Using the X-card



  • Graham I don't think it empowers players any more than a direct conversation does. The X-Card requires at least a short speech in which you get to say that you are predicating what follows on mutual respect and some measure of sensitivity, and if a less confident player finds that empowering that is wonderful but it isn't a guarantee.

    I've never seen a player abuse it, personally. I've rarely seen it picked up in play! But I like giving the little speech.
  • Graham, one thing I do is move the X-Card around.

    I will often move the X-Card closer to less confident players.

    I also tend to sit closer to them in general to give as much support as possible (although there are less confident players who prefer more distance so when I sense or know that, I give it to them).

    I find less confident players will put their finger on the X-Card instead of picking it up. The option of how to interact helps with empowerment. Where I've seen confident players pick it up and even announce "X-Card!".

    One thing I also do, to help with empowerment, is to demystify. I will use it myself. In rare occasions I will ask a friend to use it on me.

    But I do know of at least 2 instances where even with an X-Card, a player still felt too uncomfortable using it. Later they told me they weren't sure if their concerns and feelings were worth voicing.

    One thing I've sometime done as well... take a break in the middle. Ask players to privately write down 1 thing they want in the game, 1 thing they want more, and 1 thing they don't want.
  • Jumping in to agree with what some others have posted. I use the x-card in the majority of my convention games. I find it to be a valuable tool to help create an atmosphere of safety and respect (with the side benefit of sometimes encouraging bold play). I think the conversation about the card does most of the real work.
  • Is there a reason to have just one X-card and not give everyone their own?

    I would have thought that went double for O-cards.
  • edited June 2013
    John, that is great, thank you. There are long conversations to be had about how to get less confident players to speak up.

    I think most of the techniques we have work mainly for those who speak up. I've certainly seen Lines and Veils work that way.
  • Graham: Read Bris article, since it do answer you questions very clearly.
  • edited June 2013
    I think most of the techniques we have work mainly for those who speak up. I've certainly seen Lines and Veils work that way.
    You are right. All things that require speaking up, etc are easier for the people that have a easy time for those who can speak up, are used to speak up, are used to being listened to and respected, for those who have enough status to speak up, for people who belong to the social groups/roles where it okay to speak up etc.

    A tool can't magically fix that. No single technique fixes such deep rooted issues.

    But hopefully it can lower the threshold and help somewhat And I think X-cards/safewords can do that is used and presented and supported in a good way.
  • Yeah, the techniques for dealing with less confident players aren't really covered by the use or non-use of the X-Card or anything similar. I think less confident players need smaller, more intimate games. GM + 2-3 is good, or a GM-less game of 4. And not just few people, but trusted people, people who are already friends.

    It's our job as GMs/hosts/facilitators/etc to make the environment as welcoming as possible. That's what the X-Card, workshops, etc, are great for. Also anti-harassment policies, and any sort of effort in general to make gaming spaces more diverse.

    But, ultimately, we're not psychologists (most of us, anyway, and even psychologists who game aren't going to be treating people while rolling dice). At a certain point, especially with adults, people have to take responsibility for their own needs. I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for people with social anxiety disorder, for example. It's a huge burden to bear. If I was gaming with someone who suffered from that particular issue, and they articulated particular ways I could help accommodate them, then I would do it, no question. But someone who doesn't articulate their needs, and just sits there (or whatever)—it's tough to really help them.
  • Really, no.

    The people you most want to speak up are the people who will be less confident about speaking up.
  • Graham: Yeah. We agreed with that?

    Or do you mean that trying to lower the threshold actually make it even harder? How so?
  • I'm not disagreeing with you, Graham. What I'm saying is that in my experience there is a confidence threshold, or perhaps self-advocacy threshold would be a better word, below which it's not really feasible to draw someone out, since they don't *want* to be drawn out.

  • I would love to see these techniques evolve and take into account a wider variety of people.

