Background

I have been playing an online mobile phone game for about 3 years now. The game is about building a castle, an army, and you go and attack either other players or computer generated targets. In the very beginning, I had my own alliance and encountered a problem-player, someone who exhibited unacceptable behavior online. Rude remarks, constant belittling and verbal abuse from this player towards everyone in the alliance (but especially me) eventually led me to kick them from my alliance (which is the only way of blocking them from chat) and block their personal messages (which I have kept blocked since 2016).

A few months after that I gave up my own alliance and with the rest of my members joined a bigger one, so I could count on more assistance when building and defending my precious online castle. This group was (and still is!) awesome. We're all either Dutch or Belgians in an age range from 13 to 76. They taught me how to play the game most effectively, and we meet up once or twice a year for a barbecue.

Problem

The problem player recently joined the alliance I'm currently in. I've immediately warned the current alliance leadership of my past problems with this player (they know all the details), yet we agreed that we would give this player a chance nonetheless based on recent in-game behavior indicating a change for the better. In the first few weeks, everything seemed fine.

But now this player is becoming a problem again, in both chat (which can't be blocked, but at least other people can 'defend' me there) but also by other behaviors towards me in the game that can't be handled by either the leadership or other players. Both the alliance leadership and I agree that their recent behavior is a problem given our past interactions, yet no-one is really sure how to handle setting the boundaries for this player only.

As they're not a problem towards the rest of the alliance (yet?), we really like to try and set, and consequently enforce, a boundary specifically for them. The problem with doing this, however, is that some of the behavior I won't tolerate from this player, is okay with me when coming from others I don't have the same past with (because then I know it's just a joke, or will be followed up with constructive feedback for example). It's a bit like creating a boundary allowing one of my brothers to tell me in the most insulting way they can come up with that my hair looks really bad today, but at the same time disallowing the other brother from even looking at it.

I have already tried telling them to stop what they're doing again, but it was received with a 'You're just being a drama queen, you're singling me out, if someone else is allowed to do this, I demand to be allowed to do this too. You're seeing malicious intent when there is none, leave me alone and take your grievances someplace else'.

That caused quite a disturbance in the group chat, most regular players are willing to help me without knowing the full story of our past. The leadership knows about my past, and they all want to help me set and enforce a boundary too. Yet there is a minority of people that definitely feel like I'd be wrong setting this boundary for this player alone (including the player, there are about 3-4 very regular players in this group, who are not necessarily more 'vocal' than others).

Question

Given that:

  • Everyone in this group is used to be treated equally by the leadership. We've never had the leaders (or other players) set boundaries/rules for a single person. Setting the boundary will indeed single this one player out,
  • The alliance leadership definitely wants to set and enforce this boundary for this single player too, is keen to help me, but wants to keep the confusion and discord within the group to a minimum,
  • Rules and decisions made by the leadership are generally received well and obeyed without question since their rules/decisions are applied to all players equally. In this case, not everyone in the group feels it is fair to set this boundary for a single person, and people have already protested as such,
  • Kicking the problem player from the alliance will be done, but only after an attempt at setting and enforcing the boundary has proven to fail as well,

How to deal with setting and enforcing a boundary for a single person within a group that's used to be treated equally?

  • 1
    If the group is used to be treated equally, but there is still a leadership, how much sway does a decision by said leadership generally hold? Additional question: do you have someone/some people in the non-leadership part of the group that are extra vocal? – DonFusili Sep 13 at 13:11
  • @DonFusili the group is used to be treated equally by the leadership. Good point, I'll edit after this to clarify that the leadership never made a decision/rule that only applied to 1 person. Yes, there's people that are more vocal than others, but they're on 'both' sides of the problem, more on mine than theirs it seems. – Tinkeringbell Sep 13 at 13:13
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    @Tinkeringbell so it wouldn't be enough for you to just block chat etc from this one problem player? Or you don't want to do that because their chat is sometimes useful? – DaveG Sep 13 at 13:18
  • @DaveG there's no option to ignore someone in the in-game chat (unless they're kicked from the alliance). I still have private messages from them blocked though since 2016. – Tinkeringbell Sep 13 at 13:22
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    Would a rule like "3 strikes and you're out", applied equally to everybody, and the ruling that this player is on strike #2 for past misdeeds be perceived as fair by the other players? Or would they see that as singling out that player? (I'm not trying to propose a solution but, rather, to gauge the level of rules-lawyering that could be applied.) – Monica Cellio Sep 14 at 2:39

