Sunday, 18 December 2011

Sunday sermon: Beware the Fun Sponges!

Look out they're everywhere!!! Well maybe not everywhere...

So last weeks Sunday sermon was full of fire and brimstone as requested, and it turns out it was fairly successful. Apparently as I said in that article 'we all have a deep rooted need to be terrified by tales of eternal damnation, hell and with no hope of restitution'. So am I going to do the fire and brimstone thing again? No, not really, it's not my style to be all angsty, true I can get angry from time to time. Even self righteous. It's just not the norm. What I am going to talk about today in my third Sunday Sermon are what I call fun sponges, we will all know some in the hobby. If you've never met a fun sponge and aren't sure what I'm on about I've got a rather shocking revelation for you, you are most likely a fun sponge! Sorry to drop it on you like that but it's true. You see there are so many fun sponges out there that statistically speaking you're unlikely to have avoided them all, and if you haven't spotted them it's because your own behaviour is most likely that of a fun sponge... or you're just one lucky son of a bitch!

So what is a fun sponge? Some people might just think that it's a boring or humourless individual, but that's not the case, no those sort of people are just bores of varying types. Fun sponges are something else entirely, they actively suck the joy from any activity that should be fun. They turn pleasurable past times into horrid chores. They seem to slow time down itself to an intractably slow processional dirge. They turn the marvellous and magnificent into the mundane and monotonous. Are they bad people? No, not necessarily but you wouldn't get them to plan your birthday party or your stag night. But how does this behaviour manifest itself in our glorious hobby of tabletop wargaming? Well there are different types of fun sponge that I've personally come across. This is by no means a truly comprehensive list, or exhaustive, and I wouldn't claim that all fun sponges could be categorised like this... but, let me tell you about the ones that I've come across:

The Grumpy Old Sponge

At times I fear this is arguably what I'm becoming! It's a horrible thought and I hope as I'm aware of it I steer mostly clear of many of the bahaviour traits so that I don't slip into being a Grumpy Old Sponge totally! You see we've seen it all, even when we haven't. We invariably have issues with a certain market leaders products and because we've had a life time of gripes, grumbles and gnawing rage build up, we can sometimes be on a bit of a downer. You'll often hear them say things like 'I don't know why you still play that, it's shit' or my favourite 'I knew it'd be crap before they even released it'. Now they might be right, and eventually if you stick around the hobby long enough most gamers begin to feel this way about certain products... but... not everyone wants to hear it. Rather than extolling the virtues of the good things in the hobby these 'Grumpy Old Sponges' would rather focus on the negative. They sap all your hobbying will, normally while you're playing a game.

The Whinger Sponge

These are not to be confused with the Grumpy Old Sponges. No the Grumpy Old Sponges have had years and years to perfect their art of moaning. They usually only moan about certain things too, like pop music. No the Whinger Sponge is a different beast altogether, they pretend not to be competitive. They're the people that 'play for fun' but the moment you obliterate their hardest unit whinge non-stop about how broken things are. They don't like this rule, or that unit. They don't understand why certain things work the way they do. They blame you for not making the game fun, they sometimes accuse you of being a WAAC gamer, or openly accuse you of cheating, even when you haven't. They say you take 'bent armies' and 'break the game', even when your list is balanced and doesn't even have a whiff of spam. However, should the game swing in their favour again then they'll be all politeness and smiles... but they'll soon find something else to whinge about!

The Angry Sponge

A very rare type of sponge this one. However, they do exist. Their rage is vary rarely aimed at their opponents but it doesn't make it any more comfortable to be around. Does it? They're not necessarily hyper competitive, although 9 times out of 10 they are. The problem is that they're just not that good at the game, and they know it. They try to get better, but fundamentally no matter how many online army lists they take or articles on tactics they read... they... just... don't... get... it. And it frustrates the hell out of them. Often they'll howl in rage and make you feel bad for pummelling them into the ground for the thousandth time. They might throw their own miniatures in impotent rage. They might even get passive aggressive. They're not happy in their hobby because they want to be better, they want to win, but they just can't figure out how to get better. In the meantime you feel like you're walking bare foot on broken glass around them, it is not pleasurable.

The Tournament Sponge

Yeah you know them as a highly competitive gamers. They'll always be working on their tournament lists. They might even ask you to play certain 'lists' against them so they get practice in. They turn the games you play against them into some form of soul sucking home work assignment. They kill individual games, they don't take them seriously unless they're at a tournament. They reduce you and your hobby to nothing more than a sparring partner or a training session. Then when they do hit on that horrible list, the one they get to work... it's the only thing they will play with, and then you'll want things to go back to the experimental stage where things were at least not so one sided. When I played Battletech this was totally me! We really don't realise we're doing it when we're in Tournament Sponge mode either, we just assume everyone is the same, when they're plainly not!

