- Introduction to the DA Process
- The Appeals Process
- Running an Investigation
- When does an IC Matter Become an OOC Matter?
- On Site Coordinating
- Identifying a Problematic Member
- Preventing Officer Burnout
- Dare to Disagree
- Identifying Harassment
- Writing a Letter of Counseling
- How to do Conflict Resolution
- Cool Down Periods
- Building a Player’s Confidence
- Communication with Players During a DA
- Providing Disclosure
Introduction to the DA Process
In this document, we will cover the three main elements of the DA process, when to use them and how. The goal is for you to understand the types of actions available to you as an officer, their impacts on the players and the goals of their implementations.
Immediate Corrective Action
An immediate corrective action can be applied for immediate effect without an investigation/appeal process or a long-term impact on the member it is enacted upon. This is a preventative measure, designed to stop problem behavior before it becomes a bigger problem.
An immediate corrective action can be enacted by the presiding officer at an MES event who witnesses or is informed of problem behavior. It takes effect upon being enacted and generally is short term. The immediate corrective action is temporary, and alone has no long-term impact upon the player(s) targeted by the action. No formal record of the action needs to be tracked.
Typically, an immediate corrective action is used to remove a member from a game site or event space. If you believe the member’s immediate presence is creating an unhealthy, uncomfortable or dangerous environment for other members you can ask them to leave the event. You may also take softer measures, such as asking the member to sit out for an hour to cool down. Consider the situation and the member in question and take the action you think is needed to prevent a larger problem from occurring.
Letter of Counseling
A letter of counseling is a temporary documentation of a behavior problem which did not alone warrant a formal investigation. The purpose is to provide a recorded spot check on behavior problems and an opportunity for mentoring to prevent future problems. This allows you to stop problem behavior early, before it warrants a DA. It also creates a record of recent behavior should the problem persist.
Any elected officer with jurisdiction over the member may enact a letter of counseling. The letter itself documents the behavior problem that occurred. The mentoring provided is short-to-long term and should be forward looking on how the member can improve in the future.
A single letter is kept on file for no more than six months. If more than three letters are accumulated for the same issue, this may escalate the behavior problem to a formal investigation and possible disciplinary action.
You can read more about the Letter of Counseling process and methods in the Writing a Letter of Counseling section.
A disciplinary action is a punitive measure reserved for problem behavior which is not prevented by immediate corrective actions, letters of counseling and mentoring. The purpose is to punish a member for problem behavior for a longer term when corrective measures were not enough to dissuade the member.
A member who receives more than three letters of counseling relating to the same issue within a six month period should be reported to the RST or RC, who will determine if there is a need for a formal investigation.
Any RC, RST, NC, NST, or BoD may initiate an investigation after observing the member’s behavior directly, with or without the support of letters of counseling. Furthermore, any RC or RST may initiate an investigation on the recommendation of a Domain or Chapter level officer within his or her jurisdiction with or without the support of letters of counseling.
To get an investigation opened, the Domain officer should contact his or her supervising Regional level officer. This contact should include the name and MES # of the member they believe should be investigated, the specific problem being addressed, any Letters of Counseling on file for the member from the last 6 months, dates on which otherwise undocumented problem actions took place, and any other relevant evidence. The contact should also include the name and MES # of any other involved parties and / or witnesses to the behavior problem.
The official steps of a DA are:
- Preliminary Review
- Formal Investigation
- Defense and Mitigation
- Aggravating and Mitigating Factors
- Determining Penalties
- Informing the Involved Parties
A DA is enacted through a Formal Investigation, which may or may not result in a DA being issued. You can read more about the investigation process in Running an Investigation. The process can end at this point if there is not enough evidence found to proceed.
If enough evidence is found, a judgement will be made. This judgment can be guilty or innocent. If the judgment is guilty then mitigating factors are considered and then penalties are rendered.
Any judgement can be appealed by the parties involved, whether the party is guilty or innocent.
When given by the storyteller chain, a DA may impact in-game factors such as XP traits, access to approval items, or the sanctioning of PCs portrayed by the player as well as holding ST offices. When given by the coordinator chain, a DA may impact out-of-game factors such as Prestige totals, MC levels, or permission to attend MES events as well as holding Coordinator offices.
DAs may have long term effects, such as an inability to run for elected offices for two to eighteen months. In addition to these specific effects, a member is required to disclose to his or her electorate any DAs he or she has received within the last two years when running for elected office. In the case of Extreme offenses, this disclosure period is indefinite.
The Appeals Process
“Not every decision will please everyone, and Mind’s Eye Society’s volunteers are still human and susceptible to making mistakes or experiencing lapses of good judgment. Therefore, members who are affected by an officer’s official decision have the right to appeal to the supervising officer of the officer issuing the disciplinary action.”
~Membership Handbook pg. 62
What is an Appeal?
An appeal is a process for requesting a formal change to an official decision. In MES, after a review is conducted at the Regional level, an officer has the ability to appeal that decision to the National Officer and then that decision can be appealed to the Board of Directors.
MES uses an appeal method that is termed “On the Record,” meaning that the ruling of the prior decision maker is challenged by arguing that he or she misapplied the rule, came to an incorrect factual finding, acted in excess of his jurisdiction, abused his powers, was biased, considered evidence which he should not have considered, or failed to consider evidence that he should have considered.
What is examined in an Appeal?
The system of “Threshold of Evidence” is utilized by the officer who has received the appeal to determine if the appeal should be heard.
Threshold of Evidence covers two different topics in the Membership Handbook page 64:
- A clear violation of the rules took place
- The primary officer that rendered the decision subject to appeal clearly abused their discretion or exercised their discretion in an arbitrary and capricious manner.
One of these must be proven to the appellate so that the officer can make their decision.
Who participates in an Appeal?
An appeal can be filed by any party involved in the initial DA.
A member has the ability to have their appeal heard by two offices. The participants depend entirely on which level in the DA process the appeal is occurring.
The standard disciplinary process consists of the following:
In some extreme cases that are affecting multiple regions, the process begins with the National office and goes through the following steps:
In a National Level appeal, the following are included in all emails:
- The plaintiff
- The officer conducting the appeal (National Officer and/or Assistant Arbitration officer)
- The plaintiff’s supervising officer
In a Board of Directors Level appeal, the following are included in all emails:
- The plaintiff
- Two members from the BoD sub committee that is formed for the appeal
- The plaintiff’s supervising officer
The officer conducting the appeal may contact other members who were involved in the situation to ask questions.
What is included in an Appeal?
According to the membership handbook page 63, the following information should be included in your appeal:
- A sentence describing the decision being appealed
- A paragraph describing the situation that led to the decision being made
- A complete statement describing why the decision is believed to have been inappropriate: this should include the “Threshold of Evidence” information that should be considered as well as any supporting information to explain it.
- Your contact information, full name, and club membership number
A full list of the steps a DA should go through can be found in Introduction to the DA Process. If any of these steps are handled incorrectly, this is grounds for an appeal.
The appeal should contain all information, as the officer who is receiving the appeal may not contact you to ask for clarifications. They are not required to do so. If they choose to do so than an officer can ask for any clarifications that are needed during the process. This can be from the member, the other people involved in the situation or officers that may be involved in the situation.
How long will an appeal take?
Once a member has received the first ruling on the DA, they have up to 30 days to appeal the ruling. That appeal can take up to 30 days to be ruled upon. During this period, any disciplinary action punishments that were determined during the first ruling are put on hold for the appeal. In cases where the appeal still finds the member guilty, the initial punishment or the new punishment that is determined by the Appealing Officer starts once that ruling is given, unless further appeals are filed.
If a member is going to file an appeal but does not do so immediately, they should inform the parties involved that an appeal is coming so the punishment does not start immediately.
Appealing an Appeal
Once the results of an appeal has been received, the member who receives the results can appeal once more to the Board of Directors if they feel it is necessary. The same rules and processes apply that were used for the first appeal.
Most appeals that are rejected are not considered ‘Frivolous Appeals’ however appeals that are filed with no good-faith basis or are submitted with bad intent or are harassing in nature are considered Frivolous Appeals. In these cases Letters of Counseling or Formal Warnings may be granted and disciplinary investigation may be opened depending upon the severity of the situation. Make sure to double check the Threshold of Evidence prior to an appeal being filed to insure you have ample grounds for requesting one.
During all DAs, it is important to use discretion regarding the situation and keep discussions limited. MES follows the rule “innocent until proven guilty” and the entire process can be shaming to a member who may later be found to be not guilty. More information about the DA Discretion process can be found in Providing Disclosure and more information about Rumor Mongering can be found in Rumor Mongering.
Running an Investigation
Before the investigation begins
A DA investigation can be handled by a Regional level officer but before the investigation really gets started there are a few key steps to do. Once the key steps are done, if there is enough to proceed on, then the investigation is announced.