    For example, I will be changing my initial X-Card speach to make it clear that the purpose of the X-Card isn't just to edit and move on, but if someone needs help, we are here to help. The people playing are more important than the game.
  • In a group I was involved with, we did a lovely "stop/go" exercise, which has the general intention of empowering people to speak up about this sort of thing.

    You form pairs, stand apart and hold your hands up ("gimme ten" style). The 'receiver' tells their partner to 'go', at which point they start moving closer, slowly. The receiver is supposed to - whenever they feel like it - tell their partner to stop, and the partner does. The activity ends when the pair's hands are touching, or when the receiver says, "Stop, that's close enough."

    The point of the activity like this is to normalize people speaking up for their boundaries, instead of it being a sort of game-wrecking ripcord.
  • Fuseboy... nice! I'll try that out!
  • edited July 2013
    It may just be because it's six in the morning, but I'm having a slightly hard time visualizing this in context with the exercise's desired effect: is how you're holding your hands such that, as you move closer, your hands are the first thing that touch?
  • It may just be because it's six in the morning, but I'm having a slightly hard time visualizing this in context with the exercise's desired effect: is how you're holding your hands such that, as you move closer, your hands are the first thing that touch?
    That's my understanding. The exercise let's the receiver specify when and if the two players make contact. They get to assert boundaries multiple times in a judgment-free space, and both players develop the expectations that boundaries will be set and respected. The primary benefits of the exercise appear to be normalization and trust-building.
  • Cool, that makes total sense to me. I might borrow that as well.
  • edited July 2013
    One way I've seen the "pre-game discussion as to what you're comfortable with generally" work is if you make everyone close their eyes. Then everyone raise their hands. The group leader keeps their eyes open.

    "Put your hand down if you're not comfortable with X"
    "Put your hand down if you're not comfortable with Y"

    Then at the end you have everyone put their hands down and open their eyes and you announce some things that won't be in the game.

    You can also do this with MPAA ratings if that's a good shorthand. You'd be surprised how many people would really rather have a PG-rated experience, with even things like cussing kept to a minimum, if they're in a safe space to ask for it. At least I was.
  • One thing we've been doing during the Terminal City Story Games meetups is flagging problematic content during game pitches. It's not meant to be comprehensive, but to at least give folks an informed understanding of what they're doing if they sign up for a game.

    Something like:

    [the game pitch:] "Alright, I'm going to offer Durance. It's a game about life and looming uncertainty on an imperial prison planet. It's an allegory for the history of the Australian penal colony - but, you know, in space. Expect betrayal, drama, and pathos."

    [the content flag:] "Since we're talking about a prison planet, the game necessarily includes prisoners in atrocious living conditions. We're likely to see some combination of abuses of authority, armed conflict, murder, and extortion. Think gritty."


    The x-card is still very much in effect. Flagging for content is a tool for expectation management, for informing consent, and for helping people find games where they're less likely to encounter triggering material.
  • edited July 2013
    Whoops. Private message.
  • I did a thing similar to what JD described in the last game I ran and was very surprised. Not so much as to what people found objectionable (I wouldn't have brought it up if I didn't think it was a possibility) but at how many people found it objectionable. I thought it would be one or two people, but it was nearly the whole group - and I was only asking about one specific issue! Very eye-opening.

    As far as the X-card, I've been using it since John introduced it to me, but I've yet to have a player engage with it. Take that for whatever it's worth.
  • edited July 2013
    Slight necro, but as threadstarter I feel a duty to kind of pull the strands together a bit. I think most of what I would say has been said already, but to summarise:

    Objective: to create safe spaces, and to prevent uncomfortable bleed.
    1. Using the X-card, either one per table or- an intriguing suggestion- one per player.
    2. Having an L&V discussion prior to the game.
    3. Having ‘safe words’ like cut and break etc.
    4. Having a kind of 'warm-up' exercise or workshop pre-game.

    I'll briefly tackle all these in turn.

