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Thursday 5 January 2017

Classic Rant: If You Need a "Safe Word" in RPGs, You Might Be Playing The Wrong Games...

So it has come to my attention around the OSR blogosphere that there are actually people suggesting, at this point, that in order to be "sensitive" to those who have "triggers" (and no doubt to "watch our privilege" too) we should all have to use "Safe Words" while playing.

For those of you who don't know what a "safe word" is (and what amazing innocents both of you are after 20 years of the internet being around... seriously, what the fuck are you, Amish?!), it is a term that comes out of BDSM. No, that's not an anime-themed RPG, its "Bondage Domination Sado-Masochism". In other words, kink. Ironic, then, that the Great Porcine Prudes of the Gaming Hobby would have borrowed a term from something they'd no doubt denounce as part of "rape culture".

In short, what a "safe word" means is that if you are in the middle of being spanked, or having something put inside you that probably has no business being there, or in some other way being subject to extreme activities for consensual fun and romp, and suddenly it ('it' being the pain, the intensity, the urge to pee, the handcuffs making your arm fall asleep, or the smells) get to be too much, you can call out your safe word; a word that would not normally be said in the middle of a bondage session (like, say "Tahiti"), and all activity will immediately cease. 

Safe words are very strongly advised if you're going to get involved in anything kinky. It makes sure you are not pushed past the absolute limits of what you can stand. 

But if ANYTHING at all in D&D -a game where you sit around fully clothed eating chips and pretending to be an elf- if anything at all within the spectrum of things that should be socially permitted to do during an RPG, is "past the absolute limits" of what you can stand, then YOU have a very serious problem as a human being.

Seriously? That's what they've seriously come to? I mean what the fuck?? If you need a Safeword in a fucking ROLEPLAYING GAME (the kind that we play in the hobby, not the kind that involve real-life whips or butt-plugs) then how the living fuck do you manage to navigate your way through life?

The people demanding this must clearly be one of two things:

1) Totally crippled human beings, barely able to get out of bed in the morning, shattered by whatever personal hell they live through in their mind's eye every instant; in which case why the fuck are they playing D&D and not hospitalizing themselves in a psychiatric institution?!

or, of course:

2) Utterly cynical self-righteous assholes who know this idea is total bullshit but are using it as a rhetorical tactic in their ongoing struggle to try to portray regular RPGs as something profoundly flawed, unhealthy, and needing of regulation by a tiny elite of "experts" to control the horrific great unwashed that go around playing awful games like D&D. 
You know, Swine.


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Latakia

(Originally posted January 10, 2014)


  1. Goodness, one of those rare articles where I agree with you, happy new year!

  2. I imagine 'X-cards' came in some time after your rant. I don't like the idea at all - you shouldn't be able to pull out a card to veto something in a game you don't like. I *do* think that dickish behaviour in gaming circles needs to be challenged - this means challenging people who are stopping other people having a fun time. I also think that gamers (GMs principally, but players as well) need to use some emotional intelligence when it comes to how different topics are presented (especially, but not limited to, sex and violence). But that doesn't mean that someone should be able to veto what goes on in a game due to their personal foibles or ideological concerns.

    1. "veto something in a game you don't like"... That's putting it a bit simplistic. It's not there to be abused because "I don't like that Morpheus turned out to be a bad guy", or even "I don't like that the leader of the bandits is a girl, I wanted it to be a boy." That's not what it's about, and if people use it that way, then it's time for an adult conversation.

      It's exactly for those situations where you are playing in a public place, with people you don't know, and who don't necessarily have your best interest in mind (they care more that they paid $5 for this game slot at a con, or that they're there with their 3 best friends and want to have fun), and it provides a valve for ensuring that you can veto something that may have more emotional consequences. Like sexual violence, or racial violence (and yes, that can apply to a white dude who got beat up the prior week in a racially motivated assault).

      In one case I wanted to add a fungus brain-controlling space thing to a game, and one of the players hit that X-card. I asked if we could change it to a crystaline being controlling people, and they said "no problem". Perhaps someone they loved recently died from a fungus-brain thing in real life, and this was no longer a fun game, if that button was going to be pressed again and again. In our case, we figured out the parameters, figured out how to avoid the issue, and moved on. In the end they had a blast in the game, instead of sitting in the corner thinking about their dead loved one over and over again. Shit, maybe THEY have an incurable condition related to it, and RPGs are their out for the remaining 12 months of their lives.

      X-cards are a safety valve. I have talked to over a dozen GMs that have used this consistently in gaming, especially with strangers and at cons, and have said the card has been used a miniscule amount of the time. It's not meant as a censor. It's meant to provide a safety release for people who may already be socially awkward and not readily able to stand up for their emotionally health (and that means you too, despite whatever "I'm stronger than that" thinking you may or may not have).

      At least that's my take, and that's my experience. (And no, I'm not going to answer for some hypothetical situation you're going to bring up that stretches the bounds of what generally happens).

      One more thing: it's not some sort of panacea that solves all awkward social things, or for all players and games. If someone comes into a Cthulhu game and hits the X-card cause they're not into scary things... that's NOT what the X-card is for. The game is (or should) come with some warnings about what it is about... "This is a Cthulhu game and it will be about horror.", or "This is a D&D game where we will explore horrible homicidal behavior where all PCs are evil and destroying a village of children." People who don't want into that game, don't get into that game. The X-card is not for people to get in and ruin it, if that's what you fear. (And my experience with numerous conventions on the West Coast, and playing in scores of con games, I've never seen it used that way.)

  3. A rpg where you need a safe word. Sounds like a WW wet dream...

  4. This is such an idiotic article. Safe words in RPGs aren't an "SJW" thing, and "triggers" in this sense don't mean "taking offense at something", they mean an intense feeling of anxiety, similar to a PTSD trigger. People have traumatic experiences, in case you weren't aware. Games like D&D often venture into dark territories, with dismemberment, mutation, mutilation, torture, murder, and so on, and that's without even counting what the players might do. Not everyone is going to like all of that, even if they don't have any traumas, and often a small problematic element can be excised without ruining the story. Discussing boundaries before playing also helps.