Define the disagreement/violation
The first step to starting an investigation is defining what is being looked into. It is important to get a clear and concise picture of the event /events before proceeding. Although it is possible to find multiple errors and problems while conducting an investigation, they are not necessarily the key source of the problem and could be considered aggravating factors to the overall case. It is possible however to find the root cause of several problems through the course of the investigation.
The scope of the investigation should have a clear cause and effect. Examples of clear causes and effects are:
- Sally used the power incorrectly and a character died
- John threw a tantrum and disrupted the game session
Is the primary problem a disagreement between members or a possible violation of the rules?
Once it has been defined what is being looked into, the presiding officer determines whether it is a disagreement or rules violation. This will determine whether the presiding officer needs to come from the Coordinator chain or Storyteller chain. It is not uncommon for an IC issue to quickly turn into an OOC issue. It is important that the core issue is discovered and addressed first and then look at any resulting issues. Per the Roles and Responsibilities of the membership handbook, Coordinators deal with all out of game problems and Storytellers deal with all in games problems as they arise.
Who conducts the investigation and who does judgment?
Once the reviewing officer receives the investigation request, they will look at the alleged claim and decide if this sounds probable enough to investigate or if the alleged conduct should go through the mediation process. This chart explains who should handle what, based on level of possible offense and type problem that occurred.
|Letter of Counseling||Unrecorded, typically for minor infractions and mistakes and first time offense.||Domain, Regional or National can issue Letters of Counseling|
|Minor Offense||Minor lapses in judgment or multiple Letters of Counseling for the same problem.||Regional or National handles investigation|
|Moderate Offense||Lapses in judgment with notable effect.||Regional or National handles investigation|
|Major Offense||Significant issues with broad effects.||Regional or National handles investigation|
|Severe Offense||Serious offenses quite harmful to the club||Regional or National handles investigation|
|Extreme Offense||In general this is reserved for only these categories of an infraction:
||National handles the investigation|
|Expulsion||Can be recommended during a situation that is considered an extreme offense||Board of Directors handles the recommendation|
Formally announcing the Investigation
Formal notification of investigations needs to go out to the following:
- the member that raised the complaint
- the member that was accused
- the direct coordinator of the accused member (if not the one notifying)
- if a player issue, the direct storyteller of the accused member (if not the one notifying) if the accused member is an officer or assistant, their supervising officer
You can review an example notification email here to use as a form letter.
An officer can take up to a month to gather the evidence. Make sure you that you have a clear understanding of both sides of the story and any previous situations that may have led to this case.
Types of Evidence:
- Testimony: Player accounts of an event, personal vouchers of a member’s character
- Documentation: emails, character sheets, photos, electronic records
- Physical: weapons, bruises
What to do when an investigation ends early
At any time during an official DA process, it is possible to start the mediation if all parties agree to go that route. More information about the mediation process can be found in Coord 342: How to do Conflict Resolution. In the event that that the investigation ends before you reach judgment either due to mediation or lack of evidence, the only requirement is to inform the parties that the investigation has been closed.
If it is determined that the behavior of either party was a minor first time offense, it might be necessary to write a letter of counselling even without a full formal investigation.
When does an IC Matter become an OOC Matter?
Each of us are here to dress up and have a good time. The way officers and other players support this is by providing conflict for the characters during the game. Whether it be in the shape of an ally gone wrong, a muscle twirling villain, or an emotional heartbreak coming back from the past, conflict is the medium by which wonderful stories unfold.
When does this go wrong? When does conflict in game stop being healthy and start interfering?
Sometimes the conflict moves from being between characters or characters and the story, and instead starts to become conflict between two members. When this happens, we are no longer dealing with in-character matters, but instead dealing with out-of-character issues, which can be damaging to both players and domains alike.
There are various ways IC to OOC conflicts happen.
Character Conflict – What drives the story?
How would you feel reading a book, finding a beginning where the characters are introduced, and then for the next 300 pages you are introduced to a life filled with no challenges, just simply the protagonist getting everything they want with little effort? Most would find this a boring story and a waste of time. Because of this, conflict is introduced to put the protagonist’s goals in jeopardy. This provides for a fulfilling story.
The same is true for the live action game and our characters. It would be easy to get everything we wanted with little effort but just as with the story without conflict, a game without conflict soon becomes one where players become bored. The attendance numbers dwindle and very little happens. Thus, conflict is essential to a healthy game.
Not all conflict can be healthy, however. There are times when an IC situation can become a problem out of character between members. The ability to deal with these within the paradigms of the game is important to the health of both the organization in general, as well as to the players individually. This is one of those times where being an officer has to take priority. The quicker you can react to an escalating situation, the easier it is to handle.
The first step to dealing with the issue is identifying that there is a problem. When a player starts getting visibly upset the Officer needs to talk to them privately.
Then the Officer needs to identify if the concern is player vs. player (PvP) oriented or player vs. ST story (PvE) oriented.
If the situation is PvE, the Officer can attempt to work with the player, keeping in mind the balance of the game and fairness to all pcs involved.
If the situation is PvP, it is more complicated. Make sure it’s clear to the player that there are two stories at work here and insure that the targeting of this story is due to character and not personal reasons. If it is due to personal reasons the issue becomes a conflict of interest.
Identifying Conflicts of Interest
Conflicts of Interest(COIs) is an often talked about and often misunderstood idea. You can read more about MES Conflicts of Interest regarding officer interactions under Officer Conflict of Interest. There are various types of COIs that can affect the game specifically however.
STs with Prominent PCs
Storytellers who also play within their own venues have to do a balancing act. Though they wish to have fun and have their own goals, they also must look to the goals of others. One common unofficial (and sometimes official) rule that storytellers implement is not playing a major officer of the city. Due to the nearly omniscient nature of being the storyteller, it can become difficult for them to keep their own story and their role as storyteller separate. When this line becomes blurred, the Officer start can start to be viewed as “invincible” for other players, This perception is a situation where the line is crossed regarding an in-character and out-of-character matter.
Another type of IC Conflict of Interest that becomes an OOC issue is the “Inigo Montoya” syndrome. For those that have never seen “The Princess Bride,” the character of Inigo was one whose sole driving motivation was to avenge his father’s death. Characters in our game die, it is the nature of the World of Darkness. Sometimes, the player’s next character follows in the dead character’s footsteps, conflicting with the same characters who killed the previous character. When this happens, it has moved from an IC matter to an OOC matter.
Storytellers can help a player attempt to avoid is by having them create new characters that are in no way related to the old character, and thus can not exploit any knowledge ooc known about their “new” adversary and avenge the death of the prior character. There are rules in place that specifically forbid this.
OOC Player Conflict affecting an IC Story
Players have lives that intersect with the lives of others outside the game. Not everyone can be friends. There can be various levels of conflict that happen in our outside lives. Typically this is dealt with through player discussion or mediation but sometimes that doesn’t always end the issues. Soon storytellers can see antagonism between the characters of those players, ones that are illogical if you look at their histories. In this situation, players chose to make an OOC issue an IC issue, which makes the matter an OOC matter, and needs to be addressed.
The best way to handle this is by dividing the players so interactions don’t happen. Help them to keep their stories separate so they do not need to interact with each other.
The players, when stepping into the game, don a “persona” which is a mix of their own personality and one that is created specifically for the game. Though often there are no problems with the conflicts that arise due to the game, sometimes players end up more emotional over the disposition of their characters. This is known as “emotional bleed.” By itself, emotional bleed isn’t always a bad thing, and there are ways of dealing with it in a healthy manner. Other times, however, it can create problems for the group.Remember it it is important to ensure that members are differentiating between real life and game life.
One situation that can arise from the emotional bleed is the idea that players feel “everyone is out to get you.” Players make mistakes with their characters. It is only natural. In the games we play these mistakes are exploited by others in a very cut-throat, backstabbing way. Some players mistaken IC motivations for OOC motivations, and make statements like “how could you do this to me,” or “she’s nothing but a backstabber who isn’t a very good friend, if a friend at all.” This isn’t the truth, as it is the characters with the conflict not the players, but the emotional bleed allows for this perception, and the perception and relationship between the players then needs to be taken care of as an OOC matter.
Though emotional bleed doesn’t always happen, we each need to take steps to try and avoid this OOC issue stemming from IC actions. This is where mediation can come into play.Often just getting the two players to sit down ooc and talk about the situation can fix the problem. You can find more about conflict resolution in How to do Conflict Resolution.
Players have backgrounds, much of which are probably not public knowledge to the members or necessarily officers. The World of Darkness is a darker world than the one we live in and the issues that a player has faced may become plot fodder for an ST unintentionally. It is not always easy for a player to share their background or know ahead of time exactly what is going to cause an issue, especially because they don’t know where a story is going towards.
It is the officer’s responsibility to work with their players, as much as the player is willing to share, so they can give proper warnings if an issue is going to arise and the player can chose to pursue the plot or remove themselves from the situation. Officers should also take note of situations that do arise when warnings were not issued so that they can issue trigger warnings in the future.
If a player was issued a trigger warning and chose to try to handle the situation and then can not do so and becomes emotionally affected ooc, the presiding officer has the right to remove them from the situation and try to work with them after the fact if possible, for what happens with the character. Real life always comes first in MES.