The fact is that, well, not everyone acts the same, and the boundaries that need to be set, depend on how they act.

You're setting boundaries for that individual based on your experiences with him. This is normal. He's choosing to cross them.

I used to be in a small group of friends who used to play a boardgame that was mostly played by a mix of teenagers and 30 something year old males. My group was kinda oddly mixed, about half female, half male, and well... I lost interest cause the folks who helped run events didn't deal with folks who made things less fun by minmaxing, or worse, rules lawyering on their feet...

And my friends quit after that cause some of the players were sexist.

What I might have been ok with, as a 18 year old male, was different from what my female friends were ok with. They had different boundaries. Likewise though, as a core group, we probably were more in tune with each other and probably had different boundaries than the broader community would have had.

Even online - in well run communities, as someone in a position of trust I need to try to be aware of the boundaries and comfort zones of at least my core userbase and better yet complete strangers. This is trying my best to be a decent human being.

So, this comes down to "Tink is not comfortable with Random J Dude doing this thing" and "Random J Dude should respect that". Its fine to set those lines and expect those to be respected. To me, there's no long process - just a matter of setting expectations "Hey, I'm not comfortable with that" and expecting them, within reason to be respected.

The Alliance Leadership gives them an official warning

A warning system is very popular because it accomplishes exactly the issue you are describing: It allows authority to create boundaries targeted at an individual while still using a universal and fair rule.

Lets take a look at how the Australian Government handles official warnings for comparison:

If the responsible authority believes on reasonable grounds a person has committed an offence but in considering all the circumstances, decides an infringement notice is not appropriate, they can serve an official warning

If the Alliance Leadership believes on reasonable grounds that the problematic person has committed an offence, but considering that it is multiple minor offences they decide that kicking them is not appropriate. So, they serve an official warning.

As detailed in the document, one of the main uses for official warnings is exactly the use you are looking for:

Issuing an official warning can also be used in negotiating compliance

Negotiating compliance... ie. Establishing individual boundaries

How should the alliance leadership introduce and enforce warnings?

Honestly, it is up to them to customise the system to their own needs. The document I linked is for law enforcement and although its a great example for the ideas behind, and reasoning for warnings.. the application is likely too ridged for an online game.

Instead, the Alliance Leadership may prefer to just talk about it over chat whenever necessary. An interesting middle ground I've experienced in other online communities is to have a publicly available link for what behaviours constitute a warning, what that warning means, and what you should/can do after getting a warning.

How to respond to people worried about "unfairness"?

This reaction is normal enough with any new rule. Fortunately it is not a big deal because official warnings are (when handled by responsible people) very fair. Since your community already has a positive opinion about leaderships fairness it should not be a difficult conversation. Just calmly explain what the warning means, and give some extra focus on what it means for THEM.

"Don't worry, this does not mean that you will suddenly be kicked for making a stupid joke. Joe in Leadership is very fair and he will only give out a warning if someone truly deserves it. Even then you still would not get kicked because its just a warning."

Perhaps it won't be enough to properly console them, but with time and a history of fair applications of the rule, the warning system should be integrated into your community without a hitch. After all, giving someone a warning is by no means a completely foreign idea, its so popular its almost expected in online communities nowadays, at least as they expand and become more established (which it seems The Alliance is on its way to becoming).

