Using the X-card

edited June 2013 in Play Advice
In this thread about bookscorpion’s Last Train out of Warsaw game, there was a mention of the X-card, and a link to the GenCon blog where John Stavropoulos gives a very clear explanation of how, why and when to use it. I’m considering using the X-card in any games I might write that have high bleed potential, but I have a couple of queries and a request for AP info.

Query 1. I get that picking up the X-card enables any player (including the facilitator, as pointed out in the report), to call a halt to the proceedings, at which point the group can scale back on the uncomfortable content. Now this is all fine and dandy when it’s pretty obvious what content is causing the problem, forex the bandits assaulting the women- or rather not, as that scene was skipped in the end- in bookscorpion’s Last Train out of Warsaw game, but what about those times when it’s not necessarily clear what the content was that was objectionable or problematic?

Query 2. I read somewhere that the X-card can have a flipside- the O-card- where a player wants more of a particular topic. My question is two-fold: has anyone ever used the X-card also as an O-card, and can the two sometimes conflict, i.e. one player wants more, while another player wants less- and what should one do in these cases?

Finally, can anyone give a practical example of a situation where the use of the X-card (with or without the O flip side) successfully prevented a topic causing unwanted discomfort?
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Comments

  • If it isn't obvious and the X-er doesn't want to discuss it, take a break and return to the game with a new scene. I've never seen this combination of opacity and reticence occur but if it does don't let it be a big deal.

    I've included the X-card quite a bit in convention settings with strangers and acquaintances and its use is very rare. I think the fact that it is there often obviates its use. If you have the card you have to explain it, and if you explain it you are setting expectations about maturity and respect that are then typically met. That's my experience anyway.

  • How is this different then just getting up and walking away? I guess it's more polite, but strangely so.
    If I need a prompt to tell other people that I'm feeling uncomfortable, it's kind of a shame, ya know? Can't I be confident enough to express my feelings? And can't the people I play pretend with, tell when I'm feeling uncomfortable and give me space?
    Sure, if you have a hard time reading social cues, having a visual prompt might make it a bit less stressful to object. You still have to work up the nerve to present the card.
    Don't you think sometimes physical tools impede meaningful human interaction?

    I think John's kinda wrong about this one.
    First comes judgement, then hopefully understanding. If you're simply breezing by the complicated mess that's communication, you're missing out a bit.
    What's wrong with potentially serious topics brought up thru play? Life is a potentially serious topic.
    I imagine some of his best times playing pretend, were at times stressful.

  • Nathan,

    It's about making people feel safe, and dealing with triggering content. It's about creating tools to improve our hobby, because at current lots of people feel unwelcome or unsafe based on content that they've encountered in games where they felt unsupported in dealing with it. People don't always feel capable of self-advocating, it's often perceived as dangerous to self-advocate, and the X-card is one technique (along with The Veil, etc) used to create safe spaces.
    Finally, can anyone give a practical example of a situation where the use of the X-card (with or without the O flip side) successfully prevented a topic causing unwanted discomfort?
    When I do the intro speech at Terminal City Story Games, I include a talk about boundaries that borrows elements from The Veil talk used in parts of the PNW, and the X-Card used by jenskot and many others. It goes:

    This is our X card. Each group will have one, resting within easy reach on the table. When someone introduces something into the story that crosses a line for you, that makes you think, “I don't want to go there right now,” you can hold up this card. Or if you'd prefer, you can say, “I'd rather not go there.”

    We'll pause, and figure out our next step. Maybe it stays in the story, but we fade to black and start a new scene. Maybe it gets pulled and the person who authored it replaces it and we just keep on moving. Maybe we take a quick water break and return a few minutes later to discuss next steps.

    The important thing is that: if you don't want to go there, we don't have to go there. We can change directions. No one is going to make you explain yourself when you use the X card. We just figure out what everyone needs, and we accommodate them. In most cases, we just edit out the problem content, replace it, and keep on rolling.


    A thing I've focused on when giving that speech is that there is no one solution that will work in every case. The Veil or The X-Card doesn't replace our complicated interpersonal toolsets that we've spent our whole lives developing... it signals that now is the time to use them. Maybe the stock solution of "edit out the problem content, keep moving" works, but maybe not. It's case + person + issue + game-dependent.
  • Oh, yeah! I forgot to answer the question.
    Finally, can anyone give a practical example of a situation where the use of the X-card (with or without the O flip side) successfully prevented a topic causing unwanted discomfort?
    I have arachnophobia. Spiders sometimes trigger panic attacks.

    In gaming situations that weren't prefaced by a conversation about boundaries, if giant spider monsters get introduced I typically have to plead, "No, seriously, please don't include this" about four times before anyone takes me seriously. The first time I say it they think I'm joke-pleading. The second time, they assume I'm joking and laugh. The third time, they assume I'm milking the joke for all it's worth, and kind of roll their eyes and politely chuckle once more. By the fourth time, they tend to think I might be serious, and then proceed to backpedal or say something defensive like, "Well, if you're serious, why didn't you say so?" I always feel super awkward and not supported.

