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Helldivers are Currently in the “Find Out” Stage of Taunting the GM

3 Minute Read
Mar 20 2024

As the galactic war takes a desperate turn, Helldivers 2 players may be learning a lesson that many tabletop players know all too well.

One of the more important yet oft-ignored unwritten axioms of tabletop RPGs is “Don’t taunt the GM.” I get it. I’ve been there. You’re fresh off of a seemingly improbable victory, feeling utterly invincible. You look across the table at the GM, having trashed an important battle in just a few rounds or having gotten away with an all-important lie that’s gotten you out of consequences.

And then, like noble Icarus, you fly too close to the sun. Hubris erupts from your heart, and out of your mouth comes the trash talk that feels so good, so rich. Sowing is incredible. You could do this all day.

Then comes the reaping, and you learn just how many punches the GM has been pulling. In a game like D&D, monsters start attacking downed PCs, or enemy spellcasters counterspell Healing Word or Revivify.

In a game like Powered by the Apocalypse, you learn just what it means to “make a move as hard as [the GM] wants.” Even GM-less games have levers to reward hubris.

This same sequence, Helldivers 2 players are going through right now.

Helldivers 2 Players Taunted the Galactic GM

To be fair, the Helldivers have earned a bit of trash-talking. This past weekend was an incredible victory for the forces of Super Earth, as hundreds of thousands of players coordinated anarchically into massive wins. Given a major order to liberate four planets to activate an objective to block the Terminids, players handily succeeded at that and then went on to push back the Automaton forces on the other side of the galactic war.

Making an advance on two different fonts, seizing six planets over the course of a weekend, the players couldn’t help but taunt Joel, the all-seeing “Galactic GameMaster” in charge of keeping the surprise hit video game’s narrative fresh and engaging.

There are numerous articles out there about why this is an incredible take for a live service game. And anyone who’s played a tabletop game knows the value of having a person whose name you can curse as the one responsible for it all. Just look at Dimension 20 and how often the players ally against DM Brennan Lee Mulligan.

So it goes with Joel, that the players, awash in victory, unleashed their scorn.


Again and again.

Power Dynamics

And how quickly the consequences came. A new major order directs all Helldivers to liberate effectively five planets in three days, something that will take incredible coordination and resolve to pull off. Joel has been taunted.

Which, of course, is part of the fun of an RPG. Half of the fun is playing the game, the other half is in the intertable dynamics. Players want to feel like they’re getting one over on the GM and then also like the GM is pushing back against them. Because, in a way, every player wants to be dommed, at least a little. And being a GM is both being a service top and power bottom.

Having it any other way would be undemocratic. 


Author: J.R. Zambrano
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