Episode 30 of Little Wars discussed various means of ‘safety’ that see usage among certain RPG circles. These methods, trinkets, and baubles certainly entertain in a sort of point and laugh, ‘look at these fragile fools’ sort of way. But this development gives us unique insight into linguistic and conversational control and the future of traditional games as a hobby.
Language and communication create society. And our society controls through manipulation of communications. Certain concepts, phrases, and even words are stigmatized in their use, and implying someone is adherent to them ends any interaction, or at least pushes it in a certain direction.
Certain words, phrases or invocations change conversations. An accusation of racism, for example, carries the weight enough to end a conversation and in most cases a career. I’m sure half a dozen other examples of hefty accusations of such caliber spring to mind as well. These form a distinct method of control, certain ideas are declared off-limits should they stray too close to declared off limits topics or are deemed to lead to ‘undesirable outcomes’ can be shut down in this way. Opposition to the programs of various human rights NGOs aimed at proselytizing lifestyles to children must be some form of phobia, a mental deficiency. Similarly, causing discomfort must be avoided at any cost, any interaction can be stopped based on this. Those who have the power may demand deference from others in formal settings, universities, and corporate offices.
So it should be worrying to anyone when this sort of disposition spreads. And make no mistake, this is a system of control. Normal well adjusted people do not need to set up X cards, consent flowers, or systems with VCR button icons or even use pre-made terms of service (i.e. the Luxton Technique). So then why enforce these things? Is it merely socially dysfunction, or rather are people so “triggered” they need these physical coping devices?
Contrary to what ‘SJW tears crowd’ will tell you, claiming triggered status shows no internal weakness or defect or being owned by facts and logic. It is a show of strength. Not in an “empowerment of victims” or other such babble sort of sense, but rather in that it allows the ‘threatened’ or ‘triggered’ party to shut down discussion. The ability to destroy discourse, especially around topics threatening to system ideology. It is worth noting that these signals only serve to laterally indicate a target for suppression to others. There is no formalization of this procedure, only a peer to peer pattern.
For example, someone can claim to be harassed by someone else under dubious circumstances can gin up a wide variety of people harassing and working to get them fired, especially if that person is of the wrong opinion or is perceived to be. Another prototypical case takes the form of political doxxing, wherein the targets information is released for “public safety” and they are then targeted by others, either calling their employer in tortuous interference, throwing bricks through windows, lead pipe based attacks (it happens), and in some extreme cases bolts on car wheels unscrewed. Of course these sorts of actions are carried out by “non-organized” and “ideologically oriented” actors. The reality of their violent enforcement of what essentially is the Google HR code and Terms of Service causes little comment.
Safety becomes the shroud of such actions, deeming ones ideological and interpersonal opposition (for the enforcers there exists no difference) ‘unsafe’ or ‘dangerous’ is all one needs to give casus belli for any number of suppressing actions. So when safety tools are introduced, especially when they replace ordinary organic human interaction into a human resources toolkit, complete with correct HR terminology, they should be analyzed as means of control. There is nothing standing between me vocalizing my prudish sensibilities to my compatriots. If someone feels my concerns are unfounded, we can talk it out. This is normal interaction.
However the tools for safety are anything but. The tools give individuals the power of veto over what is said and discussed, no questions asked. There is no discussion of appropriate content, just a veto justified through safety. I find no reason why adults require cards, flowers, and VCR symbols to synthetically do what can easily be solved by 15 minutes of conversation at session zero. Of course, I do not feel the pathological need to control every single minute detail of the story so the need to naturally intrigues me.
These tools are a means of control. Perhaps not explicitly ideological, though the ideological congruence of their advocates and the advocates of the previously discussed means of control is fairly obvious. Ergo the development of these methods is illustrative in a wider meta context. The previously mentioned Luxton Technique is by far and away the best control means given. It uses no physical reminders, no cards, no flowers, rather, it only relies on the conceit that players may make all sorts of demands of the game master and one another. To quote P.H. Lee:
“When, in play, a player encounters triggering material, they can, if they choose, talk about that to the other players. When they do this, the other players listen.”
“As part of talking about it — and possibly the only thing that they need say — the player is given absolute fiat power over that material, expressed as a want or a need. For instance “I’d like to play [character name] for this scene” or “I need this to have a happy ending” or “I want this character to not be hurt right now” or “I need this character to not get away with this” or “By the end of play, this should not be a secret” or “I need to stop play and get a drink of water” or “I don’t have a specific request, I just wanted you to know.””
Of course, a cynic would view these norms and laugh, “where are the narrative stakes if I can just demand things end well and in my favor?” While true, this misses the point and deeper problem of this attitude. This is far more sophisticated than the X-card and others, because it gives more thorough control in a less physically obvious way. Take for example this quotation:
“I’d like to play [character name] for this scene”
A player’s character is their avatar or link to the world of pretend we utilize to cooperatively build narratives, and in theory represents their specific, unique, and personal interactions with it. A character isn’t necessarily like the player, but in an abstract sense it is part of the player, a portion of their consciousness projected into the communal fantasy. So what is the effect of the arbitrary ability to cut this tie? There must be total consensus, should a player decide to deviate, control can be taken from him and his will subverted to that of the whole.
A player within this method may not only control the intensity of any given situation (the purpose of the consent flower) but its outcome as well. The easy critique is to point out how easily the system is gamed, of course looking over the fact that anyone who institutes a system like this would be likely to pick up on and shut down any bad faith engagement with it. The real concern here is that these sorts of systems themselves are the abuse, not any weird meta-gaming they could theoretically enable.
What we see here instead is that the systems are becoming more comprehensive and complex and by extension effective. The P.H. Lee is in a meta context, critiquing other methods as being ineffective from an ideological standpoint. So we will see these become better and better as time goes on. This of course empowers ideological and social enforcement at any table that embraces them, and at some point in the future I fully expect that average best practices will be these devices and social contraptions. What a wonderful hobby we have to look forward to.
Of course, no one can force you and your table to comply, the ability to mount decentralized non-compliance is a hallmark of our hobby. Unlike video games, updates and new editions aren’t mandatory. And beyond that, the construction of new games has a significantly lower barrier to entry, all you need is a decent idea and a text editor. So of course, as always, you have options. And here, where you have the choice, there is no excuse to take the easy way out.