Con vs Home Play
This Again

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.

0 thoughts on “Safety”

  1. I didn’t realize there was an ongoing “thing.”

    I agree with you. If someone wants to use safety tools, I don’t see the point in arguing.

  2. I wondered if there was a bigger thing going on.

    I recently saw a post by Asshole Designer #3 bragging about how he’s going to name his next book Cock Cock Vagina Fuck just to keep the snowflakes out of his games. Figured it had to be in response to something.

    I think you give people too much credit. I know exactly why there’s a hard kernel of folks. It’s because they are shitty at being decent human beings. On one side you have people profiting by making their brand explicitly about marketing to shitty people, and on the other you have shitty people who like to be the center of shit storms.

    I’m like…nope, not interested in hearing yet another justification for being shitty.

  3. But you’re right, I do give them credit.

    I think there continues to be a nontrivial number of gamers — players and GMs — for whom this stuff is not only still new, but actively threatening. I suppose the fact that this stuff is still new to them points at how insulated their experience is, which might explain the fact that we can’t just get past it.

    The folks who know the conversation and have decided it’s worthy of ridicule (or profit), yeah, total assholes.

  4. The thing is you can still make a cock, cock, vagina, cock game. Safety tools aren’t about saying no to creating the game you want. There certainly is a group that is saying you can’t make that kind of game. But these are two different conversations.

    This topic though, this is middle of the road stuff for reasonable people to make a public play space more welcoming. Not one where everyone has to be individually wrapped for their own protection.

  5. I can’t recall anyone specifically saying that people should use safety tools in their home games… I will. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it’s even more important to use them in a home game than in a con game (and to make no mistake, I think they’re very important for con games).

    Here are my reasons: If I’m playing at some con with 3-5 randos whom I’ve never seen before and likely will never see again, then I have exceedingly few fucks to give for that game or those people. So if someone walks up to ny table wearing a swastika (which actually happened at a game I ran once), then I will gladly say, “either you take that off, or you leave, or I’ll leave and someone else can run the damn game”.

    However, when I’m in my home game, even though I’m not running the risk of someone doing nazi-adjacent cosplay, if something comes up that I’d rather not have in the game, then I’m way less likely to want to stop everything mid-game to have a conversation about whatever it is I want taken out of the game. And I’m certainly not going to walk out on a home game like I might at a con.

    So it’s not about any lack of trust among my friends, whom I see practically every day, but rather about acknowledging that there may be times when we’re not on the same page, despite the fact that we trust each other, and about wanting a simple and hassle-free method of handling those situations whenever they come up.

    I recognize that I’m generally less conflict averse than others, and most people may not be as willing to tell a complete stranger to fuck off as I am. But even with that caveat, I find tools like the XCard to be incredibly useful, even among the people I trust the most.

  6. Lack of safety is a little bit foreign to me, but I’m happy to play at a table that uses these methods. I’d even like to learn more about how they’re supposed to work. And reading the comments on Phil’s article, it’s super frustrating to see people reframing it as letting someone who’s “offended” mess up your fun. If my fun depends on someone being hurt and just suffering, what the fuck is wrong with me?

  7. Derrick Kapchinsky that’s good stuff. I’m glad you said it! That’s all in the zip code of when I wish we did employ some formal safety tools at home. I even had a specific instance in a game recently where a tool used in good faith might have proven useful.

    “Trust” wasn’t the right word. Wavelength? An understanding of our aesthetic boundaries?

    (I wish I gave fewer fucks about convention randos. I’m jealous!)

  8. FNRE

    the lemonade: just like garlic wards away vampires, that x-card and other things like it can be used to ward away griefers and edgelords.

  9. I have an otherwise mostly sensible friend who is freaked out by the X-card. He said, “But it’s censorship!” And after thinking about it I said, “Yes, yes it is, but the whole point of it is to keep people from getting hurt.”

    I can’t speak about anywhere else, but in America we liked to pretend the Free Speech piece trumps everything else… but of course there are limits on our speech, they don’t usually pop up at the gaming table.

    In any case, for me one of the best things about using a safety tool is that the gesture says, “This is a monitored space, hateful shit will not fly here.”

