Saturday, January 11, 2014

Hold Me Close, but If I Say Orangejello, Let Go.

There is a running theme that I’ve been encountering lately where people feel like communicating directly with one and another is somehow too much of a burden and that there should be an easier way of dealing with the pressures of that conflict. For some this means using a “safe word,” which has caused an incredibly negative reaction from several of the blogs I read (please see Maybe I’m That Guy: A Bit O’ the Rant by +Tim Shorts and Need a Safe Word for your RPG Group? How About F*ch Off! by +Erik Tenkar), while others seem to believe that you suffer through that discomfort, quietly, and then never return to that situation.

Like +Tim Shorts and +Erik Tenkar I have a real problem with the idea that any game I'm playing in would need a safe word. Only my problem isn't with the idea that it's introducing popular psychology into my role-playing game; but in the idea that instead of outright talking about the things that make us uncomfortable, or anger us, we'd stop it by shouting out some inane phrase, like Orangejello

I know that this might sound crazy to some but when things are bothering you in real life or in the game, the grown up thing to do is to say something. If the Dungeon Master is having a non-player character rape the princess to death and it makes you uncomfortable - as it fucking should - then you look the stupid bastard in the face and tell him that shit crosses the line and you'll not abide it. If one of your fellow players is trying to screw a goat, and that bothers you, tell him to quit 'cause it's creeping you the fuck out. 

Without confronting the things that bother you in the game, and in life, you're never going to prevent those situations from coming up again and you're not going to be able to set people straight when they start crossing you red lines (or third rails if you prefer that term instead). So don't pussy foot about whispering your safe words in the dark while you're trying to remember how to stagger your keys for the fight that's never going to come. Step up and say something.

Honestly, I don't know if I'll ever understand this childishness that has been creeping up in our culture - and it is childishness. We have gone from a society where we confronted the things that made us uncomfortable and upset to one where any discomfort is too much to bear. I have no interest in adopting that foolishness so if you ever come to my table expect me to be direct with you. I will tell you when you cross the line with me, and I will piss on you if you persist.

This was my rant for the week, but before I go let me give you a lesson in life that an old murderer once told me: discomfort is god's way of letting you know you're still alive, be grateful for it because the alternative isn't worth contemplating.

12 comments:

  1. I'll speak up. I have a problem with this. You say you're upset that someone may not feel it's safe to call you on something in your game...in a rant...in which you label not-feeling-safe as being childish.

    Let's stop for a minute. The X-card's purpose is for low-trust situations--specifically, cons and larps/games which by the nature of their duration, immersion or intent might be particularly intense. Let's consider just a single situation where it might have a positive effect.

    In a hobby where a female protesting irrelevant pictures of sexy ladies posted to an RPG forum creates an abusive clamor about a male's right--no--need to masturbate and her femi-nazi ways, there might be trust issues. And oddly, none of that debate makes anyone who protests feel like god is letting them know they're still alive. They're feeling powerless and humiliated-- just because they'd rather not have to wade through cheesecake to read about playing the games that they love and that the forum is supposed to be about--and they spoke up about it.

    Lots of females have to consider: why would she would want to play games with gamers or GMs she doesn't know if she may have to suffer silently through nudge-nudge-wink-wink real-man antics. Nothing she says is going to set them straight. Speaking up only invites abuse and the same freaking outcome every time: always always always, her ONLY real option is to leave the table. Change the channel. Leave if you don't like it, crybaby!

    That option sucks.

    But if a GM says they have an X-card at the table--not only is there a no-fuss way to put an end to something that feels wrong (probably rarely used for offensive behavior in regular games) -- there's the equally meaningful gesture that the GM is at least aware of power imbalances -- or for those who refuse to admit there are those -- to the effect of perceived power imbalances.

    An X-card is about inclusiveness. It will be absolutely no skin off the nose of most GMs, I imagine. And to call the reassurance of the X-card childish, to be upset by it's existence -- that seems unnecessary. Essentially, that some people feel marginalized by the hobby is the goddamn saddest thing ever--and I WISH that speaking up would make a difference...but this seems to be a real battleground online, which is where many people must go to find other RPGers who share their interests.

    The people who might look for games with X-cards are definitely not being childish--they know that they have trust issues and, oddly, some have damned fine reasons for them--like having been shouted down and humiliated previously, maybe over and over.

