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Walk a Mile in Their Dice: The practical limitations of “Don’t be a dick”

“Don’t be a dick” has become something of go-to gaming advice, like a social Rule Zero.

As a general truth, it’s great. I mean yeah, don’t be a dick. As advice or a rule, it’s useless. Why? There are two cases where someone is being a dick in a game:

1) Malice: The person is intentionally being a dick. Will giving them advice help? No. Someone who is knowingly being a dick is pretty unlikely to say “oh, gee, you’re right, I should stop.” That’s part of the definition of being a dick. If you could just tell jerks to stop being jerks and they listened, the world would be a far simpler place. q.v. Trolls.

Fortunately, real malice is a vanishingly small subset of the gaming world, at least where I game. You may be gaming with a lot more jerks than me, in which case my best advice is to go hang out with a better class of people.

Far, far, far more common is the second case:

2) Misunderstanding: The person being a dick actually thinks they’re the victim, that other people are being dicks to them. They’re just defending themselves. Reflecting “ah, right ‘Don’t be a dick’” doesn’t help, because they don’t think they’re the problem: those other guys are being dicks, not me!

Before you know it the dick-spiral feeds back upon itself, rapidly becoming a nigh unstoppable dick-juggernaut: you feel the sting of an unintentional insult, behave like a dick to defend yourself (all while thinking the other person is the dick, not you), so others dickishly respond to your (seemingly spontaneous) dickishness thinking they’re defending themselves… Dick dick dick dick dick dick. Where does it all end?

This is the great quagmire, the root of most hostility at the table. It can happen to anyone, even the nicest, most perceptive person. Parroting “don’t be a dick” doesn’t untie this knot, because it ignores the cause. It winds up being smug criticism instead of helping you do the right thing.

My advice: stop saying “don’t be a dick.” Start thinking about why people are being dicks (or seem to be dicks). Start with the extremely magnanimous assumption that someone being a dick doesn’t intend to be one. Assume there’s a misunderstanding. Walk a mile in their dice.


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