  10. These discussions aren’t helping. I think there are a group of people who would like to have safe gaming tables but are afraid of people coming in to an Apocalypse World game and x-carding every instance of violence. It gives a lot of control to the player. This frightens GM’s who are genuinely afraid of having their game x-carded away from what they had envisioned. That being said I always start my con games with this little speech. “We will be playing __, you are welcome here. If you are triggered by __ this will probably not be the game for you. However, I realize that things can go to far and we are using the X card in case things get out of hand and it turns inappropriate for you.” This assuages the initial discomfort I had with using safety tools. It lets people know what I intend at the start. I don’t think it’s fair to say, “anyone who doesn’t use an x-card is a piece of garbage.” GM’s are by their very nature control freaks. Giving a player the power to say “stop what you’re doing,” is really intimidating. We need to write more language helping GM’s like that understand how to incorporate safety tools without feeling like they are giving up their own identity as GM’s. Almost everything I’ve read about safety tools doesn’t do that. It’s all preaching to the choir. So yeah, I’ve become an adopter of the tools, but it took me a lot longer to get there. Paul Beakley is right. That non-trivial number of gamers need different language than we’re using. Because I was in that group once and it took me a long time for ME to feel safe using safety tools.

  11. Charles Picard I think your friend who is calling x-card censorship feels that while the x-card protects his players, nothing protects him. That’s the fundamental problem people have with safety tools. We need language that makes GM’s feel safe to use the tools without losing what they lovingly created.

  12. Brian Poe fair, but since this is my space and my collection, I feel comfortable saying that anyone who attacks safety as a legitimate convention space concern is garbage. Which includes safety tools at the table but also harassment policies, dress codes, vendor room restrictions, etc.

    I genuinely wish for these folks to go ahead and start, you know, ShitlordCon or whatever. Nazi plushies in the vendor hall, unapologetically sexist content at the tables, an active shame-the-weakling policy for anyone who leaves a table! Yes, fine! Just say so up front so everyone knows what they’re getting into.

    Today, right now, I’m not feeling even a little charitable toward these folks. Maybe tomorrow or the next day. Because of course you’re right, Brian, the angry rhetoric I’m splashing around in the OP isn’t helpful. Then again, the anti-safety audience isn’t my audience this time around.

  13. There’s a specific kind of empathic/imagination failure which I think goes like this:
    1. I can’t truly imagine having your preferences or emotional needs
    2. and I don’t realize this is a blind spot
    3. so when I see you doing things I would never do
    4. I have to think: if I was acting like you’re acting but with my preferences and emotional needs, what would that mean?
    5. and all I’ve come up with is a flagrant, inauthentic demand for attention, a self-indulgent need to be rescued, or some other scorn-worthy, unsympathetic character trait.

    (I think this is why you see people telling homeless folks to “get a job” and other equally clueless BS. I can’t make the empathic/imaginative leap to imagine myself without the tools to have the life I have now, so when I see the life you have, all I can do is imagine it’s the result of deliberate, wrong-headed choices. For me to wind up like you I’d have to quit my job, stop paying bills, etc. etc. So clearly the solution to your problem is to get a job, pay your bills, and then you’ll have a life like mine!)

    “I’m an irreverant iconoclast who never backs down from a fight, and I’ve never needed a support tool. Y’all must be a buncha pussies or something.”

  14. But it’s not censorship. It’s basic courtesy and respect.

    In my house I wear my shoes. I’ve got a dog and 2 cats and the carpets came with the house 10+ years ago. I literally give no shits if you wear your shoes in my house.

    But that might be a different thing in your house. If I’m invited to your house and you say “please take off your shoes” I take off my shoes. I don’t quiz you about whether it’s a cultural thing, or an allergens thing, or comment that “your carpets don’t look new, what’s the big deal”. Or cry about how my shoes are a part of my personal identity and now my vision of the day will be ruined if I take them off. I just take them off, because I’m not a schmuck.

    Honoring the reasonable requests of people occupying space with you…it’s just basic kindergarten level stuff.

