X-Card vs Pause-Button - or both?

edited January 18 in Make Stuff!
Currently, we're designing a safety card for a broader german-speaking audience.
I wonder if we should base it on the X-Card, a Pause-Button - or both.

Currently, I've come with the idea for a EDIT flip-cardtwo-sided card:

I generally like the idea of the pause-button because I find the barrier to use it lower, it can be used for smaller things like clarifications.
On the other hand, I like the X-card as something like an emergency brake, showing people this is urgent and serious.
Is a flip-card best of both worlds?
Do you find it redundant? Which would you prefer?
Which safety techniques do you find essential?

I'd love to hear your opinion on this.


  • If the game format is fast,
    if it has some "take that",
    if it has absolute narration rights,
    if the audience is a pick up group,
    you need the brakes.
    If there is a clear divide between chitchat and narration, you need the pause.
    Also consider the limits of an active alarms system : what to do when the problem prevents the player from using the card ?

    In my opinion, the flip card is too much for a pause. People should just be able to ask for a pause : low entry barrier. The X card is good to have, even if unused.
  • Where would you store a two-sided card? A one-sided card has the advantage that you can put it on the table wrong side up and then have anybody use it by flipping it over. A two-sided card needs to be somewhere out of the way when not in use.

    If I were to use a status indicator like this, I'd probably make it personal (everybody gets one) and multi-stage so it would see use outside crisis situations, and would therefore be realistically relevant under pressure. For example, you could have statuses like this:
    "Blue Star" - Currently actively entertained, equivalent of applause
    "Black Cross" - Currently out of play, focused on something else
    "Green 3" - Default status, alert and ready to play
    "Yellow 2" - Disapproval of current direction, proceed with care
    "Red 1" - Equivalent of X card, cease play to address issue

    Hopefully something like that would see enough positive use (e.g. in expressing approval with the kudos card) to reduce the threshold for the negative use as well where necessary. It's admittedly a different feel from the way the X card lurks there, waiting to pounce.

    I'd probably implement a multi-status indicator as a Z-fold sheet the player can refold to place their chosen signal on top.
  • How I imagine is to have just one card on the table, visible at all times. Having more cards per group won't be a viable option.
    The X/Pause are two halves of th same side of the card (the back is for instructions).
    Players would hold up the card with the X or Pause when needed. Alternatively, they can tap on it.

    The idea is to introduce some basic safety measures to more traditional RPG players.
    It is not for a specific game or group and should be more generic/basic.
  • I'd just drop an X-card on the table. It's easy, and it can be used for Pause with a little discussion when you tap it. Without discussion, it's a retcon / content edit.
  • That's a really interesting idea, Eero. I've played one session of a game with something similar in use (it was the "support flower", which is slightly different but has some similarities to what you're describing).

    I agree that establishing the basic criteria for saying "hey, can we pause for a second?" is baseline for successful play, at all. Making it into a card seems a bit strange to me, but maybe it would help people.

    I've grown quite fond of ritual phrases for this purpose, too. I like to use "Fade to black..." as something anyone can say at any time. It's softer than the X-card, and even though it's a very short phrase, its meaning is VERY clear (and rarely needs explanation), which I love.

    (Clearly it has a slightly different purpose than Pause or X-Card, of course.)

    I agree that a double-sided card doesn't seem practical. Two cards seems like a better move.
  • Additional thought:

    UNLESS you want the flipping of the card to be a signal in itself, perhaps?

    Like, the card on the table is usually showing "pause", but if you're worried about where play is going, you can flip it over, as though you're preparing to X-card something.

    That's kind of cool.

    (There might be a danger here of people hesitating to use the X-card, though, if it takes an additional step to get to it. I don't know if that's a good idea.)
  • Flipping a card seems like an easy thing, but there's not much easier (or faster) than tapping an X. Adding another step or slowing it down reduces the chance that someone who really needs to X-out will be able to do so.
  • (Exactly.)
  • edited January 18
    OK, the "flipping" was a misunderstanding, it is still actually two halves of the same side.
    For practical reasons (production cost), there will be just one card - no two cards and not a card for each player.

    The question: what's the most useful thing to put on the card?
    The back will be description text. The front side can contain e.g. an X, a Pause, both, or something else.

    At the moment, based on the discussion, I tend to favor an X-card with describing "Pause" (along with some other techniques) on the back.
  • Some people suffering from PTSD said X Card / Pause does not solve their problem because it traps them in the traumatic situation (for hours!) which they try to avoid.

