#RPG – X-Cards Revisited

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“Censorship is telling a man he can’t eat steak, because a baby can’t chew it.”
– Mark Twain

The X-Card is a tool that is supposed to make roleplaying more ‘safe’. I’m not quite sure how sitting around a table rolling dice and talking is supposed to be ‘unsafe’ unless you tread on a D4.  Leaving the base absurdity of the whole idea aside, I want to articulate my problems with them, long form, as it seems that the point is hard to get across on social media.

As with so many things these days, opposition to a concept that people have decided is progressive and inclusive is taken as automagically people hateful, nasty, uncaring or whatever else is the opposite of what people assume the thing they’re trying to impose is. As is also the case with many of these things, my opposition stems from the exact same values they claim they are trying to uphold.

The idea of the X-card is that if the game strays into uncomfortable territory for one of the players, they can play down the X-card and that scene or thread is stopped and the game skips on ahead. This is meant to protect vulnerable players from PTSD, offence, the triggering (used unironically for once) of phobia and so on.

Opposition to this idea is characterised as bullying, mean-spiritedness and so forth.

Alright, let’s engage in a thought experiment to try and demonstrate why this is a bad idea.

Imagine you’re riding a roller coaster, but everyone has access to a button that will immediately stop the roller coaster and bring it gently back to the start. A panic button, if you will. The coaster slowly climbs that first rise and is about to drop when… someone pushes the button. Ruining the experience for everyone on the roller coaster who was up for the ride from the get-go.

That doesn’t work for you? How about this then?

You buy a ticket for a horror movie and enter the theatre. Taking your seat you discover that every seat has been fitted with a button that will skip to the next scene if you find it harrowing. The film starts, the slasher appears behind the first teenage camper, raises his machete and… the film skips over the murder to the next scene, a pair of teenagers sharing a dooby behind the boat sheds. One, squeamish person has ruined the experience of the film for everyone else.

No analogy is perfect, but by transferring the X-card idea to other entertainment experiences, hopefully the absurdity and selfishness of the concept is made more obvious.

The X-card doesn’t prevent bullying, it empowers it. It gives one person at the table the power – albeit only by social convention – to interrupt and spoil the fun of everyone else at the table, and to greatly inconvenience the Games Master.

There are other issues with it too.

Firstly, it’s hard to see where an X-card would ever be used. If you have a regular group then you already know each other’s social, emotional and other boundaries and have negotiated them – probably – for years. In that context an X-card has no role whatsoever.

In convention or store games the use of such a card will be purely disruptive and, by and large, you should know what you’re signing up for when you sign up for a game. If you have arachnophobia then you probably shouldn’t have signed up for a game entitled: The Spawning Caves of the feral miscegenated Neo-Arachnid Variants.

Secondly, gaming is a safe environment, automatically. There’s nothing there that can actually hurt you. It’s all words and numbers, descriptions and choice. While gaming isn’t therapy, it can provide a cathartic environment to live out a variety of fantasies and to face up to and overcome things you find difficult. The avoidance of difficult subjects can entrench and strengthen your issues with them and therapists who do deal with this kind of thing tend to recommend facing it and gradual acclimatisation. If you let a player avoid anything that upsets them or sets off their issues, you’re not doing them any favours – quite the opposite.

Thirdly, the idea of X-cards is part of a general trend to try and homogenise and beat down gaming into some sort of family-friendly, pablumesque milieu where anything irreverent, dangerous, challenging, sexual or violent – anything that could even potentially upset or offend someone is done away with.

X-cards may be limited to certain groups and you might be able to choose to play or not play in a group that does or does not use them, but it’s part of a greater context and continuum of censorship, control and well-meaning interference that now extends all the way from publishing to the table itself.

The responsible thing to do, if you’re someone who has a hard time with certain plots, actions, monsters or whatever else at the table, is to remove yourself from the game at these points – or completely – rather than to selfishly screw it up for everyone else.

The only X-rated cards at the table should be Cthentacle.

Footnote:

Some additional, useful observations from @Haunted_backlog:

1. Give people a system for it and it’ll be more common.

2. Refusing to explain (the problem that made you use an x-card – G) compounds the problem, nobody else knows what to avoid or why.

3. In the absence of a pressing demand or notable benefit, adopting X-cards is a proxy for a group’s overall vulnerability to SJW fatwas, and who knows what it’ll require next. Vegan snacks only? Villains can only be certain races? Sky’s the limit.

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