Con vs Home Play
So there’s been this roiling shockwave of bullshit bouncing around the tabletop universe the past, oh, couple weeks it feels like. Best I can guess, it traces back to really ugly fallout on Facebook around a Canadian gaming con called Phantasm. I’m not even Canadian and the shockwave somehow reached me.
Okay so the roiling bullshit, right? It’s safety tools. Once again, it’s fucking safety tools.
I gotta say, I have no idea, none, why there’s still a hard little kernel of folks who are so freaked out, so completely wigged out of their gourds, at the idea of giving complete strangers a tool to opt out of a moment in their make-believe world. And not even a full opt-out! I’ve seen the biggest safety tools in use (the X Card of course, also the ummm….it’s a flower thing, red/yellow/green, can’t remember what it’s called), and not once, not ever has the presence of it fucked up a game. IME they get used like 5% or less (although someone at the table should go out of their way to use it, once, to normalize its use every game) in actual practice and when it’s engaged with in good faith, a little rewind time means everyone at the table gets to get full value out of their place at the table.
Somehow the idea that X Cards exist only so delicate players can domineer a game if they hear you say the word “poo” continues to have traction. I gotta ask: have you met actual human players? Shit, I’ve had the X Card specifically misused against me and somehow I survived. I came through intact! Turns out ideas aren’t that special or important. Get over yourselves.
Just realized I’m using the word “fuck” a lot. Because I’m fucking livid that this so-called commuuuuunity we’re all so eager to belong to continues to be utterly dysfunctional when it comes to putting their fucking MAKE BELIEVE in any sort of perspective.
I guess it comes down to avoiding emotional labor, right?
So let’s say you’ve got this rad idea, maybe it’s edgy but maybe not, but you really want to hit a particular topic at your con table. And you wrangle a bunch of complete fucking strangers into a four hour commitment at a three day event, at which there might only be five or six slots, into buying into your thing. That is a big commit for these strangers. The opportunity cost at any convention is very high. I suspect folks who freak out the loudest about using safety tools are utterly unaware of this.
So okay you’ve got this rad-maybe-edgy idea and you’ve convinced strangers to spend one of their five or six opportunities exploring it. I mean, unless you’re a complete asshole you’ve surely given them the elevator pitch so they can self-select, yeah? And as you play, something about what you’re doing is not what they wanted. Maybe it’s upsetting! I mean jesus, that’s the worst case, right? That they’ve just signed up for something that’s gonna upset them for hours at a time? And you’re going to insist that they have exactly one way out of this: they can fucking leave your table. They can just get up and go. Because that’s what a fully functional and complete adult would do, right?
The emotional labor of the safety nay-sayer works out like this: I’m going to do what I want to do, and if you don’t like it you can fuck off. It’s on you to walk away, even if it’s an event you’re otherwise enjoying with people you otherwise like.
Now this is where I point out that I have in fact ghosted tables. It wasn’t what I wanted, in a way that a safety tool can’t address. Like, it was just a badly run event. I had no chemistry with the facilitator. I thought the game worked different than it does, and I can’t see spending four hours bored out of my skull. That’s different. That’s not safety, that’s not wanting to waste my time at an incompetently run event.
Now, let’s say you’re generally on board with what’s on offer, yeah? You love Dungeon World but you never get to play it at home because everyone’s into Star Trek or Conan or whaaatever. This is your chance! And you’ve only got five or six of them, and maybe you only get one convention a year. But this Dungeon World table, right? The GM brings something into the game you really don’t want to address. No, I don’t want my cleric seduced in some hot lipstick lesbian fantasy you’re gonna rub one out with between sessions. Ummm no, I don’t feel like doing a revenge thing where my kid is kidnapped or murdered. Oh or hey, there’s this thing the GM does where they start describing my inner state. That is not okay with me! I want a way to communicate that and I want to do it in a way that is is the very least disruptive. Because up and leaving a table is gonna wreck this thing I am otherwise eager to engage with.
The safety tool of your choice isn’t there to break your game, dumbass. You absolute nitwit.
The safety tool of your choice is there so we can all have the best possible shot at continuing to enjoy the game. Because I WANT TO BE THERE. And I don’t know you.
I think one big part of this story is that supernerds cannot differentiate between their home table and a convention space.
My players don’t use safety tools at home, although once in a while I wish we would — particularly when we’ve added folks to the table and we don’t all know each other yet. Gaming, particularly issues-oriented or feels-oriented gaming, is a high-trust exercise. My tight inner circle of home players have that trust. We don’t need the safety tool. I don’t recall anyone, ever (please feel free to correct me with even a single example) saying anyone “should” be using safety tools at home.
But convention spaces, egad. Go to enough of them and you will run into folks of every stripe. You will run into fellow players who just rub you the wrong way. You will run into GMs whose techniques actively interfere with your play. Most important: You will run into other human beings who are dealing with shit you know nothing about. Nothing.
If you cannot come up with a way to deal with other human beings who are dealing with shit you know nothing about, you have no business being with other human beings. This is basic empathy.
A safety tool will not fix your lack of empathy, but it might help other people deal with your lack of empathy. Oh and guess what? There is not one single idea that you will ever dream up at any gaming table in the course of your life that is so fucking great that it’s worth for-real upsetting someone. Ideas are cheap. Tabletop gaming is supposed to be a good hobby for creative people, right? Create something new.
And if you would prefer not to risk being among folks who are dealing with shit you know nothing about, you’ve always got your home table to play at. If you don’t, well…maybe your lack of empathy is one reason you don’t.
h/t to Tomer Gurantz for the link. I don’t follow Gnome Stew for various reasons. Phil Vecchione did a nice job with this piece. And he says “fuck” a lot less than me.