    They would need some procedures giving total authority over that part of the story which caused the panic attack so they can regain control over the situation and feel safe again

    These needs, without destroying the game for the others? Not an easy job!!!
  • @hamnacb , this can certainly happen. With a GM who has therapeutic experience, may be able to guide and support the player.
    But ultimately, what can you do? Safety measures can only reduce risk and offer better responsiveness.
    I think for PTBS, Lines & Veiles are also important to avoid or circumvent sensitive topics from the beginning.
  • edited January 18
    I want to correct @hamnacb.

    That part is right : the X card and absolute veto do nothing for certain persons, with "fade to black" the absolute nightmare fuel. Come to think of it, it's obvious : obscenity (leaving off stage what can't be shown) is the pillar of horror, and you don't need to be shell shocked to respond to it. (pop minute : have you seen in the original Psycho the knife cutting the girl in the shower ? only you never saw it doing it.)

    But Pause + a discussion, and the Support Flower do the job. With the Pause button, the person can explain what they need, and the table can hear that. With the "Slower" indication on the Flower support, the person can "double drive" the fiction as if with dual controls in a for tuition car.

    When Pause and the Flower don't work is when the person is unable to speak about the thing that unsettles them or tell how the other players could help them. All in all, this mute paranoid friend is better off RPing with people that went so far as to have an X-pause card ready and have had lengthy discussions about its use, than alone at home.
  • In most discussions I've had with people who expressed need for the X Card, they've said that they do not want to have a discussion about why they tapped it. There's nothing stopping a player from tapping the X Card and discussing it if they want and can but a procedure that requires discussion seems to me problematic.
  • Yes, I feel I'd need both possibilities:
    The possibility to drop it, no questions ask.
    And also the possibility to pause game play, explain yourself and discuss it openly.
  • I guess I'm saying, can't an X-card do both, since you don't require anyone to explain themselves, but they can.
  • Yes.

    But maybe having two distinct "buttons" could help make that easier and clearer?

    (I'm asking. I don't know if it does!)

  • But maybe having two distinct "buttons" could help make that easier and clearer?
    When it comes to safety (also for e.g. fire, emergency), it usually a good design practice to make things clear, simple and unambiguous.
    This has been discussed already in previous posts here, so I'm not going into depth here.

    That being said, the X-Card can do both - you don't need to explain but you can take a break and talk (also privately with i.e. GM).

  • Two buttons makes things harder.
  • A possibility might be a variation of the BDSM procedure with a card that has three circles on it: Green, Yellow, and Red. When someone has a visceral response to something that happens in the game, they can put their hand down on the corresponding color to indicate:

    Green: This is cool, I want more of this.

    Yellow: Woah, this is getting to be too much let's pause and talk about this.

    Red: Nope. Hard nope. Let's stop I need some time. Let me figure out if I want to talk about this.

    The symbolism is straightforward for anyone who knows what a stoplight is, it doesn't require any extra fiddly bits, players can represent how they feel without talking (unless they want to talk), and it doesn't run the risk of false positives because it takes a conscious action to tap or place your hand upon the color. It could easily be put in the center of the table, and would be pretty easy to make an improvised example of this tool with a sheet of paper and some markers.

    Including an option for someone to signal that a piece of fiction is something that's really jiving with them might also make nervous or shy players more willing to use the tool if they feel genuinely uncomfortable because they can see other people using it to express themselves.

    It also provides a clear dividing line between "let's talk this out and figure out an alternative" to "this really fucked me up, I'm going to need some space and support-lets forget about the game right now". That encourages communication in a simple and direct way and helps everyone learn each others limits.
  • This requires people to see which color the person pointed to. I'm not saying it's a horrible idea. It's just another complication. People at the table will see that you reached out and touched the card, but depending on how briefly you left your hand there, they might not see the color.

    I find that even an X-card gets half-covered by gaming material, chips, dice, and so on -- as long as part of it is visible, you can reach out and touch it easily.

    In practice, I have not found the X-card to be insufficient. I have not experienced its interpretation as "this really fucked me up," though. I assume if that happened, there may or may not be an X-card touch, and the player is likely to leave the table without much other communication. I'd likely follow them and try to determine if it was cool to approach them or not, offer help or chat or hugs or just more space, and be ready to leave them alone and check back in later if they just want to be left alone. The X-card isn't great for that extreme, but no card on the table is.