Dealing with IC to OOC issues
Each of the problems presented have their own methods on how they should be dealt with but there are a couple of general rules for all of them.
- Communication is the key.
- Try to ask questions first, and invite players to do the same and thus possibly a negative situation can be avoided.
- Try to keep everyone in the situation remaining calm so a clear discussion can occur.
- Perceived issues of an OOC nature can be dealt with via Conflict resolution. This is detailed in the education document Conflict Resolution
- If there is a concern about an officer having a conflict of interest, it is often best to request a third party examine the situation and make a call. People involved in a Conflict of Interest often have a bias making that call.
- Most importantly: Keep in mind that real life always comes first and don’t be afraid to remind those involved. Player feelings and situations that involve emotional bleed and triggers should not be ignored.
Storytellers and coordinators should pay close attention to the members, especially during times of high stress (both in and out of character), to try to head off or mitigate any OOC feelings. This can typically be dealt with by using reasoned, careful communication with the individuals involved, and providing them support during a time of stress for their characters.
On Site Coordinating
When you are having a good time at the game, sometimes things get weird or heated. Role play can quickly turn in a wrong direction. It is always good to know when an officer should step in to defuse any situation before it could get out of hand.
Sometimes the story gets too much for players. This could stem from concepts or ideas just may be too much. An example would be from a victim of violent crime. The storyteller may be running a scene which matches too close to the original crime. Things happen and we may have an issue cropping up. For more information on this, see When does IC become OOC.
This example may be hard to detect when it is building up. Often times, other players may notice it and go out of character to assist the other member. If they don’t notice the signs, a Coordinator may have to step in and call for a cool down period. The player can then cool down and potentially return to the game.
As coordinators we are counselors, mediators, advisors, and confidants. This role lends us a unique perspective into our members. As a coordinator it is so important that we get to know your members both in and out of character. The better you understand your members and how they react to different situations the more effective you can be at heading off potential issues and dealing with the issues that do arise.
Most players want to be helpful, but often that can hinder efforts. Using the same example as above, the member is being relocated to cool off. A concerned member starts badgering the affected member on what they can do to help and offering several different solutions.
This can cause more frustration. When you are already in a fragile state of mind, sometimes being left alone is the best thing. A coordinator may need to step in between and be the wall between the two players.
In general, MES has a “no touch” policy, but many players have gray areas regarding the topic. These gray areas are not normally complete and situational dependent, influenced by what is going on outside of the game.
Communication is the key. It’s best to enforce a predetermined rule of no touching and let individual players make the exception if they feel comfortable with it. This should be clearly stated so the domain is aware and will not cross lines. Requiring permission to touch another player is a common practice. For example in a combat scene player A asks player B; “can I grab your shoulder”.
The players are really into the scene and they are getting worked up. It is wise to check in with the players. An example would be looking over to see a player crying. When you check in with the player they were just getting emotional with the scene.
We have looked at some of the things to watch out for, but how would you step in? There are a couple of rules to keep in mind:
- The best way is to be polite and remain calm.
- Recognise a situation that is escalating and react appropriately.
- Speak with each player privately rather than in front of the rest of the players.
- Don’t be afraid to call for cool down periods.
- Remain polite and ask the player to tell you what’s going on before stating anything about the situation so you are sure you understand the situation, and how it’s being perceived by the members involved.
- Remember that real life always comes first.
It is good to check in any situation where you may not truly know what is going on. Over time you will get to know your players. You will know what will trigger their idiosyncrasies. This will help you figure out when to jump in as well. However, it never hurts to err on the side of caution.
Identifying a Problematic Member
So you find yourself with a player who has come under the attention of the local club, and not in a positive way. They are often skirting the rules for their own benefit, taking actions that are questionable OOCly in their source and use and behavior, and many of the members have brought this to your attention. However, there is no clear indication that the rules or Code of Conduct are being broken, instead the player seems to always toe the line, walking up to but not quite breaking any rule. They are leaving the rest of the players unhappy and you are left with the decision on how to handle the situation.
It may be hard to determine just what behavior to look for, but you will quickly find a pattern: the player in question always quoting the rules or Code of Conduct on why they have not broken any rules, questionable behavior that is routinely being marked as an issue with others, players reporting problems with the same offender again and again…
What is the Harm?
The question arises, why is this harmful? If no rules are broken, is there really an issue? The answer is yes. For one, a single player can dramatically affect the entirety of a domain’s enjoyment, driving players to not only not wish to deal with this person, but also to avoid the domain entirely if they are a prevalent source in multiple venues. Likewise, it can affect how the domain is seen by neighboring groups, who would begin to wonder if such behavior is not only tolerated, but acceptable? And finally if this sort of behavior persists, then the only person enjoying the game would be the problem player in question, leaving others either unwilling to interact or simply not desiring to participate anymore, which could reflect poorly on the club overall. The following are some behaviors you should look for, or could signal a potential problem.
What behaviors can be signals of problems?
On an “in character” Player Character related level, it may seem that there is little that could be found as warning signs for this kind of behavior, when in fact there are several. These kinds of players may consistently argue vague rules solely for their own benefit; sometimes switching their stance on the same rule depending on which side of the argument they find themselves on. They may have obscure character reasoning to back poor or questionable behavior even if the behavior is out of place, and refuse to amend their stance on it. In the same vein, they will often be unwilling to concede their points, despite evidence or discussion to the contrary. Overall, they will come across as far more antagonistic than would be normal.
Outside of PC related behavior, other actions to look out for would include some of the following: utilizing the Code of Conduct as a weapon, or focusing on the letter of the law when the spirit of the law is not being upheld. Other times mediation or other such tools are used not to resolve situations, but halt such resolution. In this way, these players do not consider the others in the venue or club, and are unwilling to think of enjoyment outside of their own. Frequently, they leave others with a poor experience both in and out of game.
What are some solutions?
The best way to avoid the issues on a character level is to sit down with the player and discuss matters at hand, specifically the larger issues within the domain and potential good or harm that their actions are causing not only for the venue but for other players. It may be that the potential issue is simply a case of ignorance to the gravity of their actions. It is important that they understand that while some decisions may be wholly legal within the scope of the games rules, including approvals, but ultimately may bring negative impact on the venue. Help them find a reasonable alternative rather than simply beginning with a “no,” and try to find a way for them to still find enjoyment without detracting from others. In the end, don’t be afraid to say no; your responsibility is to far more than a single player in these situations.
If the matter is more a player than a character dilemma, the situation can be a bit more problematic due to personal feelings. In the case of the CoC arguments, point out what the spirit behind the CoC is, rather than the strict lettering of the document; it simply cannot cover every situation and in many cases it requires an understanding of what the overall goal and intention of the club is. Direct their attention that while again, no action they are taking is wrong… per se… the result of their actions is the game has become notably worse for others; it is a time when we should all enjoy ourselves, not only a select few. If mediation or other tools are being abused, explain that it is not a tool used to force a desired outcome nor should one expect to “win” through mediation. Both sides should be amiable to the conclusion, but it requires flexibility and concession on both sides. Overall, you will have to be prepared to offer discipline to the player in some fashion, following the guidelines within the Handbook for their behavior; while this is a course of action no one enjoys, remember that we try to promote safe and fun environments for these games. If a single player is actively impeding this for others, you need to be prepared to take action.
At times, after speaking with the member, an officer may find that they want to clearly document and explain the conversation they had with the member. In this case, they could use a Letter of Counseling. A Letter of Counseling can be particularly helpful when a member hasn’t broken any specific rule, but is bending or breaking the spirit of the rule. As the Membership Handbook says on page 15, “We will use common sense and maturity when involved in club matters. The spirit of the rules is more important to us than the letter of the rules.”
Addressing or correcting this behavior cannot be overstated; it may make for an uncomfortable situation in the short term, but it will ultimately be good for the club in the long term. This kind of behavior is toxic, and has and will lead to players of your domain and others viewing your game in particular as allowing this kind of intrinsically poor experience. By addressing the matter before it becomes a greater issue, you can provide a much more enjoyable experience not only for your current but future players as well; along with this you set the example that such actions will not be tolerated. Focus on the spirit of what our Code of Conduct wishes to put in place, rather than solely on the letter. It will offer a much more rewarding experience not only for the current game, but the ones you would wish to host in the long term.
Preventing Officer Burnout
We demand a lot out of our officers. Officer duties range from monthly reports, and responding to daily emails to thinking up the next great plotline while refereeing conflicts between angry players. It is emotionally and intellectually exhausting work, and if storytellers and coordinators aren’t wary of the toll it takes on their everyday life, it can quickly lead to officer burnout.
What officers can do for themselves to avoid burnout
Separate your game time, work time, and home time
Often we hear about the Work-Life Balance, the notion that we need to make sure to segregate our work time and our home time, and keep work stress from infiltrating our happiness at home. This applies to MES activities and officer duties as well. Set aside officer hours and a few hours during the week when you’re going to work on MES stuff, such as answering emails, going over approvals, thinking about plotlines, talking with players, writing reports, etc. Restrict the time you spend on these activities to just this assigned time.