    I‘ve never used the X-card myself (hence why I posted about it here, to find out how it works, or doesn’t) so thanks to all those who have done for feedback about their experiences with it. The positives appear to me to be that anyone can use it at any time without saying why they’re uncomfortable and with what; it obviates the need to have an L&V discussion (see later for possible negatives of that), it’s an easy thing to incorporate into one’s facilitation trick bag; crucially, it doesn’t have to involve speech- very important IMO for players uncomfortable with articulating their discomfort.

    Possible negatives: it’s been suggested above that if it’s so easy to halt the game when uncomfortable topics are raised, then other players could feel bolder in doing so, thus it’s paradoxically more likely that such topics will crop up. Whether or not this is true, and, if it is, whether it’s actually a negative, I’m not sure, only people’s individual experience will tell, but overall I think the positives outweigh this negative, if it is one.

    Lines and Veils discussion. Following a lot of talk on the subject over the last year or so, we’ve moved away from this in the UK, mainly because it was felt that to ask someone to flag their triggers before a game marked them out as someone who isn’t comfortable with x, y or z, which people are understandably reluctant to do. The solution has been generally to say to players something along the lines of ‘If you’re uncomfortable with something just say so and I’ll stop the game’. The main negative IMO, and where I believe the X-card scores over this approach, is, as I said above, you actually have to speak up, and several posters in this thread have addressed the problem a lot of people have with speaking up.

    So, better to speak up in-game if a trigger topic is raised? Well, maybe not. When I ran my MLwM scenario at UK Games Expo in May, one of the players, who had been reffing another game earlier and who after hearing about my game decided to give it a try, observed that if you have to speak up when an uncomfortable topic arises it’s almost too late, the damage having been done. So maybe back to L&V? And on speaking up, a quick word on ‘safe words’- again, I think the X-card is better than using specific words, for reasons outlined above, unless I’ve misunderstood, and these words are for use by the facilitator, not the players?

    Onto warm-up exercises and workshopping. Again, correct me if I’m off beam here, but I think the point of warm-up exercises is to get all the players- who may not know each other from Adam- to feel comfortable with each other before the actual game starts, on the principle presumably that a lot of the difficulty with bleed stems from people’s unwillingness to open up about their innermost feelings in front of total strangers. The main problem I see with workshopping, which in some ways is a more efficacious solution than warm-ups- given that they probably include warm-ups- is time. That and maybe some people’s antipathy towards them on the basis that they constitute ‘hippy shit’, or ‘new-age bullshit’, or whatever.

    Sorry I couldn’t reply to all comments individually, but thank you to everyone who pitched in, this thread has been enormously helpful to me and has given me a lot of food for thought.


    P.S. Apologies for this wall of text!!
  • The last time I introduced the "X" card I made it clear that it was for calling the game. That we would stop, and take a breather, play King of Tokyo, and maybe talk about it if we wanted to.
    And also that you can feel free to use it anytime we're radically out of alignment, including when other people are laughing and joking and you were trying to take something seriously.

    It was at home, and it wasn't used, but one of the players thought that was a useful option.
  • edited July 2013
    And also that you can feel free to use it anytime we're radically out of alignment, including when other people are laughing and joking and you were trying to take something seriously.
    Good point. If the X-card also enables players to say things like 'I'm uncomfortable with all this horsing around, can we be serious please?' it means that it's not just for uncomfortable bleed, which I think makes it easier for folks to use it for that purpose- because the other players don't necessarily know that that's why it's being used- and this in turn takes the pressure off the user.

  • Slight necro, but as threadstarter I feel a duty to kind of pull the strands together a bit. I think most of what I would say has been said already, but to summarise:
    More people should do this in their threads.
  • edited July 2013
    Take a breather by playing King of Tokyo? My group would end up killing each other! :)

    Edit: I'm not being entirely frivolous here. The biggest problem I've experienced in my games is players munchkinning in a way that other players find disempowering. I think the advantage over the x-card over lines and veils is that it can be for anything, while lines and veils suggests some kind of in-game issue being introduced.
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