  • Yes, I find Yellow and Red also useful techniques at the table. We've used it without a card just by saying it. It worked more like "Cut" and "Brake", though.
  • Yes, I find Yellow and Red also useful techniques at the table. We've used it without a card just by saying it. It worked more like "Cut" and "Brake", though.
    Yeah, I think providing a variety of clear options to folks is the best way to proceed here. Like if they can say "Yellow" that's awesome, and if they don't feel up to speaking, just tapping the color that fits (having the red and green circles labeled Yes! and No!, and the yellow one labeled Slow Down) also works.

    It's still not a complete assurance that you won't run into problems, especially with a group that doesn't know each other well but I think that providing time before and after a game to set expectations and compile an after-action report are good amendments to those procedures.
  • I tend to alternate between X and Script Change, depending on the game. X is for shorter games, a need for a more immediate, blunt took or if skipping ahead might cut us past a scene in a game with short scenes. I prefer SC as buttons like 'pause' are good for normalising use of that kind of tool.
  • edited February 1
    What's wrong with "destroying the game for others" ? I'm a fan of leaving the table if I'm that upset, or hopefully before that happens, speaking rationally to other people.

    I think voicing your opinion, and playing with others that are accepting of people voicing their opinions, will trump any dumb prop.

    I'm not saying that the X-Card isn't perhaps useful to ease going over those speed bumps in play, I'm just saying that it's a dumb prop, that's perhaps useful for playing with strangers. I guess it's good if you can't read emotions in people? But maybe it should just have emotional states printed on it? Why not be more specific?
    Why shouldn't players hand out cards that have printed on them all their past trauma? Okay, I'm joking with that one, but it does seem like if that's what you wish to tread lightly around... I don't know? Why do people watch horror movies or read any fiction?
    Art is a bit of trespass or it isn't very good at doing it's job.
    It has to effect without traumatizing.

    Really what the X-card attempts to do, is a lie. It wishes to address something that no one addresses, but then when you want to rewind or edit the offending part out, you end up addressing it anyway. It should just be a fast-forward button. Even that... it doesnt solve anything. I mean to frame it as it really is, a backtracking device... there's gotta be a more elegant way to edit in a role-playing game, than just laying a card on the table and expecting that to tell the trauma.

    It's just words. At what point did language become a thing we can't address? Is saying "this is a tender subject for me, can we move past this or change direction please?" impossible? I get that it's tough, but most times doing the right thing is tough. When did this become a thing?

    Who knew I was so opinionated about a small piece of paper?

  • edited January 31
    The 20 seconds you take for presenting safety procedures are the important part. If you've studied the matter for hours, with different perspectives, these seconds are packing all the reassurance you need.
    Creating the conditions for players to open up and get creative is a big part of the rules.
    I have pondered the idea that the traditional agonising slowness in fight scenes is just a way of ensuring players are ready to accept the consequences of the fight.
    Those 20 seconds about the X card ? Can save hours.
  • @Nathan_H

    The X-card isn't for you.

    It is not a lie. The mere presence of an X-card makes a table feel safer for many people, and they might not feel comfortable playing with a certain group (especially people they don't know well, such as at conventions) or playing certain difficult material. Even without those special situations, minorities of all kinds feel safer knowing that there is an "escape valve" that doesn't require that they make a big deal about it if something comes up.

    Maybe you don't need it, but other people do. People with traumatic pasts literally find themselves suddenly in situations where they seize up and cannot speak. The X-card provides the simplest way to communicate quickly and easily.

    You say, "It's just words," but it's not. It's other people's emotional safety. You should care about that. Want to talk about doing the right thing? Make sure people feel safer at the table. You can do that simply by drawing an X on an index card and putting it on the table (and explaining what it's for).

    Your sense of elf-game purity should not trump other people's safety.
  • edited February 1
    I see what your saying about the X-card and I think that having a pre-game, adult discussion about expectations and what is acceptable content-wise and what is off limits—along with reminders at the table if someone strays—is ideal. That said, the ideal isn’t always achievable; often, we are gaming with people we don’t know and some people are bad at picking up on social cues and knowing when they’re crossing boundaries that they shouldn’t ...so the X-card can be a useful tool at times.

    Unfortunately, there have been times (especially in the past) when a small minority of players have taken advantage of a situation while gaming and have used it to inappropriately express or advance their unwanted sexual desires towards other players. Hopefully, this stigma is no longer associated with gaming culture but there was a time when it was, at least to some degree. I think the mere fact that the X-card is there can help some people feel more comfortable, and that alone may make using it a good idea.