  15. Ralph Mazza it’s always so interesting and kind of dismaying the level of fundamental distrust these folks have, you know? Like, the assumption that players will be unreasonable if given a chance. Or that everyone wants to win everything all the time, so of course they’ll abuse every tool at their disposal.

    Solipsism! Do not operate heavy machinery.

  16. Soooo the people that are calling others delicate flowers for wanting the X-card are too fucking afraid too run games at the risk of someone not liking what they are saying. I mean talk about delicate flowers.

  17. The other thing.. and I think this is key to why so many people get really knotted up about this without ever having seen it in practice. Just acknowledging that support tools are relevant means acknowledging vulnerability, which is terrifying for many people. (My wife spotted this immediately.) A lot of people have had any willingness to be vulnerable battered out of them. But we are all vulnerable, inside, so just seeing it in other people—or seeing other people’s willingness to be vulnerable—can induce fear.

    So from that perspective, it doesn’t matter if support tools actually cause logistical/play problems, its mere existence is like a wounded inner child staring up balefully from the center of the table, reminding everyone that they can be hurt.

  18. Paul Beakley you’re right. The organizers of shitlordcon are pretty much garbage. There are those people. I just want to target those people who will GO to shitlordcon because they don’t feel safe with safety tools. If you had x-card con next to shitlordcon you would have ZERO people show up to x-card con that want anything to do with shitlordcon. But, I think there would be a large number of people going to shitlordcon who would be open to the idea of x-card con, but we’re not reaching them because they feel that while our tools are protecting everyone else and their vision of a good time, no one protects theirs. Right or wrong I’m not debating that. If you debate that with them you’ll just chase them closer to shitlordcon. We need to show that these tools can ensure EVERYONE has a good time, because right now, from where I’m standing, nothing seems to protect the GM. Once I learned how to protect my vision as well as the safety of the group, I felt much more comfortable using these tools.

  19. Brian Poe also fair and reasonable.

    (I’ve also got a long and public record of safety tool skepticism, although not once did I cross the line into full-on attacking the very idea of it. I especially have a cringeworthy memory of telling Jason Morningstar that I was gonna ban use of the X card at a Durance table, BBC ’15 maybe, as a “thought experiment,” and him gritting his teeth and nodding very carefully. I’ve been on the path and I don’t like where it brought me out of.)

    I’ll be more fair and reasonable next week!

  20. On a somewhat less extreme note, the other issue is that negotiating relationships is tricky. I see this at work, the, “how shall we work together?” seems to be a much tougher conversation than, “is this the right way to fix this bug?”

    I feel like this is at work in those incendiary responses you get to changing up the traditional GM-PC paradigm—people go absolutely mental when the basic way we’re going to relate changes. (This is why we have traditional pastimes that are emotionally low-risk, like banter about the weather. It’s so we don’t accidentally ask acquaintances about how the divorce is going, or Hey, who makes the most money here?)

    Support tools are an encroachment on the relationship level. So for folks who don’t like negotiating relationships explicitly (because that’s so fraught), it opens up a can of worms.

    Imagine in the middle of poker night you let fly with, “So, Steve, are you comfortable with the amount of teasing Carl is doing?” pin drop

  21. Brian Poe – I don’t understand the complaint about GMs not being protected. None of these tools, at least the ones I’m familiar with, are the exclusive realm of the players. GMs are just as able to use the XCard, for example, as any player, and, anecdotally, I’ve seen GMs use it more often than players have.

    What am I missing here?

  22. Derrick Kapchinsky I’m not Brian, but I can sort of see what he’s getting at. It’s traditionally been the purview of the GM alone to make editorial adjustments. So democratizing that, yeah, it feels weird. And weird = unsafe.

  23. What I have trouble wrapping my brain around in these discussions is the “Why do I have to stop the fun of everyone else at the table just to make sure one player is having fun” argument. How much fun could you really be having with the knowledge that it comes at the expense of someone else at the table?

    Back in Boy Scout, we acknowledged that while hiking the slowest person in the group set the pace. It has to be that way or someone gets left behind. And we can’t have that because /it’s not safe/. We are hiking together so we finish together.