The Cheat Sponge

Oh dear, these guys don't necessarily come across as all that competitive, in many respects they're not, because they need to cheat to win. And when confronted with their devious cheating ways they'll invariably plead ignorance. Despite the fact they've played with the same army for 5 years and know damn well that the unit they've just used can't do what they said it does. They roll dice and gather them up too quickly for you to see the result. They move units further than they should and often claim things are in 'range' when they're not. Sometimes their army lists aren't even close to being legal and often have way too many points. But, they're so nice about it, and you don't want to be a dick and pull them up on everything because then you look like the bad guy. Often you'll walk away from games against these opponents thinking 'why did I bother' or 'next time I'll pull them up on their cheating'... but you never do! They can be the most frustrating of opponents because normally they wouldn't pose a problem, but all that cheating finally builds up and when they beat you it gnaws at you.

The Rules Lawyer Sponge

The weirdest of the fun sponges you'll ever find. They come in many shapes and varieties, but they all do the same thing. They slow games down with their incessant checking of the damn rules! Often they'll have post it notes sticking out of their rulebooks. They'll own all the supplements and no doubt bring them with them whenever they game. They probably know your army rules better than you. They hardly ever change the way the game is being played, they just want to make sure things are done properly. Even though they know after 10 years of gaming with you that you know what you're doing. They won't allow take backs, they'll triple check every distance you measure and they often quibble over a millimetre. They spend more time reading the rules they already know off by heart than playing the sodding game. But here's the thing, they're often wrong about things but they'll never admit it. After reading in the rulebook that they're wrong and after arguing with you for 10 minutes will they say sorry, apologise? No damn way! The best you'll get is 'OK. Carry on' or more likely 'roll a dice for it'.... NO YOU'RE WRONG!!!

The Math Hammer Sponge

The first thing these fun sponges do is reduce any and every game to its core mechanics, 'the system'. It's not a game or a tool for entertainment, it's 'the system'. And systems can be broken, they'll often utter phrases like 'I bet I could break that game / codex'. They make it their mission to find a way to abuse the system, or the things the rest of us call games. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with trying to get good at a game, or trying to work out competitive or powerful armies as Tournament Sponges do sometimes. But to a Math Hammer Sponge this is the prime driver for their hobby. They want to win by breaking things, and if they can't break it they'll move on fairly rapidly to new things. The ultimate aim is to 'win' the game before a dice is rolled in anger. Part of it is about proving they're smarter than the people who have designed the game. Whatever their true motive they invariably destroy things for the rest of us... I've been guilty of this at times, and to those who have had to suffer me in this phase of my hobbying career I can only offer my humblest apologies.

The Socially Awkward Sponge

OK, I feel bad picking on the Socially Awkward Sponge. And they can arguably be further subdivided into the Introvert Sponge, Stinky Sponge and Creepy Sponge. Sometimes if you're really unlucky they'll be a hellish mix of all three! I knew someone like that, and for some reason they thought we were bestest friends. We weren't! The introvert Sponge is quiet, obviously, but they don't talk at all. You can feel awkward standing across the table from them, this is a social hobby and they make you feel like some social pariah, you know it's not you and you want to be nice... but in the end it's just awkward. The stinky sponge is arguably the most offensive, they don't wash, they wear the same fecking clothes every week. They've possibly only ever owned those clothes, they might even have been born in them. They stink, they're foul and even when you're not playing them their odious smell ruins the entire vibe for everyone else in the vicinity. The Creep aspect of the Socially Awkward Sponge manifests itself in many disturbing character attributes. Sadly the individual often doesn't know they're a 'creep', they say things that they think will make them fit in... but they don't. I was once told by one such seriously creepy guy that he'd love to 'fuck my girlfriend', he continued to explain to me in detail how... while she was standing not 6 feet away from me. I explained to him the error of his ways... forcibly!

If you spot any of these behaviour patterns in yourself then please, for the love of God wake up and change. You're not only killing the hobby for other people, but ultimately you're killing the hobby for yourself. Because eventually you'll drive a wedge between you and all your regular opponents and they just won't want to play against you. I know that at times I've become a fun sponge, I'm sure we all have at some point in our lives, there are many reasons we lapse into this destructive form of behaviour. Also, please if you know a fun sponge tell them they're a fun sponge, but not in a spiteful insulting way. Because trust me, most fun sponges don't want to be fun sponges and will be horrified when you tell them that they are indeed fun sponges. Take your time to explain to them how their behaviour makes others feel, do it politely and be understanding. People in general want to be liked, we're all social creatures and sometimes we get our social interactions wrong, I'm big enough to admit I have at times. And what if they're not horrified by how they're perceived? And heaven forbid if they actually revel in the title, because what then? Well then they're just dickheads and you should treat them as such. Peace out!


  1. Ah crepe. I can think of instances where I've had small bouts of each of those. :-D

    (Maybe not creepy sponge though. I think I've managed to not do that one in a gaming environment.)