    In gaming situations that were prefaced by a conversation about boundaries, if giant spider monsters get introduced I typically have to say "Hey, this crosses a line for me. No spiders." That's it. I'm respected. Maybe I have to repeat myself a second time, but certainly not a third.

    ***

    I've seen people X out lots of different stuff: child abuse, rape, dog abuse, names with particular significance for them, spiders.

    Once I was playing The Quiet Year and someone very seriously said, "Hey, I don't want to start talking about construction logistics like this. I'm a trained architect, it'll push me into architect mode, and my suspension of belief will be lost. Let's not demand an explanation for how the pipes are tethered, or anything like that. Thanks."

    I've often seen people be supported and accommodated with no defensiveness or weaseling. I've occasionally seen or heard about folks getting talked over, and resigning themselves to a problematic/triggering/upsetting story element remaining in the story. That's a bummer. I'm hoping we continue to refine our toolset.

    I really like it when the Veil speech or the X-Card speech mentions that you can remove content that you see others getting really uncomfortable with, if you're worried that it's no longer a safe space for everyone at the table. Some folks freeze up when experiencing triggering or upsetting content. It's about empathy and checking in with people, not about policing anybody else's fun.
  • edited June 2013
    [trigger warning: sexual assault]

    Last night, I was MCing Monsterhearts at a dinner/story-games party. I'd played games with one of the players, knew one of the other players from email conversations, and was a total stranger to the final two.

    I figured we'd create characters, then have a conversation on boundaries, then start play. But I was playing with multiple screenwriters at the table, so my timing was a little off*. The very first thing that the Ghost player says is, "Well, before I died... I had a father, and let's just say that he was obsessive.." and he explains that his character was cornered in her basement by an unstable father who, unable to bring himself to sexually assault her, decided instead to strangle her, bury her under their dirt-floor basement, and tell his wife that their only daughter hadn't returned from school that day.

    Deep breath. The description was frank and not timid. I quickly glance around at other eyes in the room. I take the opportunity to pause the game setup and talk about boundaries. In addition to the speech I outlined above, I mention that, "While we're all here to tell a story about messed-up teenage lives, this is also our weekend. We're here on our free time. And if we don't want to go somewhere with our weekend, if we don't want to explore a certain dark corner, we don't have to. Just say the word, and content can get rewritten to make sure we're all feeling safe."

    And the Ghost's backstory held. She was killed by a father sexually obsessed with her but unable to bring himself to realize his goals. She was buried underneath the basement. The witch moved in, and brought her back to the world through an accidental act of magic. The ghost now haunts her house, watches her sleep, mourns the bedroom she lost but is still tied to.

    And it all felt okay, because we all had an opportunity to retreat from it when and if needed.



    *screenwriters are professional get-to-the-pathos technicians.
  • edited June 2013
    Query 2. I read somewhere that the X-card can have a flipside- the O-card- where a player wants more of a particular topic. My question is two-fold: has anyone ever used the X-card also as an O-card, and can the two sometimes conflict, i.e. one player wants more, while another player wants less- and what should one do in these cases?
    I don't recommend blending an emergency measure like the X-card or Lines & Veils with other aspects of play. When someone pulls the brake it's a big deal. It trumps the rules of any game you're playing. It should stand apart.

    "Tell me more" doesn't need the same level of attention. It's not an emergency.

    edit: What I'm really trying to say is that making an O-card waters down the X-card, which isn't good
  • I haven't had any problem (and have had some great success) with X and O cards being there, but I see what you're saying, and the potential for problems..

    The O-card is super useful as a way to give support to people who are approaching tense, emotionally tough matter. It's letting them know that it's cool, they're doing fine, and let's bring this up a notch. If your goal is to work with emotionally difficult matter, than having a way of encouraging is useful (and the O-card, because it's silent, lets you not break flow.)

    It's possible that having the O-card could make other people more hesitant to pull the X-card at an uncomfortable situation, especially if everybody else seems into it, but I think this is mostly solved by just being very clear about how one trumps other. The X-card is your escape, no questions asked, and the moment you feel uncomfortable with where this is going, hit it. I try to make a big deal of explaining how no matter what the subject, the game isn't about who can be the most edgy, and so everybody wins when people use the X-card.

  • @James_Stuart: that makes more sense. It wasn't clear from the original post that the O-card was intended for difficult material.
  • I haven't had any problem (and have had some great success) with X and O cards being there, but I see what you're saying, and the potential for problems..

    The O-card is super useful as a way to give support to people who are approaching tense, emotionally tough matter. It's letting them know that it's cool, they're doing fine, and let's bring this up a notch. If your goal is to work with emotionally difficult matter, than having a way of encouraging is useful (and the O-card, because it's silent, lets you not break flow.)
    I think the issue is that presenting X and O says a number of things: they're equally important, they're the inverse of one another, they must exist in tandem.

    An option to avoid this is use the X Card to signify boundaries/triggers/issues/edits-needed, and have a totally different thing going on for encouraging more/staying-with-it. There are limitless options: modified jazz hands, fingers-as-flames-of-awesome hands, emphatic nods, that distinct "this is messed up and awesome" gamer laugh that I hear so often, "roll on" hand gestures, thumbs-ups, quietly murmuring "fuck yeah..." ...

