Still, they loved video games, and games of all kinds really. There is at least one positive thing I learned while there - the fundamental rule of game design and game play.
Rule 1: The game must be fun.
This rule gets overlooked so often that it makes me wonder why some people play games at all. A great example is loss-of-xp mechanics. In some games, when you die, you lose XP. Why? To punish the player for their character dying. Here's a corollary to rule #1:
Corollary 1: Punitive rules are not fun.
Game designers shouldn't punish players for playing their game. The players will eventually realize that they are victims and seek liberation via another game. World of Warcraft doesn't make you lose XP and it's one of the most popular online pseudo-RPG games of all time, making any argument about how awesome it is to lose XP moot. Blizzard realized dying basically sucked on its own; not only do you know you lost, but you also can't play for a few minutes, and that's crappy enough.
The most pitiful excuse for this type of behavior is that punishing players somehow adds to the "realism" of the game. What a great segue to the next corollary.
Corollary 2: Realism != Fun.
I wrote a whole post on Realism != Fun so I won't rehash that here. What I will hash here is that when people talk about things like loss of XP adding to "realism" they probably rather mean that they want other players to act more realistically. Like, you know, most people are afraid of torture and death - so don't talk smack to the King. Making magic items should be taxing, so don't turn out wands of cure light wounds like they are candy canes. Ghosts are scary, so if your character sees one, try freaking out a little.
How often has the threat of xp-loss convinced players to do any of those things? Right. Now, how often has that type of rule just caused them to be more belligerent?
It is human nature to rebel against XP taxation without representation, at least according to the American Revolutionary War. Either a group and its players are interested in acting out some drama, or they are not. Punishing them won't change their behavior.
If a game really wants to address these sorts of issues, it needs to not be lazy in its rules design, or at least in world design. Find story-propelling reasons and hooks where possible. Maybe a character's god gets angry if they siphon a bunch of holy power into the "Wands r Us" factory (atonement quest!) - or maybe there shouldn't be a mechanical reason to need three billion charges of CLW anyways (fix the rules!). Maybe ghosts cause random schizophrenia (fun roleplaying!).
Maybe when a character dies, not playing for 30 minutes or an hour while waiting for a resurrection is already bad enough.
When designing any adventure, feature, or mechanic, always ask: Is it Fun?