This essay was written for the Vampire: The Masquerade chronicle in the Mind’s Eye Society.
The experience we share as a club is hard to categorize. It is a game, an art, a way of telling stories, and a strange alchemy of all of these combined. How we look at this shared experience known as the Camarilla defines how we interact with each other.
A friend of mine once referred to the Camarilla as Nerd Football. I think this is a very apt analogy. We’re all players that work cooperatively in teams called coteries and competitively play with rivals to tell stories.
Some people will lie to you and claim that you can’t win this game. Each time we play we have the chance to win and lose. Our characters can have hundreds of victories and defeats. Over the course of years, the odds are always with the house.
The best tool for long term success in the Camarilla is also the best way to elevate and improve the club. Sportsmanship. When we elevate our own game, we improve the environment for everyone and thus increase our own enjoyment and improve our chances for success in the club.
What do I mean by sportsmanship? According to the wiki:
Sportsmanship expresses an aspiration or ethos that the activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one’s competitors. Being a “good sport” involves being a “good winner” as well as being a “good loser”.
How does sportsmanship lead to more victories in the Camarilla? It could be argued that the Camarilla is a giant exercise of the Prisoner’s Dilemma game theory. The basic premise of this game theory is defined as the following in the Prisoner’s Dilemma wiki:
Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated the prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies for the prosecution against the other (defects) and the other remains silent (cooperates), the defector goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?How does this apply to the Camarilla?
Each game we have two basic options. We can work selfishly towards a short term victory and just care about what we want. Or we can work cooperatively towards a longer term elevation of the game in an attempt to help everyone.
What is Sportsmanship in the Camarilla?
There are four elements Camarilla sportsmanship: fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one’s competitors.
The Camarilla system is centered around the length of service in the club. This system is not fair in any traditional sense. Players have different starting resources and experiences. How then can we be fair in the Camarilla? Fairness in the Camarilla is how we treat each other as members. Treat others like you would want them to treat you. Treat new players with as much respect you do more established players.
We have a handbook and a rules system as complex as the United States Tax Code that can be argued and twisted into crazy situations.
Be fair to your players. Don’t hide behind wacky rules that weren’t designed for every situation.
Don’t take advantage of weird rules that don’t make sense, even if it means that you might lose. It is better to lose well than win by a crappy rules call.
If you are ashamed to have a decision spoken about in public, odds are you know what you are doing is unfair. Ethics
Our game has rules. Do your best to follow them. This isn’t going to be easy as sometimes the rules change. Take the time to learn the rules.
If you have member class, do your best to use your member class responsibly. There aren’t clear guidelines that will work in every situation. The issue that seems to come up the most is character death. Randomly killing characters is wrong and damaging to the game. Sometimes killing a character is the right thing to do.
Here is my simple rule. If you would be OK if the positions were reversed, then it is an ethical situation. I ask myself the following question. Would I be OK if someone killed my character for this offense?
If you see an unethical situation, point it out respectfully. Don’t tolerate it in our game.
If you are in an unethical situation, discuss with your storyteller and follow their guidelines. Ask for outside assistance.
Respect the game. Respect the players. Respect yourself. What does this mean?
Be willing to be unpopular. Don’t hold back. Treat the game seriously.
Don’t throw temper tantrums if something doesn’t go your way. Don’t publically threaten to quit every time you lose a character.
Why? It demeans our game and isn’t fun for everyone. Make a new character.
If you have a setback, look at it as a new opportunity. The greatest players are the ones that endure the setbacks and find a way to turn things around.
Players that exhibit bad behavior get marked unconsciously as having an expiration date. What am I talking about? Blaming others, not taking responsibility for personal actions, reacting immaturely or improperly, making excuses for their loss, referring to unfavorable conditions or other petty issues.
This is the one that is sometimes the most difficult and the one that I personally have to struggle with. We’re in this club together because we love this experience. We’re competitors, but we’re also in a shared community. Real life hostility doesn’t help anyone. If there is a problem, go to the person directly and share your complaints.
I try to tie in with different people every time I make a character. It has led to some of my greatest friendships.
Don’t be a bad winner. A bad winner is when the victor of a game acts in a shallow fashion such as gloating about their win or rubbing it in the face of the one who lost.
How to Win in the Prisoner’s Dilemma
The real victory condition in the Prisoner’s Dilemma is to improve the living conditions of everyone. Over a long enough timeline, cooperation improves the game. The real question becomes the following. How do you get everyone else to cooperate?
When I first started playing in 1996, I had no possible idea that I would be playing in the same club fourteen years later. Just last week, I had a player tell me he was still angry and holding a grudge about a character death from 1999. To put this in proper perspective, I’ve only been married since 2003. Things we say and do can have consquences years later.
The Camarilla is a continual game that continues past characters, chronicles, or any one story. It is an iterated prisoner’s dilemma that we play each night. In the long game, the real trick is to convince everyone else that living conditions improve when everyone cooperates. The mathematically sound tactic is often called Tit for Tat. I prefer to call it Tough But Fair.
How does this work? You have to convince the other prisoners that it is in their own self-interest to cooperate. In this scenario, you have to punish the other prisoners when they do not cooperate. How do you punish other members without showing poor sportsmanship?
The greatest gift we share with each other as members of the Camarilla is our time and attention. Discuss the matter directly and calmly with them. If they don’t show improvement, then quit cooperating with them.
- If a player always disrupts a game, then don’t tie in with their characters.
- If a player creates venue inappropriate characters, react accordingly. Other players will thank you. Don’t be afraid to kill characters, even if it makes you the bad guy for a whle.
- If a storyteller shows unethical behavior, don’t go to their games.
The inverse of this statement is also true. Reward the players showing good sportsmanship. Reward the storytellers that show ethical behavior. Positive reinforcement has been proven over time to be the most effective means of behavior modification.
Imagine what would happen if we encouraged this sort of game? Imagine the sort of stories we could tell!