    I think a similar rule applies in RPGs. When we sit down together, we’re a group. We’re creating a story /together/. Everyone needs to have fun /together/.

    To make sure no one gets left behind, I try to gauge the success of my games by satisfaction level of the least satisfied player. Obviously you can’t always please everyone (someone who sits down to Epyllion and wants brutal tactical combat or someone experiencing emotional bleed from their crappy day) but these tools are just there to help everyone get on the same page so that the whole group has a better time.

  24. Matt Bohnhoff I think that’s a really important difference, in my experience at least, between home and con play.

    At home, my thing is my thing. I’ve had players who turned out to be a bad fit to my thing, and a safety tool would not be adequate to fix that. But since we’re all committed to this ongoing relationship, week after week, there are different considerations at work than, say, the one-time 4 hour slot where someone thinks graphic sexual assault would be “in character” and edgy.

  25. The other response I’ve seen frequently is “I’ve been playing since the 70s and when we had a problem, someone just manned up and said something and we’d stop playing if needed”.

    This seems like a weird argument against safety tools because it boils down to “identify the problem and make a change” which is exactly what the tools do.

    I’m glad that these old groups organically developed their own safety tools. Codifying them and making them explicit does just makes them easier for everyone to use and alter to fit their own tables.

  26. Derrick Kapchinsky Paul Beakley I want to be clear. I’m firmly on your side. I just want us to be more inclusive of skeptical people because I came from that mindset and this community almost lost me with it’s insistence that it’s right. I want to start a more inclusive dialogue and also show that these tools are there for all and you can be protected as the GM too.

  27. Paul Beakley – I’m having a difficult time being charitable here, because when you talk about a thing I’ve been invited to as explicitly yours, as opposed to ours, then you’ve already gone a long way towards losing me.

    EDIT: There is one facet of that argument that I am sympathetic to, and that’s “sometimes people just aren’t good fits for each other” I don’t think there’s much wrong with saying, “It doesn’t look like either of us will have much fun if we continue to play together”. But I reject your notion that using safety tools isn’t helpful. You’ll need a larger conversation in addition to the tools, but they can make people realize that that conversation is necessary much sooner than without them.

  28. Brian Poe

    We need language that makes GM’s feel safe to use the tools without losing what they lovingly created.

    The way I talk about these things in GM-led games is that GMs must be good at rolling with the punches, they have to be able to nimbly cope with unanticipated player actions that subvert their plans.

    An x-card tap is no different than when a clever player blows up your lovingly crafted plotline with some clever move. You adjust and move on.

  29. Paul Beakley it’s always so interesting and kind of dismaying the level of fundamental distrust these folks have, you know? Like, the assumption that players will be unreasonable if given a chance

    This is encoded into a lot of traditional rpg design so hard! Like, look at GURPS or Hero or (especially) True20 or later D&Ds, they are basically Harrison Bergeron designs that attempt to ensure that no one unilaterally dominates the game, that everyone contributes at roughly the same level of fictional effectiveness regardless of their level of system mastery (or good faith). You can def see the wargame roots peeking through.

  30. Derrick Kapchinsky be charitable! There’s lots of other context at play here.

    Since we’re talking about a home group, right, there’s kind of a…logical loop you can fall into. At least I did. It’s my home, I’m the host, and I set the expectations: that we’ll collaborate, play hard, and if anyone’s ready to move on, let’s say so and then move on.

    In my most recent thing, I recruited a player into my home group that turned out to not be able or willing to meet one or more of those expectations. And the entire group, over time, began to conform around this person I had invited in: no longer collaborative, no longer playing hard, no longer speaking up when we’re not having fun. Well, the buck has to stop somewhere. And since I’m hosting, curating, and setting expectations, yes, it’s “my thing.”

    Would any particular safety tool have helped in that situation? Maybe! Maybe. I don’t disagree that safety tools can have a place in home groups and I even said so up above.

  31. John Aegard yeahhh. I think it really does have to feel very strange, if you’re coming from a long tradition of wargame-rooted roleplay, to put tools/rules in place that absolutely rely on trust and good will. Like, yeah, if you’re playing a winnable game and there are rules available that would help you win, then no shit you’d be scared to cut folks loose with them. It literally breaks the game. Because the game they’re playing isn’t the game we’re playing, yet we’re all at the same convention.

