I've just been watching the latest Episode of Tabletop Minions on Youtube and the subject has touched a nerve with me. The presenter described an email he received from a newbie to the hobby who took his (or maybe her?) newly painted army to a local shop for a game. They were approached by another gamer who basically 'rubbished' their paint job and although it wasn't phrased like this it sounded a lot like they were being mocked for the poor quality of their painted miniatures. At this point steam starts coming out of my ears! Watch the video then read on...
Atom is absolutely correct - and very diplomatic - in the way he carefully describes this anonymous critic as a bully. Personally I'd go a little further but I'll refrain from foul language. Unfortunately its something I suspect that many of us can recognise either because we have been the victim of unwanted criticism or because we have witnessed it in person or read it online.
Many years ago - back in the mists of time, aka the 80's - when I first got into gaming and painting miniatures I was on the receiving end of similar mockery. I'd only painted a couple of miniatures and was very much a beginner. Looking back now my painting skills were basic to say the least, but I was eager to learn and more importantly I was my own sternest critic, trying to improve with each model I painted. This was long before blogging and sharing pictures online became the norm and my circle of gaming buddies back then was pretty small. We all helped each other and there was a gentle rivalry between us that improved all our efforts with the brush. Then I took some models to a game at a local shop and encountered my first unwanted and frankly cruel criticism from an older more experienced gamer (sound familiar?). I never went back to that shop again as a player, and I think I can honestly say my personal disinterest in competitive or tournament gaming largely stems from that one negative experience. It was only the camaraderie of my regular group of friends that kept me in the hobby.
I have also witnessed (thankfully only once) a very similar scenario played out at a wargames show. I once overheard a rather pompous wargamer criticising the models being used in a club demo game. He was basically tearing strips of the quality of the painted minis on display and the kids running the game (they were all aged about 10-12) looked utterly crestfallen by the unasked for 'advice' of this older gamer. After the idiot left I spent about ten minutes talking to the lads running the game. They were a good bunch of kids and were, up to that point, having a great day at their first proper show. I took loads of photo's of their game, complemented them on their armies and did my best to encourage them but for all I know that may have been their first and last ever show after the previous idiots self indulgent tirade. Looking back a decade my main regret is that I didn't have a word with the guy and make him aware of his thoughtlessness. I would like to think that the older and slightly more confident BigLee of today would have taken the guy to task.
Today we are in the golden age of the Online Troll and it seems to me that anonymous, unwanted and often hurtful criticism has become more prevalent than ever. I've written about not feeding the trolls before (here and here) and its still a subject I feel very strongly about. This is all the more important in our hobby because, lets face it, we're an ageing bunch of old grognards and if new gamer's aren't encouraged into the hobby it will die out with the current generation. Now if we post pictures online some degree of 'discussion' is expected, that is part of the reason idiots like me write blogs like this. But I would never, EVER, leave negative feedback in comments, no matter how awful the paint job. My attitude is that no matter how bad the miniature at least the painter has made an effort at what is, lets face it, a fairly challenging craft. We all started somewhere and we have all painted figures we would be embarrassed to show off. But for many of us 'oldies' ours is a story of perseverance, we learned and improved our skills and hopefully we had more experienced painters to help and encourage us.
I guess what I have been trying to say is that this story has reminded me that we all have a role to play in encouraging the continued good health of our hobby. All of us need to be just a little more civil towards or fellow gamer's but especially towards newbies entering the hobby for the first time. We also need to be a little more ready to encourage rather than criticise. And if we have the chance to fan the fires of enthusiasm in a new gamer (of any age) we should be ready to stand up and be counted. Its a fantastic hobby, lets keep it thriving.