    I've always felt like I had ample tools to express my enthusiasm for staying with something. But if your group needs a specific concrete tool, fingers-as-flames-of-awesome hands is one I'd humbly submit as totally good.
  • edited June 2013
    One important thing, and this is partially a response Nathan_H, is that we shouldn't ask our self if we are comfortable speaking up without and X-card. That is the wrong question.

    I'm 27,and I been roleplaying for almost 15 years. I been discussing games online and engaging in discussions at conventions almost as long. I designed games, I organized larps. I explored my boundaries in games and in real life. I'm comfortable gaming in different context and speaking up in different gaming context. I know the social codes and rules of tabletop gaming.

    Frankly, yes, I could reasonably be expected to speak up without an X-card. But perhaps I'm not on of the person that have a hard time speaking up.

    We shouldn't ask our self if we are comfortable speaking up without an X-card. We should ask our self: "How do we get everyone comfortable about speaking up?"

    Would I been comfortable speaking up when I was fourteen? Or seventeen? Or if I as new to the hobby? Or if I had some trauma that I wasn't comfortable speaking up about? Or if I was afraid being ridiculed or rejected if did speak up? Or if I had bad expediences about speaking up in other contexts? If I hadn't been respected other times when I did speak up?

    X-cards and O-cards in tabletop or safewords at larp are ways to try communicating that speaking up is okay, that it will be respected, that it normal and expected. They are designed to make everyone, not just us experiences folks, comfortable about speaking up.

  • I think the issue is that presenting X and O says a number of things: they're equally important, they're the inverse of one another, they must exist in tandem.
    Yeah, which they're clearly not. I guess a way of looking at it is that there are three separate concepts here, "Cut", "Brake", and "Go". "Brake" and "Go" are kind of in tandem, ways of modifying an existing scene to speed up or slow down. But "Cut" is really the important one out of the three, and it should clearly trump the other two.

  • One important thing, and this is partially a response Nathan_H, is that we shouldn't ask our self if we are comfortable speaking up without and X-card. That the wrong question.

    I'm 27, I been roleplying for almost 15 years. I been discussing games online and enganing in discussions about them att conventions almost as long. I designed games, I organized larps. I explored my boundaries in games in real life. I'm comfortable gaming in different context and speaking up in different gaming context. I know the social codes and rules of tabletop gaming.

    Frankly, yes, I could reasonably be expected to speak up without an X-card. But perhaps I'm not on of the person that have a hard time speaking up.

    We shouldn't ask our self if we are comfortable speaking up without an X-card. We should ask our self how do we get everyone comfortable about speaking up.

    Would I been comfortable speaking up when I was fourteen? Or seventeen? Or if I as new to the hobby? Or if I had some trauma that I wasn't comfortable speaking up about? Or if I was afraid being ridiculed or rejected if did speak up? Or if I had bad expediences about speaking up in other contexts? If I hadn't been respected other times when I did speak up?

    X-cards andO-cards in tabletop or safewords at larp are ways trying to communicating that speaking up is okay, that it will be respected, that it normal and expected. They are designed to make everyone, not just us experinces folks comfortable about speaking up.
    Wanted to emphasize this.

    Also that articulation about this stuff is hard. And in my experience your ability to understand/speak up about your crap is directly proportional to your ability to deal with. So people who are going to be most strongly affected are probably going to have the hardest time breaking in/explaining.
  • edited June 2013
    This is great stuff, thanks all. I'll comment in a bit, but I'd also like to hear from some of the players/designers of Nordic freeforms, as the potential for bleed in such games is reportedly very high, indeed almost a given, unless I'm misunderstanding them.

    Actually, just one point for now:
    I have arachnophobia. Spiders sometimes trigger panic attacks.

    In gaming situations that weren't prefaced by a conversation about boundaries, if giant spider monsters get introduced I typically have to plead, "No, seriously, please don't include this" about four times before anyone takes me seriously. The first time I say it they think I'm joke-pleading. The second time, they assume I'm joking and laugh. The third time, they assume I'm milking the joke for all it's worth, and kind of roll their eyes and politely chuckle once more. By the fourth time, they tend to think I might be serious, and then proceed to backpedal or say something defensive like, "Well, if you're serious, why didn't you say so?" I always feel super awkward and not supported.
    @Mcdaldno I hear you. My Mum is desparately afraid of snakes, and this phobia, like your arachnophobia, is not at all uncommon and extremely debilitating in the kinds of circumstances where it gets triggered. I strongly supsect though that if she were in a similar situation (she wouldn't be, she's not a roleplayer) the responses of the rest of the player group would be likewise.
  • Here's my sense about Nordic freeform:

    Safety works somewhat differently from indie tabletop might because the content of the game is already fixed to a greater degree by the scenario writer. Usually, the scenes are prescribed, so while the players can improvise inside the lines, they aren't making up as much out of whole cloth. It's the job of the GM/blurb writer to be upfront about the content of the game so that people can select out of it before the game begins.

    It's also the job of the GM to a) create a supportive atmosphere where people feel their boundaries will be respect, b) introduce the cut/brake rules in case something goes awry and c) make it clear that finishing the game is way less important than making someone feel horrible in a bad way.

