Roleplaying is intense. You can imagine any kind of scenario, a funny one, a creepy one, a horrific one, pushing each one’s imagination to shape images, activating empathy mechanisms that can create extremely powerful feelings and emotions.
That’s why we need to pay attention: we are injecting powerful emotions in other people’s mind and meddling with emotions can cause trouble.
When we play we are interacting with others, people we can know and understand only to a point. Often we know them so much we suppose to know them completely but, in reality, there is always something missing, something hidden, something unreachable: it’s really hard to read every single page of a book. You don’t read the summary, the index, or the credits page. Something will be missed.
And here we go with our problems.
Everyone has weak spots: that’s humanity
Every single one has weaknesses. Even if society shouts with a thousand voices that you can’t, especially if you are a boy, you will have weak spots. Like everyone.
It’s a part of being human. Sometimes they are obvious, sometimes they are well hidden. You can be sure that they are there, but you just can’t know when and how badly the feelings blossoming from your words will hurt.
This is, in my humble opinion, the reason why we regularly find press, articles and posts demonizing our games: they are a powerful tool indeed, they can be badly used and it’s up to us, it’s up to our passion to show how this can’t happen playing properly.
How can i avoid issues?
Oh, I’d like to know that in advance but, as said above, you can’t know everything of everyone in advance. You just can’t.
On other media you can find people applying tons of labels to tales and games to tell the audience in advance that they can have issues but it’s a terrible, terrible mess. It’s a commendable purpose, but the practical act gives to many falses, positives and negatives, stopping people who should not be stopped and allowing people who end up being hurt.
If you want to communicate with other people, and you probably want, everyone must accept that noone can know in advance every possible outcome.
So… how can I fix issues?
Damage control, aiming to zero damage, is a viable strategy. In roleplaying games the X-card is becoming a common practice: you place a card with an X on the table and, anytime a player is not comfortable with what is happening, he just places his hand on the X and, no questions asked, the game shifts forward and that part is stopped&cut.
I like this practice: if the purpose is to have fun and someone is having trouble, removing the trouble is a must. Later on I catch up with the player, I check if everything is fine and I apologize and, if the person is one of my friends, I offer any help I can provide.
The no questions asked part is crucial: the person must be totally free to stop and remove the trouble without any need to justify and talk about personal issues. Being in discomfort is legit, judging discomfort is not our business.
What can happen to me?
Well, a lot. In many ways.
Sometimes the problem can be unclear. Once I described the heineous murder done to the father of one character, I was stopped and I was unsure if the problem was the “heineous murder” or the “father” part – or whatever else. I knew I had something to dodge, I was missing what to dodge.
The X can be used by the very same player who started the scene. A player started a rape scene and as I started describing the suffering, the player’s empathy triggered and I stopped the scene. It happened some time ago and there was no X-card, but I noticed the issue, cut&skip, bad idea, apologies and let’s cut&skip.
A problem seems to be of some players trying to minimize the thing to keep the scene up. I… well, this never happened to me, I think it’s really important to underline the importance of this safety net at the very beginning of the play, I hope it never happens.
Having fun means having fun together.
Having fun together means having fun.