    You seem like a reflective GM. If only the world were made up entirely of good eggs like yourself, an X-card might indeed be goofy. But there are lots of people who have learned through hard experience that, far too often, speaking up only amps a situation from uncomfortable to abusive.

    Call me childish, but I think it's an X-card is an awesome, quiet, un-threatening way of saying, 'We're all adults here. I want to entertain you. If it's not cool, tap the card and we stop. We'll figure out how to get back to okay. No skin off my nose. No harm done."


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    1. Let me work my way through each of your points as you've said a lot and I don't want to miss anything.

      1.) "You say you're upset that someone may not feel it's safe to call you on something in your game...in a rant...in which you label not-feeling-safe as being childish."

      Actually I label not speaking up and hiding behind a "safe word" as childish. What we're doing now is precisely the sort of adult way I was arguing that people should react to the things that upset them. Talk it out, tell the guy he's being a dick, and don't hang back languishing.

      2. "The X-card's purpose is for low-trust situations--specifically, cons and larps/games which by the nature of their duration, immersion or intent might be particularly intense"

      I don't care.

      If you don't feel comfortable speaking up in those situations then you should not put yourself there - regardless of your gender, size, sexual orientation, and the like.

      3. "In a hobby where a female protesting irrelevant pictures of sexy ladies posted to an RPG forum creates an abusive clamor about a male's right--no--need to masturbate and her femi-nazi ways, there might be trust issues."

      Seriously?

      What sort of idiotic morons would ever think that was the appropriate way to discuss the issue? See, this is why I hate forums and all they represent, because I guarantee you that if any of those a-holes said that noise in real life, and not on the internet, they would have had their asses kicked.

      Morons.

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    2. 4. "Lots of females have to consider: why would she would want to play games with gamers or GMs she doesn't know if she may have to suffer silently through nudge-nudge-wink-wink real-man antics. Nothing she says is going to set them straight. Speaking up only invites abuse and the same freaking outcome every time: always always always, her ONLY real option is to leave the table. Change the channel. Leave if you don't like it, crybaby! "

      Two points: any man who acts that way isn't a man, he's a child pretending, and will be put in his place by a real man; and that, that is her only option - leaving - is absolutely untrue.

      I realize that you're trying to paint a picture to illustrate your point but she has many options that range from how she confronts the situation to how she leaves it. I refuse to accept the position that she only has one option.

      5. " if a GM says they have an X-card at the table--not only is there a no-fuss way to put an end to something that feels wrong (probably rarely used for offensive behavior in regular games) -- there's the equally meaningful gesture that the GM is at least aware of power imbalances -- or for those who refuse to admit there are those -- to the effect of perceived power imbalances."

      If a GM has a safe word, or X card as you refer to it, then what he's saying to you is that he has no ability to deal with the game if it starts to get out of hand. Part of his responsibility as a GM is to ensure that the game is fun, making people uncomfortable and allowing his players to do so is a red flag that this guy can't stand up for you or your fellow players.

      6. "Essentially, that some people feel marginalized by the hobby is the goddamn saddest thing ever--and I WISH that speaking up would make a difference...but this seems to be a real battleground online, which is where many people must go to find other RPGers who share their interests."

      I am absolutely with you on the marginalization thing. You're one hundred percent right, as you are on people going out and trying to be jerks to each other online.

      7. "You seem like a reflective GM. If only the world were made up entirely of good eggs like yourself, an X-card might indeed be goofy. But there are lots of people who have learned through hard experience that, far too often, speaking up only amps a situation from uncomfortable to abusive."

      Thank you for the compliment, I try.

      As for the confrontation experience, I guess I was raised by women who felt like hell had be paid its pound of flesh before they would allow anyone to marginalize them or abuse them. It tends to make me see the world through that lens so I may be wrong with how I see confrontational women.

      8. " I think it's an X-card is an awesome, quiet, un-threatening way of saying, 'We're all adults here. I want to entertain you. If it's not cool, tap the card and we stop. We'll figure out how to get back to okay. No skin off my nose. No harm done."

      I still find it a repulsive idea, but it may be best if we agree to disagree on this one.

      Delete
  2. I find the idea behind a "safe word" in RPGs weird as well. Like you said in your post, most of us are adults and we should be able to speak up when something makes us uncomfortable. If you're playing with a group of friends who are there to have fun, it shouldn't be hard to say, "Hey, does anyone feel like [situation X] has gone a little too far?"