    I think this is different from indie tabletop games where there is more emphasis on creating content on the fly. to my mind, this has a bigger danger of veering into territory that's uncomfortable for the players since there's a more infinite set of options. So the X-card makes more sense in tabletop games.
  • Actually, I heard feedback from a number of people at Knutepunkt was that the "Break" option (equivalent to the X-card from what I read) was never used - even by people being made uncomfortable. I've personally never seen it used.

    One concern was this: By making it a formal option that stops the game, using "Break" means that the person has to publicly put their trigger on display and stop the game for everyone else. It's hard to do this, because people usually feel a social pressure not to mess up other players' fun.

    So while there is nothing wrong with having an X-card or "Break" rule, I think it's useful to have a more quiet/private alternative. A simple approach is to have a trustworthy person who is publicly responsible - that anyone can talk to privately to explain their concerns. Another safeguard is to encourage people to bring up issues in advance, by setting a tone where everyone is respected and open in the beginning.
  • edited June 2013
    Just to note, Cut is generally the "stop the scene, right now" word, and Brake is the "let's slow down, but not stop". That said, I've heard the same notes that these words are not used often in the Nordic scene, for a variety of interesting reasons.

    I think the point of these stop mechanisms is that quiet/private alternatives, and previous tone discussions aren't necessarily quick enough, especially in indie tabletop, where players are often expected to invent dramatic twists on the spot. In a game of a Durance hack (set in a high school) where we didn't have an X-card, a player took one of his frustrated notable characters, and described him getting a gun and heading towards the school to take revenge against a teacher, and I looked around uncomfortably, and then had to say that I didn't want a school shooting. We negotiated it out, but I definitely felt a lot more awkward and even a bit frustrated that I had to push several times before we finally got rid of that scene.

    If you had asked me a list of things that I wouldn't want in that game beforehand? I'm not sure I would have conjured that. Was that scene out of tone with the rest of the game? Not really, it was (as Durance is), a dark game. But did I want that scene to happen? Not at all.

    I think you're totally right that especially before and after intense games, you want to have time to reflect, talk about feelings, and see where people are.

  • I have arachnophobia. Spiders sometimes trigger panic attacks.
    Me too. I can generally handle games where spiders are there, but there's no visual representation.

    Where I've had problems is usually when there's a book with an illo or photo. My copy of the old Monster Manual had pieces of cardboard over the pages where there were illos that made me want to slam the book shut and flee. Mind, I did not object to the existence of these illos, because they were illustrating descriptions accurately. I just didn't want to see them.

    Chaosium had an unfortunate period that I call its Bug Period. For some reason, someone decided that random pages of all of the Call of Cthulhu books coming out would have pictures of bugs or spiders sprinkled throughout, with no connection to the text whatsoever. The newer version of the Kingsport book has nothing in it to justify these illos. Nothing. I will not buy the 6th edition rulebook.

    Again, this is not "Here's a picture of the Leng spider accompanying the description of the Leng spider". It's not "Here's a scenario about Atlach-Nacha, the mythos spider deity." I know to brace myself for that.
    Once I was playing The Quiet Year and someone very seriously said, "Hey, I don't want to start talking about construction logistics like this. I'm a trained architect, it'll push me into architect mode, and my suspension of belief will be lost. Let's not demand an explanation for how the pipes are tethered, or anything like that. Thanks."
    That's very useful to know in play, yes. My first instinct is to ask the player with the specialized knowledge to use it to help explain away errors or rewrite / reshoot (redescribe?) the scene so that the effect I'm trying for is achieved without breaking reality as he knows it. If that's not what the player wants, I'm totally fine with that, but I do need to know.

    There are also situational things. Before I ran a session a couple of days after the Boston Marathon, one of my players asked, "Can we not focus on the anarchist plotline just yet?" Happily, I'd planned a completely different scenario with a completely different plotline, but even if I hadn't, yes, absolutely -- so long as I know there's a "let's not go there" on the table.
  • It seems like one of the benefits of an x-card might be bolder play. In such a situation I think I'd feel more comfortable driving the game into riskier, more fraught territory, because the X card suggests the possibility that the game might go in those directions, and we have a technique to reign them in if they get hurtful.

    (I have never played with an X-card)
  • edited June 2013
    Actually, I heard feedback from a number of people at Knutepunkt was that the "Break" option (equivalent to the X-card from what I read) was never used - even by people being made uncomfortable. I've personally never seen it used.
    Yeah, it's interesting that these rules rarely come into play, but I think their existence is important nevertheless. Both to provide the ground for bolder play, as johnzo mentions, and to provide a safety net.

    I think I've been present at workshops where one practices "cutting" and "breaking" before the game. I think that's a good idea.
    One concern was this: By making it a formal option that stops the game, using "Break" means that the person has to publicly put their trigger on display and stop the game for everyone else. It's hard to do this, because people usually feel a social pressure not to mess up other players' fun.
    There has been some debate, I think, over these rules and the social pressure around them. Like some weird stance amongst certain players that it's more "hardcore" not to use these rules. I haven't followed these debates closely, but am aware of them.