Let the players know that you are only available to talk about stuff concerning your officer duties during these times. If they call outside of these times and want to talk to you about the latest movie out, great. If they call outside of these times and want to talk about their appeal, politely ask them to call you when you have office hours, or send you an email that you will read and reply to during those officer hours. No matter how flustered, angry, or impatient they may be to have an answer immediately, it’s ok to tell a player they need to wait another day or so until your schedule allows for you to address their concerns. This is how you prevent yourself from being dragged around every time a player calls with impatient demands of your time.
Separating your work, home and MES time doesn’t have to just be about the time on the clock you take towards MES activities, it also means not thinking about it when you’re spending time on other things as well. If you’re at work, don’t sit there stressing about how last night’s game went or how you’re going to resolve a conflict. And when you’re at home, spending time with family, don’t let worries or thoughts about game intrude on your family time. Many of the tips and tricks used to prevent burnout from your real-world job can be applied to your volunteer job too.
Learn to delegate. Not every aspect of your position needs to be handled personally, especially when it comes to positions higher up in the club. Make sure to delegate where you can, and let your assistants take on some of the burden of the job. This will go a long way towards retaining your sanity, and getting other folks involved. Those assistants are not just helping you they are also learning how to do that job as someone who could potentially take over when you step down, or in an emergency when you can’t be there or there’s a conflict of interest.
Take time for you
A little relaxation goes a long way. For me personally, I don’t answer emails over the weekend. I will attend games, and do the fun game stuff, but I will avoid answering emails or tending to officer duties during the weekend. The weekend is my time to relax, spend time with family, and get things done for my home life. That is time I take for me and my family every week away from any obligations outside my home. Never be afraid to take time for you, especially if you feel yourself starting to dread your MES activities, schedule in time for you. This can be as simple as a 30 minute walk after work, giving you time to wind down before going on to address your officer tasks, or taking a night out of the week for a date night with your honey.
Remember, we’re all human, we all have lives away from the MES. Sometimes life or work sneaks up on us and sabotages our pretendy fun-time making it impossible for us to work on anything that week. That’s ok. It’s ok to need a little extra time to review someone’s application, or get back to a player about their prestige log, but it’s also really important that you communicate that to the player. If they don’t hear from you for two weeks, likely they’re going to assume you forgot about them and get pissed. Make sure you shoot out a quick email to a list or individuals and let them know what’s going on and what the delay is. People are generally much more forgiving when you make them aware of the issues. And, it will go a long way towards easing your mind too.
Know your limits
Know when it’s time for you to take a break from your officer duties, know when it’s time for you to step down, and be reasonable about how much time you have to dedicate to the position. If you find yourself struggling every week to find the time to answer even the simplest emails from your players, then maybe you need to step away from the position and let someone else fill those shoes. Even if we have the best of intentions we don’t always have the time to dedicate to our favorite pastimes. We all wish we have more hours in the day to get things done, and there are many, many articles giving tips on effective time management because we all struggle with finding enough time to do all the things we want. Be smart about the amount of time you put into the club, and know when the position is asking too much of you.
What players can do for their officers to avoid burnout
Ok, time to fess up. There’s more than a little bit of a contribution we as players make towards officer burnout. A domain that is constantly arguing through endless arbitrations, or running appeals through the storyteller chain like they were on sale, can really burn through officers. Here are a few things we as players can do to help preserve the drive and sanity of our precious, precious officers.
Only involve an officer when it is necessary
Not every dispute in the MES needs to go through the coordinator, just like not every combat needs to go through 5 hours of throwing chops. If you have a conflict with another player, try resolving it on your own first, before asking an officer to become involved. Or perhaps you need assistance with your prestige log, or with an application on the database, try asking if there’s an assistant or another player who is willing to help you. There’s lots of ways to find answers and help in the club without camping out on an officer’s front steps.
Don’t be a jerk.
Really everyone in the club should treat their fellow members with courtesy and respect.
Most especially the people who are volunteering their time and energy to help the game. If you have criticism of how an officer is doing, be constructive, be professional. Don’t yell at them, or call them names, or be hurtful about it. You are free to dislike that officer or how they do their job, but you are not free to be crappy about it. Officers are people too, and sometimes they mess up. When that happens, and it affects you, it sucks. Being an ass to the officer doesn’t help, and over time officers who are harassed by players no longer want to be officers. We lose our most valuable resource, which are volunteers who work way harder than the pretend money (prestige) is worth.
The officers of the MES are not your parents, or your guidance counselor, or your therapist. If you have a complaint or problem about the club, that you have tried solving on your own but honestly need the officer to address (approving your PC, reviewing your prestige log, etc.) then talk with them and let them know about your issue.
Don’t hound them
It is acceptable to request a status update when you are waiting on something from an officer if you have not heard back from them after a couple of days. It is not acceptable to text 30 times a day asking if they approved your whatzit, or answered your email, or whatever. Use your best judgement when requesting updates. If you feel that you’re getting ignored or the officer in question is not replying to you in a timely manner, let them know how you are feeling (politely). Communication about how you are feeling will inform the officer in a constructive way and let that officer respond without the aggression of constant harassment.
What can officers do to help their staff avoid burnout
Work with them to balance their workload
Think about how much work is assigned to a volunteer before asking them to take on a new project. When that project comes up in discussion, ask them if they are able to take it and listen to their response. If needed find them more help or assign a project to someone else.
Make Volunteering Fun
Take an extra minute to share a joke during a discussion or organize an outing just for volunteers if you are meeting face to face. Schedule time at conventions to get together for a drink or a sandwich. Take a few minutes to know them for who they are, not just what they can do for the organization.
Say Thank You to Your Volunteers
Nothing means more than letting someone know their work is appreciated by those it helps. Take the time to let them know you recognize the effort they have put in. Take a few minutes to say thank you. This is a volunteer organization. People put in time to have fun when volunteering stops being fun, they stop volunteering. Take the time to let your volunteers know they are appreciated.
Dare to Disagree
Mind’s Eye Society encourages its members to offer feedback. The ability to voice opinions, praises and criticism of MES processes and rules is essential in ensuring that the organization is meeting the needs of its members. However, criticism can be hard to give and receive but unless a member informs an officer of something they don’t like, a situation that they question, or a rule that they feel breaks the game; it can’t be corrected. It is important to not take criticism personally or make criticism a personal attack against someone else.
It is always necessary when giving feedback to be respectful to the other party. Members should never resort to name calling or profanity. If a player feels they have become too frustrated or angry to continue a discussion without being able to remain respectful, they should walk away until they have cooled off. It is better to offer criticism when both parties are calm and able to talk to each other in a way that follows the policies in the MES code of conduct.
When giving negative feedback, members should try to be constructive. They should not attack the person they are giving their feedback to. Instead of saying, “Your rules call sucks!” they should try saying, “I disagree with your interpretation of that rule. I’d like to sit down and go over the book and addendum after game. “What the player is trying to say is meaningful. Making sure that they say it in a way that is respectful and not confrontational will ensure that misunderstandings and hurt feelings don’t get in the way of the message they are sending.
Officers also have to take care when giving feedback to a member. Instead of, “Quit arguing during combat scenes.” try taking a constructive approach, “I’m concerned about the way combat scenes keep getting interrupted. When we have to stop and take time out of a scene for you to criticize the ST rules calls it takes away from the role play, the flow of the scene and disrupts game. ” Officers should be proactive in the way they speak to members and give them a chance to voice their own concerns as well.
Know When to Stop
Beating a dead horse into a bloody pulp goes nowhere. Repeating the same argument over and over again will not help a situation. Members should sit down and address the issues being brought up. Allow both sides to be heard and listened to and try to come to an agreement or resolution. Then agree to leave those issues in the past. Let all parties involved agree that the past will not be brought up again can help heal and everyone to move forward.
Discuss Observations not Inference
Focus feedback on observation rather than inference. Criticisms should be based on what the member has observed rather than on assumptions and interpretations they might make. Members should focus on what actually happened and not draw conclusions or make points that they don’t know as fact. Members should describe what they have seen or heard first hand and avoid passing judgment on others.
Offer some positive feedback along with the negative comments. No one wants to feel attacked and giving one negative comment after another can cause your message to become lost in all the negativity. If a member consistently gives only negative feedback, people will begin to “tune out” the feedback or dismiss it as “just another rant.” Members should bring something positive to the discussion and give balance to their points. “Even though I disagree with that particular rules call, I think the storyline you are putting out is great. I can’t wait to see where it goes.”
Feelings are Always Valid
Another key to keep in mind is that feelings are always valid. A member should express how a situation is making them feel which can help to give a view of their perspective. Saying, “You never listen to me.” is interpreted very differently in a conversation than, “I feel like you don’t listen to me when I tell you things.” The first is an accusation, the second conveys how a situation is affecting you personally on an emotional level.