Yes, you're singling them out, but it's fair. You see, the two of you are building two opposite narratives: they are saying that their acts are the same of everyone else

if someone else is allowed to do this, I demand to be allowed to do this too

whereas you say that they actually aren't the same:

because then I know it's just a joke, or will be followed up with constructive feedback for example

Here, you're judging the singling out by their narrative, which incidentally is exactly the one that bullies use with teachers in school ("What did I do!?"). But here's the thing: one act or phrase cannot be judged without a context. The phrase "Hey gorgeous" can be told to a girl by her friend seeing her in a new dress or whispered by a random man following her, and it conveys different meanings and feelings. So don't let their narrative mask the context. From what you've written we can gather these differences in context:

  • Recidivism: they have already proven that they're a problem player, whereas the others are "clean".
  • Ill intentions: they supposedly "joke", when the context tells that they're speaking seriously.
  • Destruction, so to say: they provide critique, but without the "constructive feedback" part.

I'm sure that there are many other differences that can be detailed.

In this light, their behaviour is not the same anymore as the other players! With this in mind, go to the leader and explain them all these differences in context, so that they can use them to set a boundary. Their equity plays in your favour, of course, because they can explain that the group is still treated equally, but it's that one player that is not behaving with you like the others. Needless to say, the warning must be specific to the single unacceptable behaviours of that player and not to their whole conduct; it will be the leader's job not to make them feel excluded from the community.

I agree with LinuxBlanket, there shouldn't be a problem in singling this user out. But the leadership may still be hesitant to create specific rules for this one player, or to treat them in a special way.

But you should certainly be allowed to set different boundaries with different players, and these boundaries should always be respected.

If we look at what the problems seem to be:

  • A (formerly) abusive player interacts with another player that they used to harass, against that second players wishes.
  • Or more generally: A player interacts with another player in a way that the second player doesn't like.

It shouldn't be that difficult to formulate a rule against this. This rule wouldn't just be for this one specific player, but for all players. For example:

Players who have behaved inappropriately towards another player in the past may not interact with this player in a way that is against their wishes.

Or more generally:

We sometimes like to joke around and tease each other. This can be fun and in good spirit! However, if a player asks you not to interact with them in this manner, you need to respect their wishes. Please respect other peoples boundaries. Repeated violation of this rule will result in a ban.

Asking players, all players, to respect each others boundaries shouldn't be controversial, or be seen as attacking a specific player.

The atmosphere in your gaming group sounds a lot like mine. Insults are thrown all over the place and no one takes offense. Usually.

We have a rule:

If someone tells you they don't appreciate you interacting with them in a certain way, stop.

It sounds like most members of your community follow this rule without it being outspoken, except for your problem player.

We stick to this rule religiously. A single warning only, after that it is a kick. We have rarely needed to remove someone, but it has happened. And it's okay to allow different things from different people. LinuxBlanket has a great example in his answer about the phrase "Hey gorgeous". That can be a compliment, a joke or just plain creepy, depending on context (read LinuxBlanket's answer for more about context, he explains it better than I could).

My old roommate once explained it to me like this. I was her roommate. I couldn't be her friend. I had seen her on her best days, on her worst days, dressed nicely, dressed in pyjama's, with beautiful make-up and with no make-up. Friends were not allowed to see her on her worst days, in pyjamas and wearing no make-up. But I was, because I was not a friend, but a roommate. I thought her explanation was odd at the time, but I'm getting it now. We have different relationships with different people. You don't need to put a label on them, like she did, to do this.

We don't treat all people the same and we don't need to. What you accept is up to you and that can be different from person to person or even day to day. You can decide this person is not your [insert label] and doesn't have the right to joke with you like that.

I recommend going with a rule similar to ours. It will give you ammo next time he interacts with you in a certain way. Should he complain, you or the leadership can explain to him that it is up to an individual to decide how much they take from another individual. Perhaps a phrase like this would help if he really doesn't take the hint?

I only let my friends talk to me like that and you are not my friend.

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