JUDGE! 007: The Judge Isn't Always Right
If you've been around for any amount of time I'm sure you've heard the phrase, “The Judge is always right.” Honestly, that phrasing has never sat right with me and I've seen it justify a fair amount of bad behavior. So, inspired by a story in Heroclix Rules Chat, I want to dissect that phrase, what it really means, and what responsibilities judges have.
Okay, so, the judge isn't always right. I'm just going to put that out there first. Judges are human beings and, as such, are as fallible as anyone else. And any judge that uses that phrase to justify a bad ruling is...not a good judge. Or at least doesn't have a good set of judge principles in their mind.
What that phrase is actually trying to communicate is that a judge's word is final. Some times that word is wrong. Some times that word is really wrong. But, part of a judge's duties is to keep a tournament running smoothly. And some times, that means making a bad call.
Let me clarify, I'm not saying that a judge is ever making a bad call on purpose. But judges are susceptible to all the same miscommunications and misunderstandings that every player is vulnerable to. And the problem is that, in the moment, a bad ruling and a good ruling feel the exact same way.
No matter how “big” or “important” the tournament is, at a certain point arguments have to stop and the game has to continue. Which is part of why I preach Rules Literacy so much. The more you know The Rules, the better equipped you are to make a compelling argument for the right ruling in the middle of the game. But even then, some times the judge isn't going to believe you. And what matters most is what comes after the tournament, not whether the judge was “right” or not.
Why the Judge Being Wrong is Important
A judge that knows they can be wrong will more than likely commit themselves to finding the right answer afterwards. And that is incredibly important. The more anyone understands the right reasons for powers interacting the way they do, the better they become at reading interactions and making rulings. So, for a judge to be the best they can be, they have to embrace that they are wrong some times. So that they will work to find the right answer.
Again, I want to stress, this isn't about ego. This isn't about a player lording “being right” over a judge. Ideally, we should all be committed to playing this game fairly, by the rules, and thereby having the best time possible. A fair loss can still be fun. A loss because your opponent cheated or the judge gave a bone headed ruling can run people out of the game.
Authority vs. Responsibility
If you don't want to read my personal mantra, feel free to leave at this point. But thanks for reading so far!
A lot of this goes back to a dichotomy that I believe in very much: Authority (some times called power) vs. Responsibility.
A judge has authority over the events they run. Again, that's just the nature of the beast, one person has to be the final word to keep things running. But it's not actual “power.” No one has to go to an event. A judge can say whatever they want during the event but once that event ends, everyone gets to leave and do whatever they want. Because of that, I have always looked at it as more about having a responsibility to the players.
Whether it's a forum moderator, a Facebook Admin, an event judge, or whoever else you may personally have a problem with it's important to remember: they're not there for you, as an individual. They're not there to make sure you, one person, have a good time. They're there to make sure the entire event (/forum/group) has a good time. And some times, you as a participant are lacking information or perspective to see that the thing you want to happen isn't a net positive.
But that requires work on the part of the person with the responsibility, as well. They should be current on the rule book, they should be current on WIN errata and rulings. They should be “continuing their education” rather than relying on being a judge for “X number of years.” There are bad judges who have been judges for years because they're friends with a store owner or no one else wants to do this (very thankless) job.
That said, the thankless nature of the work is no excuse for bad behavior. Judges shouldn't scream at and/or belittle players (unless the players raise their voices first; judges don't have to take your abuse either). Judges shouldn't push the boundaries of interactions if they get to play in their own events. They shouldn't try to “get away” with things.
In the current atmosphere, Judges are perhaps the most consistent ambassadors of the game. And they should, in my opinion, take that responsibility seriously. And how they conduct themselves sets an example for players.
At the end of the day, I think we should all try to extend more courtesy to others. Play earnestly, honestly, and appreciate those that dedicate their leisure time to running events. Act with maturity and grace and don't stand for selfish, immature behavior.
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Until next time, remember, it's always safe to call a JUDGE!