Suggest a solution or alternative idea to the situation. Members will find that feedback is received better if it is accompanied by a solution to the problem. Suggesting ways to address the issue that is being brought up will give a cooperative tone to the discussion. A solution is something positive that will help give balance and cool frustrations. Members should be willing to listen to other suggestions for solutions as well. While a member may have come up with something they feel will work, another idea may be worth trying as well.
What do you do when Constructive Criticism goes “Wrong”?
There are several things that can cause feedback to go wrong. The most common is taking things too personally. Assuming that every criticism you receive is a personal attack is going to bring a lot of issues. Officers in particular need to separate their position from their personal identity. Someone may think that Henry is a great guy to role play with and even hang out at Waffle House after game, but not be happy with the way he is running the venue and feel he is lacking in some area as VST. Understand that as an officer you will get criticism. It isn’t personal. It goes with the responsibility of the office. Handle it with grace and be respectful.
If a member does resort to using profanity or making harsh accusations, don’t return fire. When emotions heat up, it is your job as an officer to keep a cool head and help calm the situation.
In this age of electronic communication comes new obstacles when offering and receiving criticism online. People rely heavily on body language and vocal inflection to understand emotion and intent when talking with others. Emails and other electronic communication removes those elements from the conversation leaving us open to a multitude of interpretations based more on our imagination than what we actually see and hear.
If a member finds that they are reading something that may or may not be in the email, they should ask for a clarification and after that has been received respond explaining what they understand and ask if this is correct. Members should read their own responses and emails before sending them to see if they might also be taken the wrong way if read from a different perspective. Members should remember not to take things said personally and to keep the respectful tone in all communications including those sent by electronic means.
The most important part about giving constructive criticism is to remain respectful at all times.
Mind’s Eye Society has a Zero Tolerance Harassment Policy, but what exactly is harassment? Harassment includes more than just unwanted sexual advancements or unwelcome sexual conduct. It could include any comments that focus on race, gender, age, or religion. Any physical contact without player consent is not allowed, but harassment goes beyond that and can include another player looking at you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. Derogatory or offensive comments and conduct that makes another player feel uncomfortable should be addressed with that player. It is when that conduct continues, after the player has been told to stop, then it becomes harassment.
First Step: Communication
A player cannot expect someone to stop making them feel uncomfortable if they don’t let the other person know that something is bothering them. If a player is uncomfortable going to the other person directly, then speak with an officer and ask that the issue be addressed. MES members should feel that they can approach a staff member about an issue that makes them feel uncomfortable, no matter what that issue is.
If the harassment continues, the player should inform a member of staff as soon as possible and allow staff to handle the situation.
Jacob makes a joke that makes Suzie feel uncomfortable. Suzie explains that she is offended by the joke and asks that Jacob stop. If Jacob tells another joke that has the same topic or begins to tease Suzie based on the topic, it becomes Harassment.
However, if Jacob’s character does or says something in play that makes Suzie uncomfortable out of play, then Suzie can leave the area or the scene. Remember that it is acceptable for a character to do things that may make others feel uncomfortable, but if a player becomes uncomfortable then they should either leave the scene or address the matter with an officer. It is also important to note that if Jacob’s character does something that intentionally makes Suzie uncomfortable based on her asking him to stop telling his joke earlier, (i.e. his character tells the same or similar joke) then that is harassment. The MES harassment policies always remain in force even during role play. Players should never use their character as a pretext to justify harassment.
Harassment via Physical Contact
Physical contact can be a real issue. Some people just don’t like being touched. Others may be uncomfortable getting a hug from someone they barely know. A member may have an issue with shaking hands. It is every player’s right not to be touched. Members should be very sure that they have another player’s permission before initiating any form of physical contact. To one person it may be just a pat on the shoulder or handshake, but if it makes the other person uncomfortable in any way, don’t do it.
If a player tells someone that they don’t feel comfortable with physical contact, that player should not be criticized or subjected to comments like, “It was only a hand shake.” or “fine, you don’t want a hug from me, I guess you don’t like me.” These types of comments are inappropriate and also constitute harassment.
Sexual Harassment can take many forms and physical contact is only one. Another that is just as serious, yet harder for some to address and identify is the “Creepy Look.” No one should feel that they are being leered at or that another player is “checking them out” in an inappropriate way. If a player feels that someone is giving them a “creepy look” and making them feel uncomfortable, they should bring this to the attention of the member and/or Coordinator staff.
Another form of harassment is one that is sometimes experienced by staff members. A Player sends an email into a staff member that perhaps requests a character sheet, prestige audit or some other official communication. An hour later, the member sends another email asking why they haven’t been responded to yet. Six hours later another email is sent to the officer demanding they respond immediately. During this time, the officer has been at work, at a party, or somewhere in real life unaware of the first email, let alone the following two. The officer responds in an email, “I have received your email and I will get back with you. Please be patient and do not send another email until I have had a chance to take care of this.” If the player continues to send emails demanding a response then this is also harassment.
In most situations 48 hours is a good expectation to get a response from a staff member. If it involves an investigation, the response may take up to 30 days per the Membership Handbook. Be aware that officers are volunteers and they have lives outside of MES. Repeatedly bothering an officer about a topic, and not stopping when asked, is another form of harassment. Try to be patient and allow a reasonable amount of time for an officer to respond.
The Boundaries of Handling Harassment in MES
What should a member do if the harassment spills over outside of Mind’s Eye Society? Here members need to understand the jurisdiction limitations of MES. If harassment occurs on a social media site or email and is posted on an official MES page or MES mailing list, then the harassment policy of MES applies. However, if a member posts something in a personal Facebook page, then it falls outside the jurisdiction of MES. Minds Eye Society does not have the authority to say what a member can or cannot post in electronic communications that are not MES lists or MES sanctioned forums or social media pages.
If at any time there is a concern of harassment that is physically dangerous in nature, appropriate means of dealing with a physically dangerous situation should be implemented. This could start with an Immediate Corrective Action and go as far as getting local authorities involved if necessary.
The Mind’s Eye Society’s No Tolerance Harassment Policy is in place to protect members from all forms of harassment within the jurisdiction of the organization. Once an issue has been brought to an offending member, it should stop. If it does not, then it becomes harassment. If an issue arises that makes a member feel uncomfortable and they want it to stop, the member should be respectful but communicate these issues so that they can be handled and dealt with in a way that causes the least amount of stress possible.
Writing a Letter of Counseling
As a Coordinator, you may have to deal with many issues. Not all of them are severe enough to actually have to instigate a Disciplinary Action. When this occurs a Letter of Counseling is often the appropriate method to deal with the issue.
What is a letter of Counseling?
A Letter of Counseling is defined in the handbook as “Unrecorded, typically for minor infractions and mistakes. The letter should include counseling from a more experienced officer to ensure the mistake is not repeated.” (pg57) They are ways to help educate members on proper conduct while at events.
Why use them?
The simple answer to why we use them is to help the overall club. Sometimes people do boneheaded things. They do not do it out of spite or malice. It is usually done out of ignorance. They did not know of a rule in place or it is something they are used to doing at home. They simply are unaware on how things should be run.
When you write a Letter of Counseling it is to help the player improve. As an officer, you can assist in this process by mentoring the player. Sometimes taking the time out and educating the player of the rules and why they are in place can help a player understand. This allows the player to be mindful of their actions and how their actions can or would affect players around them. Mentoring can be done in several ways. You could sit one on one with the player going over the rule book. You could have a domain meeting with all players so the player does not feel singled out. If you are the industrious type, a powerpoint presentation might be put together about the issue. There are several things you could do to mentor, and make it fit the situation.
When is it appropriate?
There are things to look at when dealing with any issue. There may be mitigating factors that will lessen an offense. A Letter of Counseling is appropriate when circumstances merit, usually when it is the first time an offense happens.
According to the Membership Handbook, Letters of Counseling may not be appealed, but entities that abuse their discretion in issuing Letters of Counseling can be subject to investigation in accordance with standard investigation procedure.
Who should write them?
The person writing the letter will be the lowest officer overseeing the situation. Thus a regional situation would go to the regional coordinator while a domain game would have a domain officer initiate the Letter of Counseling. The exception to this rule is if the lowest ranking officer overseeing the situation has a conflict of interest, in which case it’s dealt with by the second lowest ranking officer.
How should it be written?
When writing the letter, there is no set way of writing. There are a couple of guidelines however to keep in mind. The main one is to stay true to the facts of the case. You will want to avoid any opinions or rumors in a letter. This will just muddy the facts and cause bigger issues.
Make sure you write it in a way as to educate the member. The last thing you want to do is to talk down to the member or make it so they do not want to return.
Some major sections that can be included are:
- Addressing the member
- Stating that this is an official letter of counseling
- Stating the situation
- Offer methods to address the behavior or situation
Dear Matthew MES-Player,
The reason you are receiving this letter is to advise you of a potential breach of the code of conduct that was deemed deserving of a Letter of Counseling. We would like to make sure this behavior is not continued. The situation and solutions are outlined below.
