In recognition of my new job at Storium and the week being about Dexcon I want to talk a little about the process of helping players negotiate difficult content in games.
RPG’s have always had challenging content. Whether it was dungeons & dragons, wraith or shadowrun, every story or game needs tension – and often through those mediums violence is employed. It isn’t always about violence on characters themselves, but about the repercussions of violence which results in players having to take on a quest. So, as GM’s it is imperative that we take into account how the game will be played, what the psychological implications of our actions will be, and how players with various life experiences might live with the game.
Gaming is not just about having fun – though that is the primary objective. It can also be a learning tool – such as the applications LARPers in Europe have been using it for to educate. Cultural exchange can take place through these kinds of gaming experiences.
So we have to be responsible. Making light of violence can turn people away from the gaming experience. Saying that you shouldn’t take it so seriously “because it’s just a game” ignores the reality that some people have different lived experiences.
It should be noted that it isn’t just up to GM’s to listen to their players and have dialogue around what isn’t acceptable to their players, but it is also up to the designers to discuss what is and isn’t acceptable in their worlds, and to consider the choices players will make with their settings they write. You can’t stop people from doing terrible things with your game, but you can certainly think about the places in which you can soften the blows if you want.
This isn’t at all to say that games shouldn’t deal in hard topics, that we should only keep our games to the light and fluffy side of the force. We *should* explore the dark side, but carefully, and with care for one another.
My favorite game in the world is one of those which can easily be twisted to hurt players – Wraith. I see the flaws and the problems that could arise from playing Wraith. And yet I still cherish my copy and intend to run it again someday (soon, I hope!)
We can always explore troublesome waters when we know we are safe in the hands of our storytellers. That is really the crux of difficult stories. We must trust those who lead us by the hand into the darkness, otherwise there are dangers for everyone.
Bottom line – respect your players enough to treat them as equals and involve them in the process of deciding what road to take.