    It might not be an ideal system, but I'm glad it's there. I don't know of any better alternatives, of the top of my head.

    I'm not entirely sure, but I think I've used the Break-option once in my 16 years of larping here in Norway, and the Cut-option 0 times. When I used the Break-option, it was to ensure the safety of fellow players who were about to go climb on a slippery surface in the dark. I think that was last year.

    I remember one episode where I've later wished I used the Cut-option. A player cut her very RL finger as I entered the room as her in-character superior, but I was to "immersed"/ in my own head space to remember to cut and make sure she was all right. I regret that, but at least I talked with her after the larp (and she said she/it was ok).

    I've never been used to having the Cut/Break options present in tabletop play, and the thought at first seems a little alien. (Probably out of some feeling that tabletop is less physically and mentally intense). But it might be a good idea, especially at cons and in other settings where you're playing with people you don't know that well, in order to ensure a safe space.

  • I'm with Johnzo. To me the X-card looks quite clearly like a game mechanic designed to get us to rush toward troublesome content.

    I have no problem with this! I've designed a couple of those myself.

    You see it sometimes in people's play reports. "Yes, there was an X-card on the table, and boy oh boy did we need it!' And I'm like, I bet you did! That means it worked.

    It's a tidy piece of game design.

    -Vincent
  • There's some evidence that safety is, itself dangerous, as it helps people feel safe going further.
    http://www.freakonomics.com/2010/02/06/the-dangers-of-safety-full-transcript/

    There's been some discussion on the Nordic scene that having rules like brake/cut -- by their very existence -- telegraph to players that their boundaries might be pushed or disrupted, and that this knowledge is part of the buy-in.

    But yes, there is a real question of "if no one says 'cut,' does it really count as a safety measure?" I'd assume that might also be true of the X-card. I've never seen it used myself, though I wish I'd used it one time.
  • If we're not sure why the X-card is used, I recommend calling for a break and having the GM or a close friend speak directly and privately with the person in question. In general, we tell people that no explanations are needed, but if they want to share, they are welcome to. It's their choice.

    I've seen the X-Card used easily 60-100+ times (I play a lot of games with a lot of people all over the world). Some examples:

    - I described an NPC smoking. A player was trying to quit and felt uncomfortable.
    - We were playing a modern realistic horror game. Someone introduced funny elves.
    - I described plane turbulence. This triggered a player and luckily I stopped asap (we had to stop the game as well) and we did what we could to help the person in question.

    Recently a friend brought up that X-Cards and Veils make them feel unsafe. This was the first time I encountered this, but I'm glad I listened, as they had important things to say. For them, techniques like the X-Card sound like a way to prioritize "keeping the game moving" rather than "attending to the needs of the person who's been triggered. It's important to note that uncomfortable and triggered are not the same thing. And there are many different levels to triggered. Another friend who has PTSD once broke down in a game… which was before we had an X-Card, and honestly…. I don't think the X-Card could of helped in that case because it was something that once triggered, it's already too late (for them specifically). There are a few takeaways here, but I think most valuable is that people are more important than games and the X-Card shouldn't be used to "get past" issues as much as to keep issues for escalating (when possible).

    I've also heard that similar tools like Break in various LARPs have been problematic because people either forget to use them (no reminder like a card in the middle of a table with an X on it) or using them puts too much attention on them (you can't simply point to a card or lift it, you need to speak loudly so everyone can hear you). It's further complicated by situations where the point of the game is to experience intense emotions, in some groups, using an X-Card could be seen as a weakness. I'm not sure what I would use in a LARP as an X-Card alternative, but since I'm designing LARPs now, it's something I will think deeply on.

    The X-Card can also lead to more intense play. People know they have a communication tool if things go too far, so they may feel more comfortable going farther than they normally would.

    As Lizzie says, I find X-Cards to be especially valuable for Story Games where players make up content. It's impossible to fully know what will be in a game before you play, so it helps to have a signaling tool.
  • What if it were a rule that each player must use the X-card at least once?
  • What if it were a rule that each player must use the X-card at least once?
    That sounds terrible to me. Saying "each person must state that their boundaries were crossed once, regardless of whether that's true" would change the significance of its use and probably result in people being less careful and compassionate about it when it got used.
  • I've seen the X-Card used easily 60-100+ times (I play a lot of games with a lot of people all over the world). Some examples:

    - I described an NPC smoking. A player was trying to quit and felt uncomfortable.
    - We were playing a modern realistic horror game. Someone introduced funny elves.
    - I described plane turbulence. This triggered a player and luckily I stopped asap (we had to stop the game as well) and we did what we could to help the person in question.
    Were all these 60-100 cases using the specific "X-Card" technique, where there is a card in the middle of the table that someone picks up to stop the game and scale back on uncomfortable content? If so, that's very interesting, because that sounds like it is much more common than what I've heard of "Cut" and "Brake" in Nordic larp (and sorry about mixing those up in my earlier post).

    I think it is easier to interrupt a tabletop game than a larp for two reasons. Larps tend to have more people, so you're stopping a larger social works, and also larps tend to be more continuously in-character, so it is more of an interruption to step out. Still, it might be interesting to look into what else (if anything) makes it easier to pick up the card.
  • jhkim, totally agree about LARP!