On August 21, 2014, it was observed that you did not follow directions when directed to do something by an MES officer. Concerns were raised by members that you were also becoming very argumentative about the topic. This caused the players to feel uncomfortable.
The coordinators did not think this warranted a disciplinary investigation at this time as this is your first offense. We felt that this letter would help you. While Larping, the players as a whole, want to feel secure and officers need things to run smoothly. If you are told by an officer to do something, do it first and then discuss the situation. Keeping your tone to a minimum will help a discussion run more smoothly. Decisions made by an officer can be officially appealed to their supervisor if you are unable to come to an agreement but they must first be obeyed until that appeal is complete.
When you write a Letter of Counseling the goal is to help the Player become better. As a coordinator, you can assist in this process by mentoring the player. Sometimes taking the time out and educating the player regarding the rules and why they are in place can help a player understand. This allows the player to be mindful of their actions and how their actions can or would affect players around them.
Mentoring can be done in several ways. You could sit one on one with the player going over the rule book. You could have a domain meeting with all players so the player does not feel singled out. If you are the industrious type, a powerpoint presentation might be put together about the issue. There are several things you could do to mentor, make it fit the situation. More information about mentoring players can be found in the Coord 262: Mentoring Players document.
What Happens Next?
After a letter has gone out to a member who you are still mentoring, you witness that same player behaving poorly again. What action should you take? Depending on what they are doing this could warrant another Letter of Counseling or a Disciplinary Action. There is no rule on how many Letters of Counseling a player can have. For example, Matthew could breach another rule. A Letter of Counseling would go out for that issue. However, if Matthew continues to violate the same rule with multiple Letters of Counselling issued, then the next step would be passing the situation up to the Regional Coordinator who will decide if a DA investigation is necessary..
On the other hand, if the situation is dire enough or involved a major situation within the club, a Letter of Counseling is not a required first step. A Disciplinary Action would be used immediately. Examples of offenses and their appropriate levels are laid out in the Membership Handbook page 60. These can be used to gauge the seriousness of an offense. Remember to be fair and consistent with all of your players.
Remember this, “The point of issuing a Letter of Counseling is to give a member a chance to correct behavior that does not warrant a disciplinary action.” (pg. 62 member handbook) We want our members to succeed in the organization. This is why we use a Letter of Counseling.
How to do Conflict Resolution
Conflict resolution is one of the toughest parts of the coordinator role. However many interests our members have in common, sometimes people just don’t get along nicely with one another. Sometimes conflicts arise between two or more people who simply have a civil difference of opinion that has sharply escalated. Often the person trying to sort all this out will be looking at two or more people with a great many resentments against each other, stored up over a long period of time. If they’ve not been able to express these resentments in the past, or if they feel that they have not been fairly treated, there is often a great deal of anger in the situation and anger is not an emotion most of us find pleasant to experience, either in ourselves or others.
So, how do you cope?
Well, firstly, remember that conflict resolution is the end of a long process. A lot of the difficulties experienced in conflict resolution arise from the early stages not having been tackled in a timely manner. A Domain, as a group of people, is likely to be aware of tension between members (either individual members or subgroups) well before the ‘official process’ starts. And, one way of looking at it is that the need for conflict resolution arises out of a conflict which, in an ideal world, would have been settled before it got to this stage.
We do not, however, live in an ideal world.
According to the MES Handbook, conflict resolution comes at a late stage of the process so, before you dive into that take a look at what happened in the earlier stages (the members who have locked horns will, no doubt, remember all this in great detail). A great deal of this is covered in the Education documents, particularly those in the Ethics section.
Have any rules been broken?
If anyone involved in the conflict situation has broken any rule of the Society, whether In Character or Out of Character, that needs to be dealt with outside the Conflict Resolution process. Conflict resolution is for people who are not getting along when no rules have been broken.
The code of conduct, as it currently stands, is open to wide interpretation. Think about the behaviors you have seen in relation to the Code of Conduct. Some members skate very close to the edge with the Code of Conduct and it is the responsibility of the coordinator to ensure that it is upheld. Sometimes ‘a quiet word’ with someone who is in danger of stepping over the edge in relation to the code of conduct can prevent a conflict situation from arising (or getting worse).
Does any Member say they have been harassed?
MES has a zero tolerance harassment policy. More information about harassment in MES can be found in Identifying Harassment. However, it is vitally important to remember that harassment can be any behavior which the person harassed finds offensive. Even if you and the majority of people present find that behavior inoffensive. It is not for us to judge what harms another person – if a person says they are being harassed, then that claim has to be taken seriously and dealt with according to the policy.
The Social Contract:
Reading through this document and thinking about what it means for your Domain would be a very valuable exercise to undertake before you start the process of formal conflict resolution. That goes double if the social contract for your Domain is not documented anywhere.
- Think about the issues between the members (as you understand them) and how those relate to the dynamic of the Domain as a whole.
- Think about how the issues between the members are affecting your Domain as a whole
You should not be drawing firm conclusions at this point – this is really to help you to identify what questions you need to ask.
More information about the social contract can be found in the Officer 135: Crafting Game Expectations- Social Contract document.
Conflict Resolution Process:
In the handbook the entire conflict resolution process is addressed to individual members, not to coordinators specifically. The role of a coordinator in this process would be to suggest that members undertake the conflict resolution process and.or to help and guide individual members through the steps they are advised to take to resolve their conflicts.
The handbook tells us that members should attempt to solve their interpersonal conflict by open discussion prior to involving officers or other members.
If you, as coordinator, are called upon to help with conflict resolution, you should check with both parties that this has been done in good faith.
As the presiding coordinator you should not hesitate to ask for a cool down period should you have any indication that a conflict has arisen or is about to arise between members. Sometimes, if you can catch these things early enough, a ten minute break is long enough to defuse things.
More information about the cooldown period can be found in Cool Down Periods.
Mediation is a skill and training courses in mediation are available. We do not provide these within our Club and it is important to remember that an untrained, unskilled mediator can do more harm than good.
The Membership Handbook page 18 states that, if two members in conflict cannot resolve their issues via open discussion, they may bring in an agreed-upon third party… This whole document has been written on the assumption that the coordinator’s involvement here is as a mediator.
As a mediator, it is your job to be thoroughly familiar with the failed steps that have led to mediation and with the issues perceived by both parties. At this point you should be fully aware (perhaps more aware that you want to be!) of the issues that underlie the conflict. You should, however, take the time to hear out all members involved in the conflict, ensuring that you understand all the points of view. Please bear in mind that, as we are a close-knit society, it is unlikely that you will be entirely free of conflict of interest here. You are almost certainly going to sympathize with one side rather than the other. This is why you need to think the whole thing through very carefully as we, as members and officers, are bound to treat each other fairly and with respect. Sometimes you will need to represent a view with which you disagree on behalf of someone who does not behave in a manner pleasing to you.
If there is a single point (or just a few points) of difference between people who otherwise get along well enough together, it might be possible for all of you to meet together. However, in cases of longstanding acrimony, it is often better to meet with each separately (as in shuttle diplomacy).
In either case, you should start by putting each point of view into your own (as objective as possible) words.
“Al feels that Bertha is always picking on his character for no real in character reason and that she uses information obtained OOC.”
“Bertha feels that her character is the type that will always pick on characters who do the kinds of things that Al’s character does and denies that she used information she got OOC. She said she learned the information IC from a third party.”
- Remember, that if a situation like this only happens once, it’s likely to have been resolved in open discussion.
- Check that Al agrees with your statement of his opinion before you present it to Bertha and vice versa…
- Then present Al’s point of view to Bertha and Bertha’s point of view to Al
- Ask both if they can think of a good compromise solution to the conflict
- Try to suggest some compromise solutions of your own
Failure of Conflict Resolution:
The conflict resolution process can clear up misunderstandings between people who, on the whole, are able to get on with one another. It is liable to fail in cases where there is a long history of bad feeling between people and, even if it succeeds, fresh conflicts can arise between people of incompatible views and personalities. In some cases the only solution is to have the two members avoid each other if at all possible in the future. Some problems just can’t be solved between members and further efforts will just cause more strife.
Cool Down Periods
We all gather to have fun and play a game. This is an interactive setting, and sometimes things can take an odd twist and go down unexpected pathways, both in and out of character. People can get upset, but sometimes all that is really needed is a brief pause to let things settle. This is known as a cool down period.
A cool down is a brief “time out,” to allow for a quick calm down, so role play can continue and discussion of the cause can commence. Cool downs may be needed from both in game and out of game stimuli. In game it is typically due to the intensity of setting. Out of game reasons can stem from player stresses.
The World of Darkness can be grim, harsh, and is often savage. Not only are there disturbing supernatural creatures doing disturbing acts, but dark acts may be committed by the most ‘normal’ of people. Violence is a common theme that can range from a common fist fight to sadistic acts of cruelty. Characters might use language that is specifically intended to hurt and offend. Players come from a variety of backgrounds and certain themes may cause duress.