    And it’s not even true, like, all the time either. I’m totally certain there are plenty, maybe even a majority, of D&D/Pathfinder/OSR players who aren’t playing in the kind of competitive vein that mandates you pursue every advantage regardless of consequence. But having had a player in my home group who frequently slipped into that head space, ye gawds, I have no idea how he would have reacted to the prospect of having such a thing available to him.

    He never played at conventions. I’m not sure if he’d have ever signed up for a competitive event. But I’m not sure what he’d have done with the cognitive dissonance of electing to not use a tool to his advantage.

    I imagine I’m mischaracterizing the size and amplitude of deeply competitive tabletop play. I don’t even know how the adventurer’s guild and pathfinder society type organizations structure their win/lose conditions. And that’s leaving out big swaths of players who don’t even have formalized organizations they’re playing in. It’s just their mode of engagement.

    I mean is that what this comes down to? A segment of aggressively competitive/confrontational players for whom this safety tool actually does break their engagement? (I feel like I’m having to bend way way backward to accommodate that.)

  32. John Aegard I know this is true, you know this is true, but to someone who isn’t on board with this tech, it amounts to a, “git gud scrub,” argument.

  33. I wouldn’t harp too hard on that. When you play Chess with someone, you’re being competitive. You also know perfectly well that knocking over the board is not sportsmanlike (“sportsfighterlike”?).

    Same thing here; I can play competitively and to the hilt and still understand that using the X-card (or a similar tool) for advantage in the game is totally out of bounds.

    Any person who plays competitive games has mastered that kind of distinction since they were 8-10 years old; they’re impossible to play otherwise.

  34. Paul Beakley – I’m trying! I really am. = )

    And with more context, I totally agree with you. Like I said in my edit, I fully recognize that some people just shouldn’t play together and that no one should be required to accommodate others to the point that they, themselves, are no longer enjoying the game.

    And based on the little you’ve told me of your situation I still believe that having some tools in place would have helped to some degree, if for no other reason, than they help to make a group’s implicit norms more explicit. Hopefully, that would help everyone else realize that the new player is pulling the game away from your norms, will also (hopefully) give people more authority to speak up and say that.

  35. EDIT: I leaving this for people to see what I said, but I’ve edited it to the way I should have said it. I’m unhappy with myself, because I really should leave the asshat naming to other people who are far better at it than I am.

    One thing that strikes me is that, in theory, there are at least two kinds of potential asshats with respect to RPGs at conventions.
    Asshat 1: this asshat puts problematic content in their game, subjects people to this content, and has no interest in reflecting at all on the nature of that content or how others might find it disturbing, and will get prickly and defensive when this is brought to their attention.
    Asshat 2: this asshat is figuratively a fragile flower, disturbed by even the slightest reference to the most trivial thing. They are probably intensely political about it too, or at least will have very different politics than you do. The game will not progress because asshat 2 will be complaining all the time.
    I think that both of these kinds of asshats exist; I have met both in my life. But here is what I have learned:
    * genuine fear of asshat 1 ruining a convention is a fear experienced by reasonable and wonderful non-asshat people in my life, because they have experienced asshat 1 so often and the experiences were miserable and left real marks that linger.
    * genuine fear of asshat 2 ruining a convention is almost entirely felt by asshat 1’s. Its a pretty good test for it, I think.

    I think there are two fears involved here.

    One is the fear that someone will ruin a convention by bringing problematic content into the game, subject people to that content, and have no interested in reflecting at all on the nature of that content, or how others might find it disturbing, and will get prickly and defensive when this is brought to their attention.

    The other is the fear that some figurative “fragile flower”, disturbed by event he slightest reference to the most trivial thing that reasonable people would not find disturbing, and who if given the opportunity with a safety tool like the x-card will ruin a convention by x-carding the crap out of everyone.

    I think both of these fears can be generated by real experience, in the sense that I have met both of these kinds of people in games. But in my experience, genuine fear of the first situation ruining a convention is felt by many wonderful and reasonable people I know based on actual painful experience that left lingering harm. In my experience, genuine fear of the second situation ruining a convention is felt most strongly by people who are often the first person and is for the most part theoretical.

