I’m a bit of a gardener in my off-line life, and weeding and pruning your garden regularly is one of the true keys to a healthy, successful yard. Problem players are a lot like crabgrass – if you pull them out early, before their roots spread too far and wide, you can do it rather smoothly and prevent the rest of your plants from being choked out. Let it go too long though, and it really can wreck the entire effort – casting runners long and far throughout your plants until the healthy ones start dying off and the entire garden’s potentially at risk of being destroyed. Gardeners are told to weed and prune regularly, get the weeds while they’re small and before they spread throughout – a small bit of work regularly can prevent a lot of labor and trauma to your plants, rather than waiting until the weed problem is out of control.
Of the areas I think we perhaps did our worst in terms of the first great guild experiment, handling problem children is up there towards the top. The problems for our leadership have always been – one, we’re generally pretty nice people who don’t like causing drama or hurting other people’s feelings. Two, we are heavily conflict averse as an officer corps – too much so, in my opinion. Avoiding conflict is a healthy thing in small doses, but like with many things it needs to be in moderation – too much, and it means you’re just avoiding dealing with your issues. In my opinion, I think Veritas spent too much time in that latter zone, trying to just smooth things over and have everyone get along when the better course of action was probably to remove from the roster. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to name a single successful case of “rehabilitation”, where a problem member actually improved after warnings and disciplinary actions, rather than just lay low a bit and then continue to cause issues later.
So the real challenge is – how do you know what is a problem member, and when to prune them?
Our “official” policy is three strikes, you’re out – just like baseball. I put officially in quotes because in reality, if often seemed to turn into about 6-10 strikes before you’re actually out. Furthermore, I wonder if even three is too generous? We’ve always treated dismissal like it’s some sort of horrible fate, the way we avoid it – and when it comes down to it, it’s really not that big of a deal, especially if handled sooner rather than later. After all, we’re just one of many, many guilds out there. Kicking someone out does not remove their ability to play the game, to raid, to roleplay, or do any number of the vast majority of activities in any MMO. It just takes away the ability to do so with your particular group. And yes, while if the player in question has been around a long time and made some close friendships, or had time to foster discontent, it can be very disruptive for the guild. That’s why I recommend – do it early, before those roots get in and cause upheaval.
If I had to do it all over again, I’d only give one warning – with latitude to modify based upon the offense. If the offense is minor, something like being disruptive in raiding or having a fit over loot, you can always extend this. However, anything that is truly disruptive to players – namely, getting into personal arguments with other members, causing another member to quit the guild by direct action, sowing discontent, or openly disparaging and criticizing the leadership, I say one stern warning and then off you go. (Please note – I add this latter not to say that the leadership is infallible – but there are constructive ways of handling these issues and destructive ones. Offering suggestions and raising concerns to other officers is constructive. Pointing fingers and just criticizing openly is disruptive – and really when it comes down to it, if you don’t like the way that group’s leadership works, then why should they work to keep you there, right?)
I think on the next post, I’ll write down what I would recommend implementing as behavioral rules. The bottom line really is though, you’ll know when you see it. When multiple players raise concerns about the same individual – even if the concerns seem nebulous (I just – don’t like the guy/girl, I don’t really get along with them, etc) – I’d recommend trusting their gut. Sometimes, a person just feels wrong, they aren’t fitting in to the culture or they’re just – keeping things off-kilter. Remember – being in the guild is a privilege, not a right, and it DOES NOT ultimately harm or ruin their game experience being in another guild. They can still play the game as much as they want, this is not capital punishment or anything that will hurt their ability to get a job in the real world. Lighten up Francis, it’s just a game after all.
Things to look for:
- Failing to get along with other members. There’s a difference between keeping to themselves (not bad), and seeming to come into conflicts with other members. Even when the other member says it’s mutual, watch for patterns. If different people seem to run into personality conflicts or arguments with the same person – they are a problem, remove them. Even without hard evidence or screenshots – really, you don’t need them. The first time, it’s one person v. another. The second – it’s a second data point. By the third? Well if all these other people seem to get along well with others, you’ve found your weak link in the chain – fix it.
- Refusal to take responsibility for actions. Sadly, this comes up more and more with younger folks, just part of recent American culture maybe. But if you sit down to talk with someone about a problem or issue and all their responses are either “It’s someone else’s fault, not mine” or other things along those lines? Problem. Well-balanced people take ownership – sure, sometimes it’s a bad day, and that’s ok. But when you’re faulting other people for your mistakes? Immature and uncool, and odds are they won’t change in future meetings.
- Lying. Parenting 101 here, folks. Little white lies are one thing, but lying to avoid trouble or putting someone else in trouble? Bad juju, you don’t want it.
- Snarkiness/Mean Streaks. Some people are just – mean, catty, belittling, or negative. While you may want to help them, it’s not your job and that can really spread through a guild like a toxin. If you have someone who’s always critical, cruel, mean, or just petty – I sincerely doubt ANYTHING they are contributing is worth asking your friends to endure that. No DPS, tank, healer, etc is so good they get carte blanche to just be a brute – so let them do it elsewhere and cut them loose.
- Self-Centeredness/Neediness. This is one of the toughest to pinpoint, because we all have days where we’re a little needy. But when you see the same person continuing to demand 90% of the attention, stop and take a second look. Does it seem like to matter how many private sessions you put aside to mentor them in raiding and their class/role, they’re *still* demanding or pleading for help, and not learning to bookmark sites or do their own research? Are they always RPing a victim? Kidnapped all the time, assaulted, abused child, possessed by a demon, or any sort of other victim/save me RP? Sure, there are guilds that cater to that and encourage it – but none I want to be in. So my personal advice is – point them in the direction of a guild that caters to that, and save your own time and energy as well as that of your members. If the above type of person is a toxin, this one’s a drain – a good irl friend of mine calls these sorts of people psychic vampires – no matter how much you give, they always need more, more, more til you’re out and still they need. It’s exhausting, not just for your officers but even for your members having to devote so much of their attention to one person. Give them all a break, and weed that crabgrass!
Here’s the bottom line, and what you have to keep repeating to yourself as a mantra when you’ve got to make these decisions and weed problems. Odds are, the problem player won’t – and perhaps can’t – change who they are. It’s not ruining their life, it’s just making a decision about if who *they* are and who your guild is are a good match. If they’re not, it’s a bad relationship for both parties – sure, you can force it, you can make it work and keep it going for years. But is that really helping? Or is it better to have the hard talk sooner, so you protect your guild family and they can maybe find a group who better fits them too?
At the end of the day, your guild is one of only hundreds, and dismissing a problem from the roster will not truly harm them in any lasting way – and often, you’d be surprised no matter how they carry on at the time, how quickly people on the internet move on. Think about the benefit of the entire organism, the greater guild good, and protect that culture so that it stays healthy, happy, flourishing and bearing fruit, rather than having its soil and nutrients drained by rapidly spreading, harmful weeds. And if it makes you feel better, go ahead and wear gardening gloves.