A cool down from in-game stimuli is allowed to let the player leave scene for a few minutes. The scene continues, with an “empty seat” for the player to return to, if he or she wishes it. There needs to be time for them to calm, but there also needs to be an allowance for the passion of a scene to continue. If the player is unable or unwilling to re-enter scene, keep in mind their character sheet can be handed to the Storyteller to represent the character’s presence in scene. The ST can then convey what occurred in less intense language so the player might continue on later in the game.
Out of Game
People disagree and tensions can fray. Stopping and letting things settle may help one understand they were getting upset over a minor or perceived slight. If things continue and further action is needed, conflict resolution is further discussed in Conflict Resolution.
This can also occur in an online setting. Some can get caught up in the online persona and lash out at others, not considering or caring there is a person behind the keyboard. Some may post deliberately provocative messages intending on causing disruption and argument. Cool downs can be necessary for list activity as well. More information about list moderation and calling for a cool down period on lists can be found in Moderating a Sanctioned Email List.
Addressing a Cool Down
Talk with your player and make sure you touch base with them. Can the player identify what caused the upset? If it is an easy subject to avoid, please inform the Storyteller. If it stemmed from out of game, it can still potentially be smoothed over, so seek the input. Keeping known flares from occurring is worth the time invested as it smooths the game and helps maintain enjoyment for all.
If discussion between you and the player does not resolve the problem satisfactorily, it may be useful to begin a mediation process. This will allow you to bring in another set of eyes and, hopefully, work out a common ground. For more information about mediation, see Conflict Resolution.
When someone needs to cool down, it can cause a disruption to game play. It is a simple fact that needs to be accepted. Any mocking or disrespect is an immediate breach of conduct. MES has a zero harassment tolerance. It is best to be respectful of the person and the incident. This will help minimize the time needed to cool down and help maintain the flow of the game.
It is detrimental to continue a conversation of a sensitive subject if not everyone has been able to calm yet. The reaction from one still upset may cause a further outbreak of tensions. A longer cooldown allows for the fact that different people can take a wide array of time to calm down. This provides an opportunity for everyone to calm before any discussion on the cause occurs. Longer cooldowns should only be used for a very intense situation involving multiple people
Not every incident can be resolved the same night. Keep in contact with the players. It need not be that night, but within the next few days to touch base with them. If the cool down was called for by a presiding officer, coordinate with them
Possible Detriments to Cool Down Periods
When tempers are high, taking a step back does not always help. Some individuals will use this period to cool down and see the situation from another’s point of view. Others may use that time to formulate stronger opinions and determine how they can voice them in a manner that will push the topic, rather than understanding they are only “beating a dead horse.” Alternatively, this time may be used to seek vengeance of some form. Regretfully, cool down periods and some personalities do not mix.
During the game there is a potential for a player to attempt to use a cool down for an in game advantage. Be aware if the player is unwilling to either continue in the scene or hand their character sheet over. It may be an indicator there is an attempt to gain an edge. A player may also request multiple cool downs in an attempt to avoid the consequences of their prior actions. The coordinator and ST have a joint responsibility to ensure cool downs are not abused. Be alert and communicate with the appropriate officer.
Cooldown periods should never be used to seek advantage or as a weapon.
Building Player’s Confidence
One of the many responsibilities of an officer is helping a low confidence player shine in the game and get over their involvement hurdle. A player can bring a new element into any game. Many times what something that may be annoying or unengaging is just someone who is not confident with his actions. This can be visible in many ways.
Identifying Low Confidence players
There are some players who arrive at the game and just watch. If it is a new player, an observer tag helps identify them to give the roleplayers an idea they are not an experienced player. Sometimes this stretches beyond the first few games as a player remains nervous about jumping in. These observers hang out at the fringe of the site and just watch. They may check their phone a couple times, but they do not really do anything to engage themselves in the story.
A way to get them involved is to walk over and talk with them in character. They may just not know when would be a good time to talk, or they don’t want to pull anyone out of role play. This is a good time to talk to them and give them an idea of what is going on. One may even give them a tour and have them listen in to what is going on. This is especially helpful when a player does not even know what the terminology is.
Players can be engaged and asked to take this player under their wing through background connections, though this must be done carefully as players also want to play their own story.
The next group one may see are more involved than the Wallflowers. They are willing to walk around and be more active in their observations, however, they generally do not talk to the other roleplayers.
Being there to tour with these types of players may prove easier. They are more comfortable entering play. They may even be more eager to make a character and enter play. They possess a trait that helps them overcome their low confidence. This group is by far the easiest ones to bring into an event in the same methods used for wallflowers.
Someone has voiced excitement about showing up to the game, but they never show. It can be disappointing to experience. Every time you speak with them outside of an event they are eager but give a random reason to why they cannot show up.
Sometimes real life interferes with play. By speaking with the player about their schedule, an officer may be able to help them find a game, perhaps a different venue that fits into their time. Once a player becomes engaged they are more likely to try to make the time for other venues that they would not have previously.
In situations where there is no real reason other than lack of confidence in the player, you may have to suggest a difference approach; setting up a social where all the players can meet in a place outside of the events. This can help the new player feel comfortable interacting with a new group of people.
The next group of players to examine is often seen walking by the game. They look long and hard at what you are doing while walking by. You may see him every Saturday afternoon walking the same direction and looking for the same amount of time. You may see them stop and watch.
This is when you approach and introduce yourself and introduce them to what you are doing. Their curiosity has already piqued their interest enough to listen to you. You can easily offer them the ability to observe or give them a tour.
Low confidence is not always demonstrated by not getting involved. Sometimes there are traits exhibited that can be due to low confidence.
Diehard fans & Cosplayers
The first one has loved the various genres for years and years. They know the color of Edward Cullen’s shirt the day he met Bella. They know that Han Solo shot first. They are passionate about what they know with an enthusiasm that is rather off putting. They are discussing this, rather than the game throughout the evening. This passion can be due to overcompensating for a lack of confidence.
The easiest way to deal with these players is talk to them about their experiences and help them direct that energy towards the game. Help them make the connections. Find out what it is that is distracting them from game and help them worth with that so they can enjoy themselves.
These are the Eidetic memory & book bag gamers. They come into the game with rules in their head. While this is not a bad thing, It could lead to issues. Stories could be subverted for their constant reminders the rules do not include what the storyteller is portraying.
Another is someone who has all the books with them. They want to understand what the rules are when things happen. They pause the game to research the rules. While not a bad thing itself it can pause the other players’ fun. Their need for understand can stem from low confidence.
These players are not bad, but may have problems overcoming their low confidence. Having domain meetings to help explain the games or educating people can help these players shine. Allowing them to use their abilities will help them grow and feel comfortable.
Power Gamers Overcompensating for low confidence can result in characters that are really powerful. This can lead to stressful situations when the character sheet is not performing how they wanted. They may feel they are not physically strong, they are socially awkward, or not as witty as the people around them.
These may be the hardest players to deal with. They may storm out when they feel their characters are not being respected or treated with the same respect as they would if they had the abilities as they thought they should. These players may need more conversations to entice them back to the games. However persistence and patience are key with dealing with these players.
Players who are showing up want to be engaged but sometimes need that extra step to help them get over the hurdle of becoming positively involved. Take the time to work with them. Help them see that they are welcome and accepted for who they are, no matter what their experience is. Find ways to draw out their strengths so they have a chance to shine and will feel more comfortable with taking the next step.
Communication with Players During a DA
Let’s face it. The time period in and around the process that you, an officer, are dealing with a Disciplinary Investigation and action/reaction or Letter of Counseling, is a difficult time. Whether you are handling the Letter of Counseling yourself or have requested an official investigation from regional, it is a difficult situation. This educational document is designed to give you a few pointers in dealing with players in a positive manner and help facilitate the integrity of the Office and assist in some relative calm in your Domain/Chapter.
Stick with the Golden Rules of dealing with members
As an officer, you want to reinforce and remind members about the Club Code of Conduct and investigation process. Depending on how well known an investigation is, this reminder might be even more public in nature. This action centers members as to what is expected and reinforces the equity and fairness of the process which you will be undertaking.
It is also a reminder for yourself as to how and what you should be looking for in terms of your own behavior. Sticking with the Golden Rules helps keep you from Defamation, creating or maintaining a hostile or intimidating environment, overstepping your authority in your office, and helps prevent victimization. Conducting yourself in a positive manner, asking probing questions to reveal the truth of the matter without preconception and acting in a diligent manner are imperative.
There is always a bit of a shock when people get bad news. Folks react differently and as needed some cooling off period might be warranted. But after the initial shock wears off, then you need to make sure the person who received the disciplinary action understands why they got it and the penalty applied. In some cases additional factors may have been applied which increased the penalty, make sure these are understood as well.
If, however, personal threats of violence are made, take appropriate safety precautions. Violence is not tolerated and additional actions may be necessary.