    All those cases are X-Card specific. I use them in most of my one-shot games which is probably in the 60-80 games a year (although I've been slowing down quite a bit). KristaCon NYC also used the X-Card in every game.
  • edited June 2013
    About safe-words/X-cards not alays beeing used even when people should have used them:

    Yes, it is a bit of an issues. Johanna Koljonen adresses in this great talk:


    The thing to remember that Safe-words/X-cards isn't 100% effective. They are not. If you believe they are 100% effective they are actually harmful.

    I been at a larp where a player who had a latent claustrophobia. She had been a bit uncomfortable in small spaces before, but hasn't realized she actually had a phobia. She played a thief and her character was shut into an earth cellar before the trial. When she was locked in the character was played upset and angry, slamming at the doors and shouting. Then the player suddenly slipped into a full-blown panic attack. It happened so fast she didn't think about using the safe word, to have them open up the cellar door. She started screaming and slamming the door in wild panic. Somehow the guards realized that something was wrong, opened up the earth cellar door realized that something really was wrong and let her out and helped her calm down.

    If the players had believed that safe-words was 100% effective they would have ignored the impulse that something really as wrong ("Because if something really as wrong she would have used the safe-word" ) and wouldn't have checked in on her.

    Safewords/X-cards are not 100% effective. But neither is they 0% effective. They have effect both as a communicative tool (in this game we will respect if someone isn't comfortable with something, etc) even when they aren't used during play. See Bri great post that descibe how they made game safer for her even if she didn't have to use them. http://www.gamingaswomen.com/posts/2013/01/finding-my-o-with-the-x-card/ And sometimes Safe-words/X-cards are used and people are grateful that the rules was there.

    Safewords/X-cards are tools that need to be combined with other tools to create a safe enviroment.

    In my example above the game also had rule that said guard not allowed to walk away from a tied up or locked in person. They need to stay close to the prisoner. Both for physical safety reason (a tied up person or a lock up person can't get away from an aggressive swarms of bees without help) and for psychological safety.

    When the one safety tool failed (the player panicked to fast to remember to use a safe-word), the second safety tool worked.

    Even of the guards was on the other side of the door they where so close by that they could tell the difference between her playing upset and banging at the door in character, and her banging at the door because she was having a panic attack and help her out of the situation.
  • I'm getting a few things from this thread:

    a) I should probably introduce X-cards as a method in my own games.
    b) They can be used to ban "funny elves" - sing hosannah! (I'm not being entirely frivolous here; as a privileged white cis-man, a player being "wacky" is the single biggest problem that ruins games for me and comes up a lot more often than problematic content)
    c) They should only be used with the table's consent, as opposed to imposed. They're permission for people to push harder, which is fine, but that's only a good thing if everyone is signed up to that; if not, then a gentler, more feeling-our-way-as-we-go-along-and-be-mindful approach might actually be better.

    Am I on the right lines?
  • semajmaharg: Yeah. Get the O-card as well.

    O-card is a way to give and show consent, enthusiasm, positive feedback and positive reinforcement when people do things right. It makes the X-card twice as effective.
  • I think the two safety tools are a very good point. If people feel that just because there are X-cards or safewords, they can stop paying attention to other players being uncomfortable, things are going to go wrong sooner or later. You still need empathy and you're not allowed to give up your responsibility just because players have a safeword. But as long as you keep that in mind, X-cards are a great way of making the game safe for everyone.
  • I'm listening. My slight worry about the O-card though is it's potential for silencing discomfort. Just to disagree with myself however, I suppose that as long as that's "opted in" at the start as well, then it should be okay.

    Of course, most of my troupe come from an anarchist/consensus based decision making background, so they'd probably prefer jazzhands in any case. :)
  • Something I would add is to also have an official quiet channel for voicing concerns, for people who are too shy to stop the game for their discomfort.

    For an upcoming larp, my plan was to abandon the more formal approach and instead make sure to start with sitting in a circle and having people introduce themselves and express some things they would like to see and would like to avoid in the larp. The idea is to get people talking and feeling OK with expressing what they want out of the larp. In my experience, most larp introductions have been a long lecture from the organizers, and I wanted to try something to get more people talking about what they want as themselves.
  • edited June 2013
    Something I would add is to also have an official quiet channel for voicing concerns, for people who are too shy to stop the game for their discomfort.

    For an upcoming larp, my plan was to abandon the more formal approach and instead make sure to start with sitting in a circle and having people introduce themselves and express some things they would like to see and would like to avoid in the larp. The idea is to get people talking and feeling OK with expressing what they want out of the larp. In my experience, most larp introductions have been a long lecture from the organizers, and I wanted to try something to get more people talking about what they want as themselves.
    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

    NO!

    No!

    NOOOOO!

    (Imagine me running across a meadow screaming this in desperation and fear.)

    I'm speaking from expedience here. Don't do this. This was my worst mistake as an organizer, ever... Ever.

