabletop roleplaying

  1. I’m 57 and I don’t even own a mobile phone but I am totally in sympathy with the way the generation that has grown up with instant communication as a given are comporting themselves. When I was a teenager this was my dream, my vision of how the future should, HAD to be. I grew up surrounded by post-atomic fiction, – SF novels/short stories, comics, tv, movies – where the development of human potential to include Extra Sensory Perception was treated as something not much short of accepted doctrine.

    I believed I would see telepathy, telekinesis, precognition come to be scientifically proven, codified and understood well within my lifetime. There was a huge amount of research done on all of that and more in the 50s, 60s, 70s but in the end it all came to nothing, as did my hope – expectation – of being able to talk in my head to my friends at any time, from any distance.

    Well, while I was barely paying attention, mobile telephony and the digital revolution have created a cyborg version of that vision. I am 100% certain that, had I had the same technological options available to me as an adolescent that have become the norm in the last few years, I would have been making exactly the same cultural choices the generation lucky enough to draw that card are making. Mobile phones aren’t quite telepathy but they’re the nearest we’ve got so far.

    The thing about manners is different. In the same way that, when I was thirteen, you wouldn’t, if you were well brought-up, hold a transistor radio to your ear while your grandmother was trying to talk to you, it would indeed be good manners today to defer to the preferred behaviors of an elder host. When I was among any gathering that I considered to be a peer group, though, I would have expected (and by and large would have got) a commonality of behavior that would include an innate understanding of the immediacy of needs, especially the need to communicate. Had we had the technology to allow it I’m sure we’d all have been following multiple conversations on screens at the same time as we followed those in the room. I find it hard to imagine anyone would have found that rude, any more than we thought it rude constantly to talk across each other and swap from conversation to conversation without warning.

    It does get even more complicated when you bring a semi-formal event structure and a game to boot into the reckoning. Social events have etiquettes and games have rules, either or both of which can and do override regular norms of behavior. I think the simple answer here is that specific “House Rules” on this kind of thing need to be codified by the GM and/or the whole group if there’s a feeling that some of the players are not comfortable with the behavior of others. That could apply to all kinds of behaviors, though, not just post-digital ones.

    Either way, as we all found out when we were growing up, the present may belong to the old but the future belongs to the young – only by the time they get their hands on the controls they won’t be young any more. By the time the current generation of mobile users have their mores entrenched in the culture they’ll be backed up against the same wall as the current old guard, trying to hold the next wave of barbarians back from the gates.

  2. As someone about 5 years younger than you, old lady, I’ll stand up for the youngsters. 😉

    I don’t think looking at your phone is always disrespectful by default. Some people can process a lot of information, such as listening to a podcast while working. Not something I can do, but I know people who can.

    For me, I often use the phone to calm that creative part of my mind that wants to wander off at 1000 miles per hour. Doing something mindless (and let’s face it, most stuff on your phone is mindless) actually helps me focus a bit better. Of course, sometimes my attention really does shift and I pay attention to the wrong thing. <_< But, my mind might have wandered away without the phone, too, if it is in one of it's hypercreative phases. (And, not surprisingly, tabletop RPGs does put me in that frame of mind!)

    I think phone usage is probably one of those things that is better to make explicit in the group, just like any other agreed upon rules. But, I would caution against assuming that any phone usage at the table is disrespectful. Society changed the rules about that years ago.

    1. Not by default, for sure. But as Bhagpuss says, it’s a matter of the social contract around the table. And *my* social contract gets annoyed at people checking their email while I’m trying to run a session.

      I guess it’s a good thing I can’t see what people are doing on Roll20. What I don’t know can’t hurt me. 😛

      That said, using a phone (or anything) as a means to modulate brain activity I can totally see – but I also don’t think it’s germane to the present discussion, which is basically “WTF do you care if I pull out my phone in the middle of a session whether we’ve discussed it or not and regardless of what I’m doing with it”. It was a blanket statement and I gave a blanket response.

      ” But, I would caution against assuming that any phone usage at the table is disrespectful. Society changed the rules about that years ago.” Not any and all, perhaps, and with consensus. But the society *I* come from does rather assume that if you give your attention to something else while you’re in the middle of what is, essentially, a conversation with other human beings, then you definitely are being disrespectful.

      I’m not saying everyone else has to see it my way. I was expressing how I see it and will likely continue to see it and damn the young.

      1. Well, I’d like to think I’m fully engaged with the sessions on Roll20! I did play the starship captain, after all, and thought I was pretty mindful.

        Anyway, I came along to discuss and provide another point of view and discuss the more general topic. Yeah, if the rules were agreed “no phones at the table” then don’t pull out your phone. Same with any other rule, really, that the group agrees do. Violate the rules or the established norms, and you will have to deal with upset people. Same around a game table as anywhere else.

  3. I always end up torn with this. I’m of the generation (or at least trained by the prior generation) that cell phone usage at the table is unremittingly rude and disrespectful.

    On the other hand, it -is- usually true that whatever I’ve got on my phone or iPad is a lot more interesting and intellectually stimulating than the gossip, complaints and small talk that pass for “being sociable.”

    So I tend to just wait for the first few people to start staring at their phones, and then cheerfully follow suit, if I am unable to physically escape from the group at hand.

    At a roleplaying table though, this would seem kinda odd to do. Either you’re enjoying the shared social experience, hence you’re willingly there and ought to fully partake, or you find the company of certain people annoying and probably should just excuse yourself from being there, rather than partially tuning them out, 😉

  4. Being sociable is one thing, and to be honest I don’t know much about it since I’d rather be reading a book than hanging out with people.

    BUT, when I am doing an activity that expressly and explicitly involves hanging out with people (i.e. a tabletop RPG), then to my mind there are certain courtesies expected, and agreeing on things like using cellphones and tablets is one of them.

  5. I only play regular board games, and it seems to me a quintessentially shared experience, very social, very much enjoying interacting with the people you’re with. The only distractions allowed are food and drink.

    If someone were to pull out their phone in the middle of things, it is exactly as if they had turned their backs on the group or left altogether. It is a rude thing to do, and the game would end.

  6. LOL Ysh, I was so confused reading this at first…..I actually did respond to Raphi when he tweeted this very tweet and I must have epically misunderstood it! I thought it was about ‘real gamers’ hating on mobile games, oh dear. x))

    1. HA! I didn’t notice that – I really just saw the phone thing and went off on a rant because why not. My life is full of crap right now and unrelated rants are strangely cathartic. 😉

  7. @Brian
    “Well, I’d like to think I’m fully engaged with the sessions on Roll20! I did play the starship captain, after all, and thought I was pretty mindful.”

    Well duh! 🙂 We’re not communicating well if you thought I was implying otherwise, which is very likely coming from my end. We’ll pick this up some other time when things are easier here.

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