By Mindy Miron Basi
The idea that we should be kind to strangers has its roots in ancient times. Look anywhere in literature, even sacred literature, and the idea of hospitality will be there. Hospitality is about inviting a stranger in our midst, someone who we don’t know, to be welcome and accepted at our game table. A true act of hospitality is to make a guest, who starts out a visitor, into a friend for a limited period of time. For any game group, on any given game night there is probably always a new person that asks to be included.
Board game groups rely on the idea of hospitality. It’s important to welcome everyone to the table, otherwise meetups and other gatherings at game stores could never happen. But once we extend our hospitality, can we value the differences game players bring to the table?
Welcoming visitors to play games with us assumes that we will change our ways to accommodate their needs, and that they change their ways to accommodate ours. Accepting a new person can be difficult for some people, and the new player may find it just as problematic to accept the ways the game group plays games. Who should change? What obligations do we have to the stranger and what are their obligations to us? Values of inclusivity and hospitality come naturally to board gamers, it seems, but to what degree we can accept others is an important aspect of a successful group.
Once the new person, the visitor, has arrived, becomes a friend, and starts to play, then the idea of tolerance comes into play. Can we tolerate their behavior, their mannerisms, the way they treat the game pieces? It can become a real moral dilemma when a new member of a game group acts in a certain way or does things the other group members feel they cannot tolerate – is it wrong to ask someone to leave that you invited in as a guest? It is important to be inclusive, but the game group might insist that the guest change their behavior. Or can the group tolerate the new person and accept them as they are? Acceptance of a stranger means dealing with ideas and behaviors that might be unusual. Rules can help, but might become constricting and unwelcoming, which defeats the purpose of a social get together. Who will enforce the rules? What will be tolerated? The answers to these questions will define your game group.
Social media is full of problems and solutions on how to get a game group, keep a game group, and enforce rules (or the lack of them). It’s very difficult to offer pure hospitality when the guest does not know or refuses to conform to the game group’s expectations, or when members are intolerant. The very definition of a stranger is a person who is different than the host. Sometimes the limits of toleration become clear. Rude behavior, disrespect for the game pieces, or aggressive game play can quickly become intolerable to the members of a group. Other times, it is a slippery slope between toleration and intoleration, which can be just another form of cliquishness.
Hospitality is conditional and does not assume immediate acceptance: a visitor to an established game group may not be welcome next time. The visitor might decide not to return. But in game groups, who rely on new members and inviting strangers to play, it’s important to be open to differences and tolerate some behaviors that go along with people’s personalities so they become part of the group. Game groups that meet regularly, with a robust number of available players, are tough to get going and maintain. Without a sense of tolerance, there wouldn’t be people to play with. But tolerance assumes that there is a difference between us. Embracing the idea of hospitality, and then acceptance, bypasses tolerance. Strangers need to become friends and be included as valued members of the game group because they aren’t exactly like everyone else.
t’s also crucial that gaming be open to people who have often been strangers to the hobby – women, people with disabilities, older people, and others who may not have felt welcome in gaming in the past.
If game groups can accept a stranger on their own terms, they open themselves up to new experiences. Game playing is about socializing and having a good time. There always need to be rules, of course, but gamers need to be open to the possibility of surprise. By welcoming people as they are, and accepting their differences, game play becomes enriched because we can’t anticipate what is coming next. Tolerance isn’t enough. Hospitality, the gift of group acceptance of the visitor, evolves into acceptance and inclusion. Game players can respect differences, enjoy those differences, and explore new experiences by playing with the strangers that come to the table. By welcoming new players of all walks of life and experience, it creates hope: for the hobby and for those who sometimes feel unwelcome. It allows for new types of games to be played. New people bring new perspectives, which can make gaming into a whole new and richer experience for everyone.
Hosts and the guests can be changed for the better when true hospitality is achieved. True hospitality is a gift. It is the secret that makes board game groups vibrant and persistent. Tolerance will get us players, but genuinely valuing the contributions of new people, perhaps people that are not “traditional” board game players, will bring enjoyment and fun to our hobby and open all of us up to new ways of thinking about and playing games.
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