#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.

#RPG – Diversity Dungeons RELEASED!

Buy it HERE

Diversity Dungeons : Worldbuilding & Game Design in the Safe Space Age
Much digital ink (and blood) has been spilt taking about diversity representation in tabletop gaming and in every other field of geek and nerd endeavour. Usually these conversations are extremely combative and they tend to end poorly for everyone involved. I’ve been involved in these debates and discussions myself, to my detriment. The position I hold being that free expression and the vision of the author or creator should trump any and all other concerns – including diversity, representation and so on. To my mind the answer is for people to create according to their own conscience, not to be condemned out of hand or for their motivations to be presumed and for diversity of ideas to be the benchmark. I want a world in which Varg Vikernes and David Hill can both make and sell games and I can ignore both of them.

That said, I cannot help but be drawn to controversial topics – that is where the interesting conflicts and stories lie – and there are few topics so controversial as the treatment of ‘minorities’ within media. Here we arrive at a nexus-point between realism, expectation, demands for representation, demands for free expression, historical revisionism, magic, science fiction, truth, ‘is’ and ‘ought’. That makes it interesting, but the battle lines of identarian politics, liberalism, conservatism, the regressive left and cultural libertarianism also make it an area fraught with difficulty and wilful misunderstanding.

There are no good – or at least no satisfactory – answers to a lot of these questions. Perhaps there are just multiple approaches each of which will annoy some group or other. What’s true in all circumstances however is that these controversial topics are interesting, fascinating and important in terms of world, character and scenario building whatever your particular stance.

This booklet intends to examine these issues in and of themselves, outside of the current state of controversy and to ask – rather – how we might better simulate the plight of minority groups, understand them within the context of fictional worlds, make allowances for player-characters who might seek to buck those societal trends or allow characters – through their actions – to affect social change within the game worlds.

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Quiet Riot

I’ve never lived in London but I’ve spent a massive amount of time there and have plenty of friends there as well as the other cities affected by the unrest that we’re experiencing in this country. I’m not the kind of person to shy away from talking about things or exploring them just because they’re ‘close’ but I am finding it hard to do some of my work as it relates to London in the wake of unrest and destruction and seeing it happen for real and how ineffective the forces of law and order are in protecting people really brings it all home.

Part of the reason I create is in order to affect people, to make them think. When I run games I like to examine moral issues. When I create settings I try to think about the plausible political and social implications of those settings an the effects of things like magic, gods, monsters, multiple intelligent species and so on.

When I wrote @ctiv8 I hoped that people would take it on board and think about applying some of the ideas of the heroic adventurer in their real lives and make a genuine difference. Naive? Probably. I took some of the ideas from Warren Ellis’ global frequency but where GF is very much based around a hierarchical structure around Miranda Zero, parallel to more conventional structures @ctiv8 was deliberately more of an anarchistic, self-organising structure, inspired by some of the earliest Anonymous actions and the early use of social media in protest movements. If anything those ideas and speculations have been shown to be inadequate compared to what has happened in just a few, short years.

There’s as much bad as good going on using these communications methods. The rioters are using BlackBerry IMs to organise flying raids and to group up to attack places but equally others have used Twitter to organise cleanups and pictures of rioters and looters have shown up all over social media to be identified through crowd sourcing.

The problems that have lead to these riots are societal and exist top to bottom. There are no excuses but there are reasons. Reasons that are being swept under the carpet by the narrative of ‘lawless scum’ and the PM has already made reference to ‘phony human rights concerns’ which is an appalling thing for a Prime Minister of a free country to say. People are being rushed through the courts, there are going to be miscarriages of justice.

@ctiv8 is a game that’s supposed to be about making a change and a difference in the real world and it’s worth just thinking about how that might be done or what might be done. To that end here’s some adventure seeds and ideas for @ctiv8 based around the problems we’re facing.

During the Riots

  • Vigilantism is rarely a good solution but @ctiv8 members who are part of the security services themselves or have appropriate experience may be able to more effectively counter riots and looting in a direct, physical manner.
  • Police and other forces are behind technologically. They’re even behind uneducated street kids when it comes to social media and are restrained legally and technologically from tapping into their information. A skilled @ctiv8 hacker has no such restrictions.
  • Police are often heavy-handed and evidence gathering can prevent miscarriages of justice. An ad-hoc citizen surveillance network, perhaps run over wireless from a cluster of cheap webcams, could protect people from false accusations and help finger genuine culprits.
  • There’s a big threat that the issues that are the root causes of this civil disobedience and thuggery, the reason that there’s these social problems are going to be forgotten in the mainstream media in the overriding scourge of Daily Mail outrage journalism. An @ctiv8 cell with the right skills could insert messages or get information out there that subverts the main narrative.

After the Riots

  • People  have lost a lot and many of them don’t have insurance or a way to rebuild. Some don’t even have homes. They might have had more than the people that robbed them or burned down their shops but now they have nothing. A ‘Robin Hood’ scheme to steal from those who genuinely have too much to help those who have nothing would seem to be the thing to do. A ‘caper’ against the bankers and politicians who created the crisis to redistribute the wealth.
  • People aren’t going to ‘dob in’ those who did these things. Either through fear or a sense of loyalty. There might be other ways to find them that are available to @ctiv8 members and aren’t available to the Powers That Be.
  • So long as the disconnect between the people involved in the rioting and greater society exists these problems will continue. A more long term solution/campaign might be based around trying to re-engage the community with society, deal with some of its problems, ‘take out’ the problem people, drug dealers etc and create a more stable and invested local structure.

 And, if you want to make a real difference in real life, think about these issues. Think about the ‘why’ without excusing the ‘what’. Find local charities and groups in London and the other affected cities and make the world a better place, one gamer at a time.