  2. Much of this, of course, has to do with social chemistry and whether you get along with the person you're trying to defeat mercilessly into the floor.
    I've only seen a few of these examples, and to a very small degree, possibly somewhere between 'bore' and 'fun sponge' really - and usually an alright guy overall.
    But there is a reason I do sometimes have more fun painting than gaming.

  3. @fiendil, I think most of us will have fit into some of those character types at some point. I freely admit I have at times. lol. I certainly have been at times a Grumpy Old Sponge, a Tournament Sponge, a Rules Lawyer Sponge, a Math Hammer Sponge and when I was younger I was definitely a Whinger Sponge!!!! I hope they were just phases I was going through :P

    @GoldenKaos, social chemistry? Yes and no, I know a Tournament Sponge who I get on with, and who I don't think is a bad person. They're normally quite personable and fine away from the table top... but they're in the Tournament head space and it's all they care about. When they're like that they sap the fun out of gaming with them.

  4. *whew*
    No 'Loud, obnoxious, knucklehead sponge.'
    I'm in the clear.....

  5. I think the closest I got to Cheat Sponge was trying to come up with an IG list after a night of heavy drinking at uni. After playing one game I went on to a second, and my opponent - more observant than opponent #1 - remarked that I couldn't possibly have that many vehicles in 1,500 points. It turned out I had somehow acquired another 300 points or so. Actually, it took about three recounts (a second wrong one by me, another slightly wrong by a third party, and a final accurate one by me) to reach that total. I vaguely recall that I just wanted to go back to bed at that point. Perhaps there should be a category of "Inebriated/Hungover Sponge", who may inadvertently display any of the others' characteristics. ;-)

  6. @SinSynn, I believe that's a very rare form of Fun Sponge that is geographically located within a New York suburb called "the Bronx". Although I hear tell that it is a particularly nasty form of Fun Sponge capable of sucking the fun out of things at great distances... something to do with really big long tentacles. Hmm, maybe I should do an article about it?

    @Pet, many of these behaviours in and of themselves aren't so bad as a one off. They happen, i.e. we all have bad days and have a moan. I've accidentally cheated at games as well and then later after the game when I've realised felt absolutely horrid. Nope it's when theses behaviours become repeated patterns that the individual displays for many weeks, months or even years... so a once off incident you can chalk up to a bad day. Also some of the sponge types aren't too bad if they regulate themselves. For instance Grumpy Old Sponges only playing games with other Grumpy Old Sponges. Likewise with the Tournament Sponges.

  7. Hmm...

    I've come across and had to deal with most of these examples at some point, with the possible exception of the Angry Sponge - I know it happens, but in my experience those guys tended to be quite young and tend to get banned from a public environment straight away. I spoke to a guy a couple of years ago who's exit from the hobby was in exactly this fashion, he'd have been about 15.

    The rest of them, unfortunately, I could put faces to. And it wasn't Spongebob!

    Of the ones I can remember, the worst were the Whinger, because I should never have to feel bad about winning a game for crying out loud, and the Math Hammer. I actually wasn't involved with that guy's game at all - but having to listen to him go on and on and on after a game had ended disastrously for him about how statistically he should have won it and he should never have played the game at all because the dice make it too random really did not make for good listening.

    I've been accused of cheating a few times - and all by the same person. He picks me up on the speed at which I collect my dice, and whether or not they're 'cocked.' Apparently I pick the dice up too quickly and I don't even try to balance one dice on another (the usual test for 'cocked.') Not entirely true: Bearing in mind whenever I've played this guy it's been in the GW Dudley store, I try and get through a game fairly quickly because I know there are people waiting to play on the tables. This and the adrenaline rush that comes with playing a game anyway means that sometimes I pick up dice quicker than my opponent can read the result. I never lie about what they read, though, and most everybody else is willing to take my word for it. I think this guy has problems of his own, which makes me unwilling to judge him too harshly for wanting the game to be fair. On the other hand, no one wants the most memorable part of the game to be having to re-roll several rolls because your opponent isn't satisfied with what you said was the result. That would be my Fun Sponge, but I'll leave it to Frontline Gamer to come up with a name for it!

    And by the way, both times I played him, he cleaned me out.

  8. @Matt486, the Pain in the Ass sponge? Or though I think that actually exists in certain S&M circles... but I digress! ;)

    I think we've all come across a fun sponge or two in our time and it's never pleasant is it? I too have been accused of picking dice up too quickly once in the B;ham store when I was trying to wrap a game up because there were people waiting. Now I made 5 armour saves needing a 4+ I only made one and so I said that's 4 dead. The guy challenged me on it and said re-roll them and I was like really? But that's a good result for you. He was adamant I should re-roll... the result? 5 passed armour saves. Donkey! Never played him again as he was too pernickity... ha there you go the Pernickity Sponge!!! Job done. Now I wander if it was the same person, hmmm.