    My biggest larp mistake
    I was one of the organizers at a fantasy LARP, and was the one that held the briefing for the Roman/Nazi inspired group. The group would have prisoners and slaves and there would be a lot of hard play. We talked about safe words and not pushing anyone yourself or anyone else into situation they wasn't comfortable with.

    Then I made a mistake. There where 60 people in the group, standing in the circle. Some as young as 15. For some it was their first larp, and others had just larped a few times before.

    I asked them "Let's go round the circle so we can say what sort of things we would be comfortable with, and what we wouldn't be comfortable with."

    The first one the answered was a 17 year old with not much larp experience. "Erm. I think I can handle anything." Then standing next to him was an even younger larper that also said. "I can handle anything." And then the third person said... "I think I can handle anything too."

    And so did everyone else, because the first few person answering had created a norm. It took some really expediences larps to brake the pattern and really speak up and draw some real boarders. During the game, people in that camp played to hard, pushing each other to far, perhaps much because everyone said that they could handle anything.


    ---

    Well... There are probaly ways you can approach this in a better ways, but....

    There is a real risk of doing what I once did if you are not aware of the risk.
  • It took some really expediences larps to brake the pattern and really speak up and draw some real boarders. During the game, people in that camp played to hard, pushing each other to far, perhaps much because everyone said that they could handle anything.

    Well... There are ways you can approach this in a better ways, but....

    There is a real risk of doing what I once did if you are not aware of the risk.
    (One note: this is only a 12 person larp - so it's a lot easier to be in a circle and all go around than in a group of 60. I wouldn't do this for 60 people - there are way too many people to keep track of and because it takes a while, there is a lot of pressure to be quick and simple about what you say. 60 people is a very impersonal setting for any actual discussion.)

    I've seen the behavior you're talking about before. I don't think it means that one should avoid having players speak, but rather to properly set up the context in which they speak. Leading by example is one way, and choosing the first people to say things is one issue you remind me of.
  • Great!

    In that discussion I also think it important to stress that you don't know before the game what you actually will be comfortable with. And that it okay to normal to change you mind, or to realize that in this context you actually not comfortable with X even if you thought you would be, or that someone might react strongly to something they thought they would be okay with.
  • I think it is important to make a distinction between being able to say that there are things that might come up that you didn't expect, especially with folks you haven't played with before, and saying that we are purposefully going into an area where you might need an emergency break.

    Like, when you're playing somewhat vanilla, you might not need a safe-word per se. We're not going anywhere that is obviously rough from the outset, but we acknowledge that sometimes you can step on a landmine without knowing it. In place of a safe-word, we have the enthusiastic consent of the participants. Its not "tell me when to stop" it's "how do you think about this?" If the answer is anything but "fuck yes!" then you need to stop and negotiate. Whereas when the intention is to go somewhere difficult, and we all know this and have carefully negotiated from the outset, we start slow and work our way into the scene. The safe-word emboldens us, allows us to go places together that we wouldn't have gone alone, knowing that if we need to stop we will be able to and seek solace and support.

    But I think mixing the two is a bad idea, because it can potentially introduce difficult elements that have not been negotiated for, but appear invited by the presence of a safety net. To be clear, I believe the negotiation is the important part; the safety net is just a mechanism by which to implement the work we have already done to sharpen our focus on the care, enjoyment, and wellbeing of our fellow players. The understanding must always be from the outset that even though we have a "safe"-word, what we are doing when we play rough is never truly "safe". So with this in mind we must find ways to understand and care for one another.
  • A few thoughts:

    - I haven't thought this thru too much, but had the idea that a game designer can bounce between two poles a) nerfing the game content to not offend everyone and taking total responsibility for game content and b) saying that all players are hardcore individually responsible for their own psychological well-being.

    - I wrote about larp safety for the (free! downloadable!) 2013 Knutebook (http://knutepunkt.org/static/documents/Habitual.pdf). For my piece, I called up a neuropsychologist and asked her to evaluate some of the current tactics, and I talked with her about why people don't use cut and brake rules. (And the anal copyeditor in me gently reminds the team that it's usually "brake" not "break," as in "this level of intensity is good but don't increase it and let me play myself out of the scene.") The bottom line is that everyone has different vulnerabilities to certain topics, and this is why safety measures are a complicated, sticky wicket. You can read what I learned from her -- and more! -- in the piece I wrote for this year's (free, downloadable) Knutebook.

    But in general, yes, it's muy complicado. And I agree that giving players the tools for negotiation and a felicitous atmosphere are probably a good idea. I think there was a panel by Emma Wieslander and Eleanor Saitta on teaching players to negotiate with each other at Knutepunkt this year, but alas, I wasn't able to make it. Maybe someone else here was?
  • w176 makes a great point, "The thing to remember that Safe-words/X-cards is one tool isn't 100% effective. They are not. If you believe they are 100% effective they are actually harmful."

    I agree with this. An X-Card doesn't mean we stop having to be mindful of others. It's just one more tool in the toolbox to help if it makes sense for you, your group, and your game. If it's used as "now we have this so we don't have to worry about hurting others anymore", that can be really problematic.
  • I think another part of safety that is key is setting expectations and communicating clearly. If you know your game will involve excessive gore and sexual assault, it is important to state that up front so people have the info they need to opt in or out of your game.

