Hello, 40k players! We had the return of Competitive 40k this weekend in the US and I thought this would be a good chance to discuss how we play the game.
The game of Warhammer 40k is a complex one and I’ve said many times over the years that it’s impossible to play a perfect game of 40k. Meaning that there is not a single player on earth who has played every game they’ve ever played perfectly. Which, is fine. Expecting perfection from players is unrealistic. Expecting perfection is particularly unrealistic when we’re in the midst of an edition change, and a global pandemic. A devastating combo to players trying to play 40k normally, let alone competitively. So, that’s not what this article is about. I don’t expect players to play without error, I don’t expect players to play perfectly. What I expect is for mistakes to be just that. Mistakes.
The vast majority of players play the game straight. Meaning they play the game according to the rules, they don’t intentionally cheat by moving models onto objectives when no one is looking, they don’t bring loaded or altered dice to the game, they don’t purposefully misquote a rule and then insist they’re right and become combative in an attempt to keep their opponent from looking it up, etc. Even then, that type of blatant cheating isn’t what I am talking about either. There’s black and white in 40k like anything else, there’s playing the game legitimately and there’s cheating. But there’s a grey area too. Some players live in this grey area, they tend to be well known for it and are rightly not trusted. Others just visit it from time to time. It’s the grey area dwellers and visitors I am talking about today.
While the number of grey area dwellers is small there’s a larger group that makes frequenting the grey area too common. There are too many in our community that don’t actually want to play the game. They want to play 40k around you, not with you. They want to play 40k around the rules, not with the rules. They want to find every possible edge case rules scenario they can, play the most powerful interpretation of that rule, and when questioned hope their Rule as Written argument can stand up to a judge, or their opponent’s, incredulity and scrutiny. These players aren’t playing the game straight and they’re a problem.
So how do we, as a community, handle this issue? At first, this actually seems like a hard question to answer. The competitive 40k community, particularly the TOs, worked together a few years back to solidify a Code of Conduct. The ITC Code of Conduct is used by many events either as a whole or as a basis for their own Codes of Conduct. While I am biased on the issue, having written large portions of the Code myself, I honestly believe it was a huge step toward creating a more fair game competitively. That said it isn’t perfect and is absolutely not the only, or even the final, tool used to combat grey area players. The Code of Conduct provides guidelines for TOs and Judges to look to, and point to, when dealing with players who have decided to be bad actors at an event. What it doesn’t do is give TOs and judges a magical way of determining intent. Which grey area dwellers love. They noticed it immediately and actively work to exploit this part of the Code of Conduct.
Proving a person has purposefully gone out of their way to play a rule incorrectly, or in a technically correct way that clearly goes against the spirit of the game, is hard to do. Or, is that just something the grey dwellers like to spread around the community? That proving intent is hard. If you’re playing a game with someone, and they start to point out a trail of rules from 3 books and 6 FAQs to show “precedent” for why they can do something that simply doesn’t seem like they should be able to do, the intent is clear. If someone pulls something at a tournament, then has to go on a long explanation of their actions online to explain themselves, the intent is clear. Nobody has evidence lined up and waiting to support their argument because they know they clearly are allowed to do what they’re trying to pull. In a game where the vast majority of rules issues are solved by opening a book or FAQ and the players themselves can solve the problem without the help of a judge, a player who has lined up their evidence to defend their position has clear intent. The intent is to play in the grey area of the rules until they’re made to stop. So if the intent can be easily seen the issue isn’t proving intent.
The problem is the acceptance of grey area dwellers and playing in the grey area as valid. By allowing these types of rules interactions to be argued and then permitted at events, home games, and leagues the community is encouraging players to continue to attempt this form of bidding and cheating. The players who do this, know they are doing it. Players who visit the grey area of the rules from time to time know what they’re doing is wrong, those who live there though, are an entirely different story. The hope that they will stop because their conscience tells them to is a pipe dream. They don’t think there’s anything wrong with how they play the game, that gaming the system and coming up with elaborate justifications for how they play is just part of it all. Perhaps you thought from the title that I would be making some kind of an appeal to the players who continue to dwell in the grey area to come into the light and play the game straight. I am not. Time and time again, we’ve seen players who refuse to play the game straight continue to do so until they’re forced not to. So what am I hoping to accomplish with an article titled “Play the Game Straight”? I am hoping you will demand the games you play are played straight. I am hoping you demand the TOs and Judges of the events you go to force the players to play the game straight. I am hoping you who visit the grey area from time to time see that it is unacceptable to do so, and stop. Grey area dwellers can’t see what’s wrong with what they’re doing, but those of us who play the game honestly and those who are tempted to visit the grey area of the rules to their advantage from time to time are capable of seeing what’s wrong with playing the game this way, and you can choose to play straight.
The only way to combat these players who live in the grey area, these edge case players, the players who bid their opponents and judges to allow them to play rules against the intent of the rules and spirit of the game, the players who skirt the Code of Conduct, the players who seem to lack the conscience to do what is right, is to stand up and demand that a game you are going to enter into will be played straight. Not perfect, but played with fidelity. A fidelity toward the intent and spirit of the game where the disingenuous actions of a minority of bad actors have no opportunity to grow or gain legitimacy. We cannot change them, but we can change ourselves and shift the paradigm of what’s acceptable as a community to push them out or encourage punishment of them by judges and TOs. There’s no magic bullet, there’s no missing tool in the TO/Judges tool kit for us to find, there’s no name and shame online campaign that can fix what you need to fix. Have confidence in yourself, find strength in your convictions, advocate for yourself and your fellow gamers, play the game straight, and demand that our community plays the game straight too.
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