A common slur flung around in gaming debates is “Elitist!” You take pains to design a coherent, sensible setting? Elitist! You think people ought to know the milieu they’re GMing? Elitist! Heck, you think it should be incumbent on people to bother to learn the rules of the game they’re playing? Elitist! At any level and in any aspect of gaming, anywhere someone could make some effort to improve, there’ll be people willing to jeer at you for it, especially if you're silly enough to publicly say that you think everyone can (or should) do the same.
I believe in excellence. I don’t think there’s anything ennobling about mediocrity, and I don’t find anything about mediocrity worth praising. I think, in the words of the old Army commercials (before they ditched the tagline as being, well, elitist) that we should all be the best we can be. Yes, indeed, I’m an elitist.
What’s always amused me, in this anti-intellectual society of ours, is that everyone else is too. If you’re (say) a football fan, and your team is a basement dweller, I’m sure you wouldn’t be thrilled to hear the players say that, well, they're just in it for the paychecks, so where do the fans get off on dissing their record? I doubt you’d want your doctor, or your car mechanic, or your kids’ teachers to do any less than their elitist best, or that you’d accept mediocrity and good old college tries in place of the skilled service you believe to be your due. From the kid who shovels our driveways to bank tellers to insurance adjusters to entertainers, we expect quality work in anything we care about, and we get downright frosty if all we get are people going through the motions. It’s only when quality is required from us – or if the matter under discussion is something we don’t care one way or another – that we fling “Elitist!” around like a slur.
And gaming’s immune to it? Please. There are hundreds of threads on gaming forums, and tens of thousands of posts, about no-good players and no-good GMs and poorly written game systems which somehow didn’t measure up to our expectations. A fundamental element in almost all of our games is experience, which unless you give the same amount each and every time to each and every player, means that you judge the players on their performance. And that isn’t, by any accepted standard, “elitism?” I can’t imagine how.
Do I give more experience to some players than to others? Yes, I do, when I judge their play to be superior in roleplaying, tactical acumen, getting the job done, and the obligatory extra 1 XP per session to the player who most doubles me over in laughter. Oddly enough, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that either. In a chess game, someone generally does better than the other. In a poker game, some players do better than others. In a hockey game, one team does better than the other, fueled by players that perform better than others. I’d sure bust a gut laughing if someone shouted “Elitist!” at the TV showing a World Series of Poker match.