    I once saw an old segment about people who played D&D and there was this game store owner, who was a major creep, talking about the things he made his female players go through when he GMed. He was completely getting off on feeling like he had power over them. It was beyond gross. If anyone has seen the segment, you know what I’m talking about.

    I do, however, have mixed feelings about the obsession with safety in RPGs these days. I have treatment-resistant, severe, Major Depressive Disorder (due to inherenting a lot of genes that mess up my neurotransmitter production, expression, transport, reuptake and on and on—my brain is truly a bounty of malfunction. I’m in remission currently but there have been times in my life, spanning years, in which I was literally unable to have any feelings of pleasure and was in a constant state of truly agonizing pain. I mention this in order to show that I am, supposedly, one of the type of people that emotional safety measures are suppose to keep safe, and I don’t think they do. I don’t think that they’re generally helpful to those they’re designed to help, and I don’t think overly focusing on emotional safety is a wise impulse.

    If anything, I think that our culture’s emphasis on safety has ended up hurting people. I see it as being akin to a parent thinking they are being compassionate by keeping their child safe by locking them in the basement. Inevitably, that child will have to face the wider world and will be unprepared to face adversity when they do, and this will cause them a tremendous amount of suffering. This is of course an extreme example, but you get the idea.

    So I see the X-card as a useful tool to make sure everyone is comfortable and enjoying themselves, but not as a way to keep everyone emotionally safe, which I don’t see as being helpful or wise.

  • That I am, supposedly, one of the type of people that emotional safety measures are suppose to keep safe, and I don’t think they do. I don’t think that they’re generally helpful to those they’re designed to help, and I don’t think overly focusing on emotional safety is a wise impulse.
    Thanks for sharing your story and bringing in another perspective.

    While having and using emtional safety mechanics may limit oppprtunities for building resilience, as a player it is always your own choice to use them or try to bear a difficult situation.

    In roleplaying, I find it important to remember that we are ultimately playing a game. So, if it is not overall enjoyable, we may be doing something wtong.

    Getting back to the OP question:
    The overall feedback to the X-Card I've got is that it has been both very effective for some and confusing or not ideal for others.
    This has led me to the decision to offer both X-Card and Pause-Button as part of the safety card.
  • An alternative point of view:

    I've seen the X card function as a reminder to people that "we are all here to have a good time, and making sure you do, too, is part of our priority".

    I've never seen it actually used, but its presence still makes a difference, it seems, especially with strangers.

    (Like Jeff says, there are gamers who have tried to create really creepy and traumatic experiences for others in gaming - I remember that video he's talking about! I believe it's a GM bragging about how he had a female paladin character captured, taken to hell, and repeatedly raped, and how hardcore and awesome he thought it was.)

    I'm not the type to be traumatized by gaming, and yet I've been in groups where weird and unpleasant stuff (for me) was going on, and I didn't feel I had the option to speak up. I can imagine how different that might have been if a) I was a more sensitive soul, and b) an X card was on the table.

    (Keeping in mind that the card itself does nothing; it's the group understanding the attitude that it represents and being mindful of it that matters. I've also seen some groups slap down a card out of obligation, but I never got the sense that they actually understood what it was for or that they would honour its use.)
  • edited February 1

    (Like Jeff says, there are gamers who have tried to create really creepy and traumatic experiences for others in gaming - I remember that video he's talking about! I believe it's a GM bragging about how he had a female paladin character captured, taken to hell, and repeatedly raped, and how hardcore and awesome he thought it was.)
    Yes, that was the video I was talking about, Paul. Super, super gross.

    I totally agree that the X-card is just kind of symbolic tool and that it’s the group as whole that decides whether or not everyone will be treated with respect. I think that just the presence of an X-card can, by itself, be useful—as a reminder to be mindful of other player’s experiences and feelings—but, as you say Paul, it will only be useful if the group is aware of, and respects the reason the card is there.

    What is the Pause-card currently used for? You said it was part of your safety card now. Does it act as a “warm” indicator with the X-card acting as the “hot” indicator, now? Or do you still just use it for clarification? Or both? Or something else? Just trying to figure out your system.

  • Well, the main difference between the X-Card and Pause-Button/Card for me is that the Pause-Card is a clear invitation to talk about any issues that are bothering you.

    X-Card on the other hand - at least how I interpret it - has a specific focus on eliminating something that's bothering you from the narration with a clear option not to talk about it.

    From many conversations I had recently, I have the impression that some people are less reluctant to use an informal pause button.

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