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Geek Etiquette Tips – The Unspoken Rules of Gaming Conventions

Geek Etiquette Tips – The Unspoken Rules of Gaming Conventions

With Gen Con upon us, pickup gaming season is in full swing. For a lot of tabletop gamers, the convention scene as well as the pickup/competitive gaming scene is new: one reserved only for hardcore Magic: The Gathering or tabletop wargamers.  Conventions offer opportunities for many at-home gamers to experience the thrill of competitive gaming as well as the novelty of pickup gaming where they can play games they love with people they don’t know. 

There’s a a few unspoken rules to pickup and competitive gaming that aren’t widely published. These unspoken rules can all be boiled down to Wheaton’s Law (don’t be a dick). While it’s a good catch-all, here are few more explicit rules of gaming etiquette.


Unless the event is one where you earn entries into a draw for trying a game (in which case, feel free to participate even if you’re unfamiliar with it) make sure you know the game well enough to teach it to others before you choose to play it competitively. It’s not that you’ll be expected to teach the game, but there’s a level of familiarity and competence with the rules that comes with being able to explain them to others, and that’s the minimum game knowledge level of most competitive events.

There’s nothing more annoying, more frustrating than to be the player who is constantly questioning their opponents, asking for rules clarifications, or worst of all, slow-playing due to indecision (my personal pet peeve).  If you don’t know the rules enough to make decisive decisions at a decent pace, you’re selfishly impacting the game and the enjoyment of your gamemates.


If you’re doing some pickup gaming (where the outcome has no bearing whatsoever) and are not familiar with the rules, simply let those around you know. For the most part, it’ll simply be a cue to one of the most experienced players to give you support and help you to learn the game, which most people have no problem doing. If your unfamiliarity is a problem to those at the table, you’re best off to try a different table or even a different game. Don’t be afraid to explore new options, but be mindful of the players at your table.


It’s easy to care about how much fun you’re having, how much you’re winning and what you’re next move will be, but take a moment to think about your companions, even if they’re your opponents. Gaming is a social experience. It therefore stands to reason that if your gamemates are having a good time, you’re more likely to enjoy yourself as well.

It’s better to be selfish in this manner (to optimize for fun) than to be selfish in the other direction, which is to prioritize the game outcome over the game experience. Focusing on how well you do in a game rather than how much fun is had during a game is a very swift route to being a gaming jerk.


This is especially true for games that have physical components like miniatures (for games like X-Wing), cards (Magic: The Gathering), rulebooks (D&D) or other gaming aids (dice). While there may be someone out there willing to lend or share, your gaming experience and that of those around you will be better if you have your own.

Other things you should consider bringing to the con for both competitive gaming/pickup gaming:

  • Hand sanitizer (so you can shake hands after a game to share goodwill and not con crud)
  • Easy to eat snacks (low blood sugar is the enemy of fun games) and a bottle of water (hydration prevents heatstroke)
  • Pencil & pens (especially useful for recording game outcomes as well as having handy to sign up for draws, newsletters, and exchanging info with other cool people you meet)


We have the distinct pleasure to watch Wil lose games on Tabletop. Despite it, he’s never sour. He’s somehow able to remain in good spirits and still attract more people to beat play him for future Tabletop episodes (thankfully for us).

If you’re the kind of person who literally or figuratively flips the table when you lose, who undermines, spreads rumors about the winner, or otherwise can’t accept a loss gracefully; your reputation as a sore loser will eventually spread, and people will not want to play games with you. Both the internet and the gaming community are still a relatively small place where information travels quickly and a tarnished reputation will follow you for longer than a loss will sting.

What are your gaming pet peeves? Have a suggestion for other topics we should discuss for the next Geek Etiquette post? Let us know in the comments below! 


Interested in other tabletop content? Check out Teri’s YouTube Channel for videos about tabletop and miniature wargaming.

Follow Teri on Social Media:
Twitter: @thatterigirl


 Header Photo Credit: Tabletop/GeekandSundry

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