So Sean K Reynolds and Shanna Germain have stirred up a bit of a pot with the publication of their pdf booklet Consent in Gaming. As the title implies, it’s all about players telling GMs what they (the players) will and will not allow in the game. It even comes with a handy checklist of various phobias and “triggering” situations to let the GM know what’s permissible.
I am, to say the least, not a fan of this sort of thing, either in a game or in regular life.
A large part of almost all RPGs is overcoming adversity. The best games not only challenge the characters, but also challenge the players. By imposing upon the GM a list of things which are not allowed, because one of the players at the table would be upset by their inclusion, is to miss the entire point that it’s only a game, and we can do things in our imaginations that we couldn’t do in the real world.
Take, for instance, spiders, which is one of the items in the book’s checklist which players could say they do not want to see included in the game. In some games (for instance Vault of the Drow, or just about anything with drow in it), this could be crippling. But worse, by protecting the player from the things that make them uncomfortable, they deny themselves the chance to overcome those things, even in an imaginative setting.
Someone could be deathly afraid of spiders in the real world, but in a fantasy RPG could jump into their midst, slashing and stabbing at the eight-legged foes, without any sort of danger to themselves. Doing that, in a safe environment at the gaming table, might actually help them! But by allowing them to not be challenged on any level, they forever lose the opportunity to overcome the thing that makes them uncomfortable.
Worse still, this mentality drags the entire gaming group down to the lowest common denominator. Ken, Frank, and Susan might be all set to set forth across the Sea of Dust in search of adventure, but Wade has checked off “thirst” and “heatstroke” on his checklist (yes, those are actually on there). So no Sea of Dust adventure for anyone. He is imposing his limitations on everyone else in the game, demanding that they accommodate his needs and desires.
Indeed, this sort of “racing to the bottom” when it comes to claims of victimhood and “I’m more damaged than you” contests that sometimes breaks out in online fora is in and of itself a form of control. By insisting that no one can do anything that everyone cannot do, it gives power to those who can’t (or won’t), as they place restrictions on those who can.
For those who are unfamiliar with the short story whose title I’ve used in the title of this article, I invite you to read Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut. It’s a very quick read, I promise. It depicts a world in which:
Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else.
Of course, the way that’s accomplished is not by raising everyone up to the level of the very best in the world, but by bringing everyone down to the level of the “average”. And that is exactly what this book is trying to do to gaming; bring everyone down to the softest, safest, least challenging level possible.
Even scarier is the fact that some people are trying to do that with the rest of our lives, too, especially on college campuses.
The original story was intended as a warning. But some people today seem to take it as a prescription.
Honestly, though, if you get triggered by depictions of violence, or demons, or sexism, or whatever, and you know those are things that are not unheard-of in the RPG you’re going to play, maybe just don’t play? It seems a better option for the person with the issue to exercise some personal responsibility and remove themselves from the environment, rather than forcing everyone else to accommodate their needs.
It’s like going to a basketball game knowing you get triggered by high-pitched squeaking noises, and then insist everyone needs to wear loafers because their sneakers are triggering you. Just don’t go to the game in the first place!