    If you are not the first person, but are genuinely afraid of the 2nd person ruining your convention, I really have to ask why?

  36. Here is another thing: there are gaming spaces where safety tools really would destroy the dynamic that has been built up in that space by the people who enjoy it. The organizers know quite well that many of the participants in that space have reactionary politics and a lack of empathy. Those spaces are still majority white men, although age might be all over the map. They are pretty much exactly the guy described in the original blog post that started the cycle recently here in Southern Ontario, guys who really would tell a young woman “honey, let the real gamers play here, ok?” The organizers, if you ask them at the right moment and in the right candid mood, will tell you that introducing safety tools into the space would literally drive their “customers” away.

    They are almost certainly right. Its not “shitlordcon”, but its in the same city as it.

  37. Hans Messersmith so… Now this guy who you label asshat who is scared of your asshat #2 had been derided by a community who prides itself on being inclusive. I don’t blame him for turning into a true asshat #1.

  38. Brian Poe are you saying that you genuinely fear that a person I have described as asshat 2 (a fragile flower that will x-card even the most trivial of content) will ruin your convention if you bring in safety tools to that convention? Before I reply, I want to make sure that is what you are saying.

    EDIT: You know what? scratch that. I take your comment for what it is, Brian, and will edit my own comment when I get a chance to make it less…I don’t know. I still would like to know the answer to the question above, but I also really should not be calling people asshats, that was too glib.

  39. I just don’t have any sympathy for asshats when they are called out for being an asshat. I have even less sympathy for an organization that defends asshat behaviour if they are opening themselves up as a friendly gaming atmosphere.

  40. Hans Messersmith well… I can tell you that I was that guy. Now I understand the use of the tools and how to have fun while also protecting others. Before I had a good understanding of the tools, what everyone seems to be preaching was that it’s either the injured players way and fuck you GM! I don’t give a fuck about your prep! I don’t give a fuck about your fun! I don’t like violence so figure out another way to entertain me. This is a wildly inappropriate misunderstanding but I see the community failing to address these concerns. It’s just, “you’re an asshat if you don’t use these tools.” We need better language to talk to those who could be convinced. But I’m here to tell you, if I had met you instead of the great people who taught me, I would be part of ShitlordCon. Not because I’m an asshole, not because I don’t care about my players, but because you labeled me as an asshat who doesn’t care about my players. We need to be better than that or we’re just a different kind of asshat.

  41. One thing that I do not see mentioned is the likelihood of encountering surprising triggers in a given game, and how this might affect how people see ways to avoid them.

    Some games contain body horror, or emotional violence, for example. Others do it far less. For many games, it is hard to say.

    Some games try to cause specific strong emotional experiences. Many do not.

    In some games, there are many participants who can introduce whatever content to the game. In others, you running a tight script with little chance for anyone to deviate.

    In a convention with games like Road to Vasen or Monsterhearts, having some explicit safety measures is an excellent idea. They try to create emotionally intensive and heavy experiences, and you might not know what you are getting into, especially with various Fastaval scenarios.

    OSR body horror games are usually easy to spot, and they typically do not try to go deep into emotional issues, so it is easier to trust the judgement of the players to self-select into games that are appropriate for them.

    Then there is stuff like organized play, non-body horror OSR dungeon crawls, and plenty of other games that very rarely go anywhere near emotionally deep issues.

    Then there are, of course, various games with plenty of shared story creation, where nobody really has any idea what is going to happen.

    There are also competitive games, or games where one is fighting as a team against the scenario, and in these one expects strong feelings due to losing or winning and other such concerns. (This is a different issue from the one discussed above, where people would use an X-card to lose or to win, which I doubt would be a common problem.)
    These feelings can be very pleasant or unpleasant, but using the X-card would be a completely inappropriate response. Having it available obviously does not force anyone to use it, but one would have to be somewhat nuanced about explaining when it should and should not be used.

