X-Cards have been doing the rounds for some time. I’ve expressed my opinion on them before, so I’ll leave the commentary to the end. I want to introduce you to a different concept, a mirror concept, a counter concept.
You don’t need to credit me or anything, I’m not going to bother with licensing or anything. If you want to use it, just use it.
The M-Card is an optional tool (created by James ‘Grim’ Desborough) that allows you to assert control over your game and to ensure a certain level of maturity and buy-in in your games. There are few situations where this might be needed – convention games, shop games and pick up games or games with new players, but I hope you’ll find it useful.
To use them, at the start of your game, simply say:
“I’d like your help to keep this game fun. By playing at this table, with the M-Card on show, you are accepting that we’re all mature individuals who are capable of handling adult themes, fictional violence, sexuality and other difficult content. You are accepting that if you have an issue with anything in the game it’s on you to excuse yourself from the scene or game with minimal disruption to everyone else at the table.”
What is it?
The M-Card is a card with an ‘M’ drawn on it.
It is placed on the table to let people know that this is a mature table with a game that may involve mature themes (sex, violence, horror, drugs, torture and so on, anything that might get an R/18 rating if it were a film).
Why use it?
Most of the time you won’t have to. Most people who play RPGs do so with a regular group of friends who know each others’ boundaries, issues and so on. When you’re playing with new people, however, they’re an unknown quantity and there has been a rather disruptive culture of entitlement and ‘calling out’ within the hobby community. The M-Card is a way to reassert control of the game and the table and to warn away people who might disrupt your game and who wouldn’t enjoy it anyway.
How should you use it?
All you do it note down ‘M’ on a card and place it in the middle. You can add some more information if you like in just the same way movie ratings do, but these should be general. Things like ‘violence’, ‘gore’, ‘drug use’, ‘sex’ and so on. Specifics can give away the plot or story and that impinges on everyone’s fun. There’s no way you can account for anything and everything that might upset someone anyway, so it’s pointless to try. It’s just good to give people a general heads up.
The M-Card isn’t intended to create an atmosphere of hostility, nor of license to bully someone or subject them to harrowing scenes without them being able to withdraw or fade to black. All it is really intended to do is to put the onus of responsibility back onto the individual player, to mind their own mental health and to show consideration to everyone else at the table – should they find they have a problem.
The M-Card isn’t to display edginess, political affiliation, to excuse bullying or anything of the sort. It’s just a way to help you filter problem players before they sit at your table and to assert control over the game and remind people to take responsibility for themselves.
X-Cards are a thing, created by John Stavropoulos. They’re kind of a step-up from the more complex and obscure ‘lines and veils’. Those are ways of defining your hard line things you don’t want to play or moments you’d rather fade to black. I think they stem from LARP, but whatever the case they – and X-Cards have been turning up more and more.
Like most multi-lane highways to hell, X-Cards were created with good intentions. The idea was to create a way to have a ‘safe’ table where people had a mechanism by which they could show they were uncomfortable with something in the game and wanted to skip past it, without recrimination.
They were intended to be optional, but the attitude of entitlement that exists around them has been creeping ever further into the gaming space. At conventions and other public games, people now seem to expect to be coddled, from fiction. Some conventions now even make it policy that any game played under the auspices of that con must use X-Cards.
I believe this is a bad idea, not because I want to psychologically torture players (except when they split the party) but because this whole idea is wildly disruptive and impolite to the rest of the people around the table. If you sign up to a game called Temple of the Spider God and then X-Card every time the GM mentions spiders, you’re an arsehole, whether you’re phobic or not. Games have themes, which are usually obvious from the game description, or even just the game being played.
Let’s try and explain why I loathe these things, by way of analogy. Do you think any of these would be fun?
- A rollercoaster where anyone can press a button to slow it down or stop it if they get scared.
- A cinema where every person has access to a black-out and fast forward button and it only takes one person to black out a scene or skip it.
- A magical button that removes food you don’t like from a meal, but everyone’s meal. Imagine how vegans would abuse that.
You get the point, I hope. This tool that is supposed to guarantee someone’s ‘safety’ (absurd notion, it’s all just words and mathematics around a table, you’re only at risk from dropped D4s) endangers everyone’s fun and empowers a single individual to screw up the game for all the other players.
This is also why I’m against anti-harassment policies at conventions. It’s not because I condone harassment, but because these things tend to be poorly written and to contain rhetorical trojans that could be abused to censor, attack and – ironically – harass people.
The M-Card which I introduce above, shouldn’t be necessary. People should be willing and able to take responsibility for their own conduct and their own mental health. Your gaming group aren’t your fucking therapists. That said, there’s no safer environment to encounter your fears and triggers – on an imaginary basis – and to exert power over them.
That’s how you process these things and move past them, not by being coddled like a low-level magic user.
I hope M-Cards take, and if not, at least it’ll further the discussion.