In order for the person to understand what is about to transpire or has already been put into action, understandably, they are going to ask lots of questions. Don’t shy away from people asking questions for understanding or clearly understand what actions they are to take or should take in handling the practical resolution of the disciplinary penalty made. It’s important that your responses are professional but have some sensitivity to them.
You need to realize that “being real” is a true sign of not only doing the right thing, but being a true friend. That’s what we all are here in the Club – friends and we want to keep that friendship going in the long haul. How you conduct yourself after the news is broken is an indicator of the kind of person you are.
Promote avenues for seeking advice and mediating
Because most club members are linked together in friendship and from an in-character perspective, many will want to know the status and find of the investigation. Some members might want to “pile on” issues related to an accused member that had previously been unreported.
Promoting the Code of Conduct and inquiring what the member has done previously to discuss and resolve a previously unreported manner is always a good first place to start. Sometimes members don’t report or confront other members due to various reasons and some sensitivity needs to be shown especially in harassment situations. While some unreported incidents might show repeated behavior pattern, they should be reported and investigated as a separate incident.
If there is a conflict between to separate members, sometimes seemingly retaliatory accusations are made opening additional investigation. Again, being professional, follow the process of an investigation and discern the truth of the accusation.
Monitor and ensure a conducive environment
Because findings are not made during a time period and there is presumed innocence until a finding is rendered, Officers need to reinforce the confidentiality of the investigation, interviews, and alike. When asking questions to those given as being a witness, do not ask leading questions. When interacting with other members be sure to reinforce the investigation process and the confidentiality of the process. Ask members for patience while the investigation is being handled. This may include private conversations with the accused and other players to reinforce appropriate conduct.
While you may be acting as quickly as you can to address the investigation, do your best to remain calm, cool and collected (business as normal).
Clearly outline potential outcomes and consequences of the outcomes.
Being upfront, open and honest with members goes a long way. When an investigation is going on, work with the accused and make sure they understand the process, the timeline, what they have been accused of, and what level of disciplinary action could result if it proves true. Encourage cooperation with the investigation and clearly communicate when obstacles or barriers are thrown up in the investigation as to consequences to those actions. Make sure they know they can ask any questions at any time.
Communicate what course of action will occur if the accusation proves false. Talk about the confidentiality of the case and how documents are handled and who records are provided to.
Once consequences have been given, talk about the consequences as it pertains to participation on lists, transition of any responsibilities, character actions, etc. so that a full understanding is provided to the accused.
Discuss how suspension is handled.
Members who receive a suspension serve the time during the time they are a member (their membership is active). Should the membership lapse, time length of the suspension is extended until such time that their membership is renewed and the balance of their suspension is served. Prior to a player returning from a suspension – check in with them. Find out about their preparedness to return to the Club. Check progress on resolving issues, updates to education, etc. that would help to make sure what transpired doesn’t happen again. If significant developments have transpired from a Club standpoint, make sure they are aware of them. Again, be available for questions and try to make sure the returning member steps in on the right foot upon re-entry.
Check to see when the accused’s membership is expiring and discuss how suspension is handled .Make sure that they are aware that communication between the member and their coordinator is allowed. Keep that window open so you can make sure the member feels welcomed back. Members who receive a suspension serve the time during the time they are a member (their membership is active). Should the membership lapse, time length of the suspension is extended until such time that their membership is renewed and the balance of their suspension is served.
Likewise, if your term as an Officer is ending, be sure in your transition to go over any outstanding actions pertaining to the Disciplinary Action taken which will still be in effect after your term is concluded.
It is not unusual during a suspension for a member not to review their Club email. After all, they should not be responding to it. You should however obtain an email address or contact information for the member during this time period to assure they see vital Club communications which might need more immediate response. Likewise, if the member is reviewing their Club email and they obtain something that requires a more immediate response, then the response should go to the appropriate local officer who may take appropriate action for the suspended member. Members should not be responding to lists or continuing private RP or Club activities during a suspension.
Outline the Appeal process should they want to avail themselves to it
Should questions come up in your discussion about appealing the decision of the officer, reference should be made to the Membership Handbook. In particular, point out the number of days to make an appeal. Also you may provide the email address to the person as to who the appeal should be sent to.
Do make an inquiry as to the reason for the appeal. Draw attention to the Membership Handbook for reasons to appeal as needed. You can find out more information about the Appeals Process in the Appeals Processsection.
Keep communication pathways open, don’t burn bridges.
Encourage conversation to find out underlying reason for action which lead to the DA and work through what can be done to address issue (work things out with other player as need be/reading materials, etc.) and how to avoid issues in the future.
The tone and what you say will speak volumes as to whether a positive relationship in the long run will be had. Be profession, speak to the facts, act with integrity and remain positive even when a negative judgment occurs. Seek solutions and practical steps that can be taken to retain an open door for further constructive discussion and resolution beyond the impacts of the disciplinary action itself if feasible.
Who knows if the person who is accused now finds themselves in a similar situation down the line investigating you – how would you want to be treated?
It’s to the person’s advantage to treat the disciplinary action as a new chapter. Instead of lingering on to some resentment, getting down to the bottom of why actions turned out the way they did should be encouraged. What we can control as a Club is the event space, club activities and alike, but it doesn’t prevent interactions outside of the Club from happening which (if we work towards it), could positively resolve issues. Sometimes this is a sit down chat between the two parties casually after cooler heads prevail. Other times, facilitation of a discussion might be agreed upon by the parties in efforts to improve the gaming environment.
In other cases, encouraging the person to get involved, take the Standards, read educational documents, read the addenda and books are of assistance to increase their overall understanding of the club, the venues, and rules.
The purpose of this course is to outline disclosure of disciplinary actions sometimes simply referred to as DA’s. While you may not want to share DA’s, there are situations where it is required to disclose this information which will be talked about in more detail. We will also go over who will have knowledge of the DA’s and who will be involved.
What constitutes a DA in regards to disclosure?
There are a number of different topics that fall under the category of DAs for the purpose of disclosure. The following should be considered:
- Letter’s of Counseling
- Open Investigations
- Closed Investigations
Who can speak about a DA?
The people who can speak about a DA depend entirely upon at which point the discussion is happening.
Letter of Counseling
Letters of Counseling are similar to Official Warnings and can be issued by any officer. The people who can talk about a letter of counseling are limited to the officer who issued it, the member who received it and that member’s direct coordinator. Repeat offenses will be reported to the RST or RC, who will determine if there is a need for a formal investigation.
During an Investigation
An investigation is started by a report being made to an officer or an officer directly overseeing a violation of the rules. The issuing officer will then notify all members involved and their direct coordinators of the investigation. The people who will have information that an investigation is taking place are the accuser(s), your direct coordinator, the officer who started the investigation process, and the member who is accused. While there are a lot more people involved than a letter of counseling you should only be interacting with your direct coordinator on this matter. Its also important to note that anyone involved in an investigation whether a witness, or even an accuser should not flaunt the fact that it’s an investigation out of respect for those involved.
Appeals mean that up to two more levels of the officer chain can be added to the discussion. Generally, the NC is first brought in and may include an assistant who handles arbitrations. A third appeal means that the BoD also will receive information about the DA. During this time the investigation is still open.
After an Investigation
If during an investigation there is not sufficient evidence to prove the member is guilty, the matter is closed and the accused and their direct Coordinator are notified of the results. If there was enough evidence to prove the member is guilty then the investigation would result in a judgement and disciplinary action issued.
If a member holds a position as an officer then the DA is reported to that member’s supervisor as well. If the member’s supervisor feels it will affect the work or position of the member, then it can be shared with his constituents of whom he is a supervisor of.
If the member is investigated for another DA previous DA records are included.
If the DA includes a situation between two members, the accuser should not be made aware of the outcome other than “the situation is being handled.”
When are DA’s required to be disclosed?
All disciplinary actions must be disclosed when running for elected office. The disclosure period for disciplinary action last two years from the date that it was issued with an exception for extreme offenses which must be disclosed indefinitely. All DA’s included in an application will be published when applications are published to the electorate as is the standard process when running for elected office.
What happens if I don’t disclose it?
Not disclosing DA will lead to disqualification when running for elected office. It can even lead to an additional DA. It’s important to remember that not every disciplinary action will disqualify an applicant from running for elected office so don’t let it discourage you. It is up to the Election Official to determine if past disciplinary action will be a barrier to successfully performing the required duties of office. Honesty really is the best policy when it comes to DA’s.
Why should DA’s not be discussed publicly?
DA’s should not be discussed publicly out of respect for all members involved. DA’s are for teaching, not for shaming. Talking about it can complicate an appeal process and make it take longer to get a judgement which can be frustrating for all who are involved in the process. If the member is not an elected officer only the officers involved in the investigation and the member who is accused will have knowledge of the DA and their privacy should be respected.
While DA’s are not very much fun, they are very important tool MES uses to provide a fun and safe environment for us all to enjoy the games we love. Please respect others by not sharing details on previous or current investigations, appeals, or disciplinary actions.