    There is also the case of someone springing a surprise rape scene in the middle of you Dungeon world game, or whatever. X-card has no power to stop an intentionally malicious person, though it can make their behaviour easier to spot, maybe. Or maybe they would use it as a means of attacking someone. Anyway, I doubt any safety measure besides personal intervention or walking away really helps here.

    In all of these contexts, the need for explicit safety mechanisms is quite different. Claiming that everyone, everywhere, should use or not use a particular tool is quite a strong claim.

  42. I go to the con in question and am in the facebook group where everything melted.

    The problem was NEVER ABOUT THE X-CARDS OR SPECIFIC SAFETY PRACTICES. The X-cards have been revisited in a few conversations, often to clarify their function, but are not the focus. The X-Cards have been used for the last two years and no one cares. There was some initial grumbling but the organizer was clear that they weren’t going away, and it worked fine. I’ve never seen them used but no one objects to their presence, at least publicly.

    The catalyst for the meltdown was that the ORGANIZER linked to a blog post from a woman who wrote about her experience at the con where another player was making her uncomfortable by obnoxiously describing his own character’s massive, swinging tits. She felt she was visibly and noticeably upset but the guy wouldn’t stop, and no one else at the table said anything. This might have been before x-cards were available, I’m not sure. The offending event was that no one spoke up for the woman. People say SHE should have said something, others say the GM or other players should have said something, most arguments sprout from those two opposing ideas. It has very little to do with the content of a game.

    So, the organizer caught flak for not having tools in place for people to use to handle situations like this, and for being willfully unsupportive and deaf to people’s calls for action. Dozens of people joined the group and gave their two cents, dogpiling onto the organizer and the con, despite never going there or being in the community. Lots of people came to the organizer’s defense, but many of them were edgelords, some of whom also did not actually live in the community or go to the con, all who did nothing but validate the complaints. Anyone who defends the con and the organizer are hatemongers and bullies, everyone who calls for action are whining social justice warriors.

    The organizer began deleting threads and banning people when conversations got out of hand and not helpful, which were many, and did not help his image.

    It is my humble opinion that the con has adequate tools, more than most other gatherings of strangers in public, and that the organizer has always worked to improve safety and comfort by making X-cards mandatory, putting a full page anti-harassment policy in the pamphlet, etc, and was in fact the person who linked to the inciting blog post in the first place in an effort to show the community that harassment still happened. The complaints are extremely unfocused and no actionable items are brought up, only that things need to “change”. Someone said they were getting death threats and that the organizer should be ashamed that his community was doing so, but when the organizer asked to know who sent them, the accuser refused to share them.

    So again, it has almost nothing to do with X-Cards, game content, and more to do with the fact that other people did nothing when this woman was distressed, and the convention appears reluctant to do something about it.Those who call for change have not offered concrete items they want changed, at most they link to other conventions’ anti-harassment policies and procedures, many of which exist at Phantasm anyways. I keep looking to have my opinion changed but I am not convinced.

  43. If everyone used acceptable behavior, common sense, empathy, being a generally normal person, etc. Then safety tools wouldn’t have become a thing. I’ve been gaming long before they were around and have been gaming since they’ve been around. I haven’t noticed a single change.

    If you have had to change the way you run because the tool is being used or you simply fear that you will have to change the way you game because of the tool. That’s pretty telling.

  44. Ooh boy this thread!

    Special thanks to Brian Poe for helping illuminate the viewpoint of the well-intentioned-but-leery. Discussing this with people who are edgelording asshats and with the wellmeaning but leery is two very different conversations…made more difficult by the fact that edgelords attempt to, and demand to, be treated with the same respect and benefit of the doubt as the leery-but-reasonable.

    It also strikes me, specifically relevant to those who say the proper response to problems is to man up and talk about it —

    There are two major mental models for what rules are.

    Are rules guidelines we all follow, to help prevent problems?

    Are rules traps, used to punish or expel problem people?

    If one lives in the second brainspace, then of course we should talk about this as adults: more rules create more opportunities for sniping each other for rules violations. Every rule you add is an extra danger I need to watch out for.