    Additionally, I've found that a lot of the content people object to, is specifically content that may be inflicted on their characters. Plenty of people are ok with fiction dealing with sensitive topics like sexual assault, as long as their character is not in any danger of sexual assault themselves. I find being clear what people are ok with in setting vs. ok with for their characters can be an important distinction.

    There was an infamous game where a female player said up front, "I don't want non-consensual sex in this game" (and it was a comedy game dealing with silly topics where none of us imagine such content would be included)... and then she proceeded to attempt to rape an NPC! What she meant was, "I don't want my character to experience non-consensual sex".

    I also really like mechanics like Monsterhearts where the results of rolling are often decided by the person affected. If you roll a 7-9 to Turn Someone On, the person affected decides if they have sex with you, give you what they think you want, or gives you a String. In Monsterhearts, you can also spend a String to offer someone an XP in exchange for taking a specific action BUT the person affected decides.
  • Norwegian larpwright Eirik Fatland with a blogpost on safewords in role playing games, more specifically "Cut" and "Brake" in larps.
  • Dude. Fatland's post is AWESOME.
  • I just came here to post Fatland's article!

    I think it's important to note that often "Cut" and "Brake" (and I would add Play To Lose) aren't adequately workshopped in LARPs. Especially for new players.
  • Another side to all this, even if you don't use these techniques, introducing them influences play.

    I find the X-Card talk, can be more important than the X-Card itself.

    Some play RPGs because, "RPGs are like video games except you can do anything limited by your imagination."

    But that's not true, RPGs are a group activity, not a solo one. If the group isn't into randomly killing everything and anything, including murdering prostitutes, ala a more open version of Grand Theft Auto... it is going to be a socially dysfunctional experience.

    My friend Martha, who is a psychiatrist, said, "RPGs are limited by the tolerance of the people you play with."

    The X-Card talk is a good way to communicate... this is not a solo activity. The people here matter more than the game we are playing. Help us make this fun for everyone.
  • I find the X-Card talk, can be more important than the X-Card itself.
    Me, too.
  • I agree, John, that they aren't workshopped enough, but part of this is because workshopping them is complicated. I'm wondering: what have people tried? How has that worked?

    Here's the dilemma as I see it: You can get people used to saying "cut" and "brake," but just mandating that people use it once in a workshop isn't enough, because forcing people to say these words doesn't actually replicate the circumstances under which you'd want to use them -- when you're feeling that things are too much or going in a direction you aren't comfortable with. I think replicating that in a workshop is...risky...and sort of obviates the purpose of the words right there in the workshop.

    Then again, maybe it's better to get that out in the open during the workshop where the organizers are watching.

    (A side issue is that we're still getting used to workshops over here in the states, and I think that because of that, they tend to be compressed, so organizers have to make judgement decisions about how much time everything gets, and what's truly essential to play. Helping people learn to love workshops might help loosen up the time schedule a bit, I suspect.)
  • edited June 2013
    Lizzie "workshops, WTF" is a whole 'nother thread waiting to happen.
  • I like that this exists because:

    1. I have a lot of anxiety regarding protocol in social situations. I mean A LOT. If I don't know what the local protocol is for something and I can't figure it out, I freeze up.

    2. I'm very fond of the Refuge in Audacity (wherein horrible content justifies itself by just being as horrible as you can make it) and Crossing the Line Twice (wherein content crosses the line into offensiveness then crosses another line into humor) tropes, and sometimes I worry that others don't appreciate this.

    3. I like games like Sorcerer and the Rustbelt (which is mine) in which you push the characters against the wall so hard that they are forced to find a way to break through it, but I always end up worrying that I took it too far.

    4. I have auditory processing disorder, which, among other things, makes it very difficult to catch non verbal cues, because so much of my brain power is usually tied up in figuring out what *words* a person just said that I literally can't pay attention to much else.

    5. There is content that really bothers me sometimes, but it's not the kind of things that usually bother people and it's hard to talk about. (As an example, I don't think I will ever be able to play Nicotine Girls, even though it's a masterwork and I'm glad that it exists. It would probably bring me to tears and I'd rather not do that, thanks, nor explain why I'm crying.)
  • edited June 2013
    People who have used the X-card: could you talk me through how it empowers players to state their boundaries?

    One of my worries is that, in the main, the X-card would be used by those with the confidence to use it. Thus, it might give confident players another tool to assert their wishes, while not really helping less confident players.

    How would you (or do you) ensure that less confident players use the X-card?

    (Note: please don't simply assure me that it does help less confident players. I'm glad if it does, but I want to know how you ensure they use it.)
  • I can only speak for using safewords: the fact that I don't have to explain myself and that it's a clear-cut signal really helps. I don't have to come up with an explanation of what exactly bothers me and why (maybe I can't explain, maybe I just don't want to) - but with X-cards and safeword, I don't need to.

    I don't think you can ensure that people will use it, but the fact alone that you just need to pick up a card to stop the game is a big plus. It's much easier done that making yourself heard against all the other players and people won't make fun of it (assuming the group isn't made up of total assholes) because it's a serious signal everyone agreed to.
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