    Whenever I GM, I like to occasionally like to approach those lines since I enjoy adding some horror elements to my game. However, I make sure my players know if I ever go too far, they just have to say the word and I'll pull back so we can get back to having some fun.

    I think the only time I could see using a safe word is in a situation where you are unfamiliar with the people you are playing with, like at a con or a game shop. I could see it making since there since its sometimes hard to speak out about something that makes you uncomfortable around strangers. However, at a home game with friends, I don't think its really necessary.

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    1. While I can see the argument that it would be useful in those situations, I find that providing that option is a red flag. To me it says that a GM has no ability to deal with the game if it starts to get out of hand. Part of his responsibility as a GM is to ensure that the game is fun, making people uncomfortable and allowing his players to do so is a red flag that this guy can't stand up for you or your fellow players.

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    2. I see your point. Guess I was just playing Devil's Advocate for a second so I could think of a situation where this idea of a safe word would make sense. As I said in my comment, I pretty much agree with you that having a safe word is a weird concept and we should be able to deal with things like this as adults and talk it out.

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  3. I think that "speaking up" in the sort of confrontational way you suggest in this post wouldn't be particularly helpful. When people receive that sort of confrontational behavior, they will feel attacked and their impulse will be to defend rather than accept the criticism and change their behavior.
    And if you go on the offense and then they go on the defense, then you have what.. a fight. An argument. Everything breaks down right there. You might have a rabid argument, a fist fight, knock over tables, damage the game and the group irreparably.
    If you don't think so, I think you might consider again how you would feel if someone confronted you the way you just suggested over something you thought wasn't a big deal. If I were DMing and just on a random whim ended up implying that two perfectly normal NPC males were living together and perhaps likely homosexual and one of the players jumped up and starting ranting that it was sick and perverted and I should be ashamed of myself for even suggesting such a thing was possible and they would NOT stand for it...
    Well... suffice to say, I certainly wouldn't get on my hands and knees and beg for forgiveness, kissing his feet like you seem to imply a player should be able to demand a DM to do. In fact, an outburst like that would lower my opinion of the player considerably and I am not certain whether I would be in a fit state-of-mind to continue the game whatsoever.

    On the other hand, the ability to raise a non-specific request to change the pace or skip past something they don't care for? I think that could help keep tempers in check.

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    1. Andrew, before this conversation gets started, I would like to say that I don't play with homophobes or racists as I tend to go out of my way to confront and push them out of my life. It's caused me to have a bit of a reputation so I don't have that problem.

      Anyway, in the situation you just described I would want the fight, the argument, and the shattering of the group. I won't play with people like that and don't tolerate their kind.

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    2. firstly, jumping up and ranting is a sign that somebody needs a time out. The GM should take them aside and talk with them about that sort of behavior, it indicates that a quiet alternative is unlikely to be used.
      Taking them aside and talking to them Calmly(Even if they try to continue ranting) is the best thing for that situation. Disregarding and telling them to F-off and not play, or something of the sort, wouldn't be good either.

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    3. No, see I completely disagree with you here Andrew civis. I think that if someone is foolish enough to put out that sort of bigoted attitude that they deserve to have their asses kicked.

      My approach seems to be too direct for many people, but I will not tolerate a bigot.

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  4. It seams to me that with the vast flow of information presented by the internet, and the ability to play games that once required in person contact, a problem has arisen. this problem has been seen before and will be seen again. People who are immature have platforms to run games without the requisite social skills of setting it up.
    We don't need safe words, we need mature GMs. The internet has given us some amazing things and with them comes the problems caused by them. Flame wars in forums are the best example of immaturity making the internet its breeding ground.
    So the problem as i see it, if you can't tell your GM that something isn't going to fly, then you have a GM who lacks the social graces to be a GM. It is the Job of the GM to ensure that the game is fun, and if they are not willing to listen when told of a problem with a story element then they are not the sort of person i would want as a GM.
    Now, thats not to say all GMs are immature on the net, but it does create the environment needed for the immature to set up games they lacked the social skills to set up in real life. People who, in real life are immature are known to be that way and people tend not to want to play with them.

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    1. Dude, you're absolutely right. Thank you for posting this insightful response.

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