    So here’s the thing. If you’re worried to run games because someone might accuse you of being a terrible person, you’re facing a hazard. You can’t identify all these people: sure, many are women or minorities, but as recent polls show, democrat men are more feminist than conservative women right now. Also, if you’re a dude you probably haven’t had advanced training in noticing discomfort or distress. Danger lurks in every corner!

    Enter safety rules.

    Taping a card or pointing at a flower or talking about lines and veils — these are big clue-hammers that let you know when somebody’s getting uncomfortable. And uncomfortable people are the ones who accuse you of being a nasty edgelord later. Danger!

    Yes danger. But now you’ve made your spot check and see the pit trap. You can address it, walk around it, lay a plank over it. Saying “I didn’t see the pit there” doesn’t prevent your character from taking falling damage, and saying “I didn’t see they were uncomfortable” doesn’t prevent people from thinking you did something wrong.

    And, if you do have a safety tool and use it, you have evidence in your favor if someone calls you an edgelord later. You can say “I’m not perfect but I’m trying. We were using the X-card and I did a check-in. It looks like I didn’t do it quite right, can you help me know what to do next time?” And now you’re in an “I’m learning, please teach me” position instead of defending that you’re not a bad person.

    X-cards protect well-meaning but not-yet-skilled listeners. If you’re scared of running con games, here’s your safety gear.

  45. Brian Poe I apologize for calling you (edit: and anyone else that I do not have positive evidence of asshatery) an asshat. It was wrong, and I shouldn’t have done it.

  46. I’m completely comfortable with excluding people from convention gaming if they lack the basic humanity to treat others with respect. I recognize this flies in the face of the Geek Social Fallacies, but I also recognize that “skeptics” (IMO an overly generous term for shitty people) are unlikely to change their minds about respecting others unless there are keenly felt negative consequences for their antisocial behavior.

  47. Hans Messersmith I don’t take any offence man. I know you’re a good guy who’s fed up with rude people. I get where you’re coming from. But these conversations are just an echo chamber if we’re not going to figure out a way to help those that could be helped. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad. I just want to let you know there are people that could be changed.

  48. Wow, there’s some dog whistles up in here.

    I’m totally fine with my spaces being an “echo chamber” if it’s full of respectful people who can work & play well with others.

    People who are choosing to be jerks are doing so on purpose. They had a choice to do better and they didn’t. They aren’t socially awkward, they are using social awkwardness as a shield for bad behavior. They aren’t ignorant, they are using ignorance as the basis of plausible deniability for their actions. They aren’t asking questions in order to understand others, they are actively being hostile to others while doubling down on their shitty behavior.

    Those folks cannot be reached, and they won’t change unless we reject their harmful behavior in our communities. And, in some cases, they won’t change even then.

    I am not willing to allow bad actors to exploit my good will and benefit of the doubt so they can harm others repeatedly while someone who hasn’t been a target of their awful behavior sits back and treats the whole thing like a thought experiment.

    We’re talking about actual people who think it’s OK to harm other real people as an essential and inalienable part of their pretendy-fun-times. Why is that something we’d permit to continue under some false flag of outreach? Why would anyone be comfortable letting others — especially more vulnerable others — be harmed over and over again so we can keep a toxic element in the community? Why should people who are horrible disrespectful trolls be permitted to be comfortable in this community? Why is their comfort valued over and above that of their victims?

  49. Lex Larson that’s kind of where I am, and it’s why I really have no personal interest in outreach any more

    There probably are some cases where a dude could be reached with reason and patience, but I can’t visit every little Pacific island in search of stranded soldiers who don’t know the war ended.

  50. Christopher Lawson, it’s nice to have some insight into what happened at that convention, and it makes sense to me. (In the sense that I’ve seen similar things escalate into major conflicts recently in other venues.)

    Jesse Cox, I LOVE you analogy of the “spot check” when it comes to “safety tools”. It’s perfect in that it’s 1) clearly accessible to a “trad gamer’s” point of view, and doesn’t like some weird New Age Nonsense ™, but also 2) implies strongly that it’s not the tool itself which will solve the problem, but acts as something which gives us an opportunity to do so ourselves. I think that’s a really important insight, and your analogy “smuggles” that past the reader effortlessly.

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