You can’t really discuss gaming without, at some point, ending up talking about what this post is all aboot. (See what I did thar?) This topic can bring up a lot of disagreement as well as a lot of sagely nodding of heads and “hear hears” from those of us who have been around long enough to think of our gaming groups in a similar vein to gentleman’s clubs, just without the sitting around in silk smoking jackets with a cigar in one hand and a brandy in the other.
So, if this topic can bring up interesting debate, from what angle am I going to approach writing this post? Exactly the same way I approach all my posts, with reference to my own history and those people that I choose to spend my time gaming with. But we should perhaps try and start with a definition of sportsmanship, to avoid confusion let’s copy/pasta an official definition;
• noun 1 a person who takes part in a sport, especially as a professional. 2 a person who behaves sportingly.
— DERIVATIVES sportsmanlike adjective sportsmanship noun.
Hmmm, still leaves a lot open to interpretation doesn’t it? So, let’s try again;
• adjective 1 connected with or interested in sport. 2 fair and generous in one’s behaviour.
— DERIVATIVES sportingly adverb.
That certainly helps to clear things up, when we play games we should be “fair and generous” in our behaviour. My own personal definition relating to Sportsmanship is that players on both sides of the table should both be able to have an enjoyable game whereby both parties profit from the experience and time spent together. Slightly different but nonetheless a valid extension of the official definition. Why is this aspect of gaming important? Well, if both players are not sporting then normally the game ends up with at least one of the players feeling like they’ve wasted their time and could have better spent it doing something else. Games are meant to be fun for both players and no-one wants to spend a couple of hours with their opponent bad mouthing them or telling them just how much fail their army list is composed of because they have taken sub-optimal units. Tournaments even tend towards having a Sportsmanship award these days to encourage people to be more sporting. Yet, if this behaviour is encouraged, what are some examples of sporting behaviour? Let’s have a look and then go on into a further discussion about how I see Sportsmanship, how I apply it in games I play and how I see it being applied.
Obvious examples of sporting behaviour is reminding your opponent that he forgot something, for instance “are you sure you want to move that unit before you declare charges?” or “I know you have no shooting but do you really want to go straight to the combat phase before casting any spells?” Both are mistakes I have made in the past few months, what can I say? I get excited when things get up close and personal. This isn’t the only aspect of it though, I am sure we have all been there when a unit has charged into combat to come up a millimetre short, in these cases it should be easy enough to let them charge on in anyway rather than failing. I have a comical image in my head related to this as I imagine this rampaging group of barbarians throwing themselves at an enemy just to stop within axe swinging distance and then having to walk back a few feet because their charge didn’t quite reach. I know that’s a rather simplistic view of the way the rules for Warhammer Fantasy are (after all each turn is just a segment of time) but I think it highlights the point I am trying to make.
Yet, should this be our behaviour all the time? I am not a tournament player and I can imagine a situation whereby a failed charge (even by that millimetre) could allow you a counter charge in your next turn that could turn a disadvantageous situation into an advantageous one. In real battle capitalizing on your opponent’s mistakes is going to help to achieve victory and simulated battles are no different. I reckon that all players, like myself, can come up with a lot of stories whereby they have achieved victory through a mistake an opponent has made, knowingly or unwittingly, but surely, by the letter of a sporting behaviour law we should offer advice and assistance to let them know what is going on?
This leads me to how I deal with Sportsmanship in my own games and with my friends. For me, it all depends on how familiar we are with the game. I have an abhorrence of cheating, it devalues a game for all that play it and getting one up on someone through playing outside the rules, well, you might as well not even bother playing the game in my opinion. Yet, when I am learning a new game it is inevitable that mistakes creep in as we familiarise ourselves with the rules, I normally kick myself after such games where I’ve done something wrong after going over the game in my head or even when I’ve forgotten something that could have saved my bacon. So, when we are learning something new (like Space Hulk and Uncharted Seas at the moment) I give and expect to be given some leeway in how we do things and a less rigid application of the ruleset as we get used to things. This is of course vastly different to how Gribblin and I play our Fantasy games. We have gotten to the point now where if I forget to declare a charge I have to live with it, if I skip a phase, that’s my error and the same is applied. This means our games probably come over as a little more competitive and they are, but regardless of the outcome we both enjoy ourselves and also end up having to remember and learn from the mistakes we make so that we do not make them again.
There is also normally some good natured trash talking going on during the game and always once we are finished we will review each other’s performances and offer suggestions on what went well and what didn’t, where we went wrong and how we could have done things differently. Normally, one of us blames some dodgy dice (me more than anyone else at the moment). I cannot recall any bitterness coming out of any of our games and therefore I feel that we have a pretty sporting thing going on. We all enjoy ourselves even come the points when we lose, if everyone has fun then it’s a win all around really. So I believe that you can still be sporting without giving your opponent free advice, sure if they are new then you’re going to give them some leeway and be helpful during a game, crushing someone who has their first game against you isn’t going to endear them to the hobby nor the people that play. However, any of us old hands can take things a bit more seriously and still find ourselves having fun, sporting and competitive games.