I was talking with friends recently about intentionality and how it applies to gaming. There are so many things in life that people just “go along with” but if you want a truly great gaming table then you have to be purposeful in how you approach things. Specifically, do you have the trust of your players that you’re all telling an amazing story?
There has been a lot of discussion about this in recent years, and with good reason. There are still horrendous lapses in judgement, though, such as the much-publicized incident in June at the UK Games Expo. If you want to better the social contract at your table, though, you can turn to Character Evolution Cast, Session Zero, or the new (free) pdf called Consent in Gaming.
With so many different resources out there, do you really need to get a whole book about this? Does Consent in Gaming give you tools beyond the obvious execution of Wheaton’s Law? Let’s dive in and see.
Important Things About Consent
The first four pages of the pdf are about nine big ideas for doing consent right. They include things like “the default answer is ‘no'” (as in, people have to opt into edgy situations not out), “there’s a spectrum of consent for each topic” (related to the idea of lines and veils), and “they can always change their mind” (giving consent isn’t a binding contract). These are all fairly common topics that I’ve heard in other sources, though it’s great to have them all in one place and all succinctly written up. These four short pages can be easily printed out or snipped and emailed to folks in your group to set up a more intentional use of consent.
One really great aspect is the idea of “no words and go words.” A no word is something that is a quick way to say “nope, not cool.” The X-card is mentioned, as is the phrase “No Thank You, Evil!” in the kid’s RPG of the same name (one of my favorite parts of that game). A go word is the opposite and is just a quick way to say that this situation’s good with you. Together these are a really powerful tool that’s also not really invasive, a common complaint I’ve seen about being intentional in play (by people who, I suspect, have never tried). As the GM you take a second to
Mistakes and Aftercare
So here’s where things get interesting. While the internet has many experts talking about many different tools for table safety and consent, and I’ve seen it addressed in games from No Thank You, Evil! to Turn, I’ve rarely seen advice for when you screw up. This, more than anything else in this pdf, feels like a great source of advice for GMs wanting to be more intentional. You can have all the plans in the world but they won’t always pan out at the table, so what do you do?
This book goes through a pretty thorough discussion of a response that can keep people’s feelings and the group’s coherence in good shape. Once someone notices that there’s discomfort or that a topic marked as non-consent comes up, someone raises that with the group. When that happens, the person who introduced the topic (GM or player) apologizes and the group as a whole makes an agreement to do better. No one is penalized or put down (that’s not the point, it’s about the group) but it’s an opportunity to say “hey, hold on” and then to recover, maybe by diving back in or maybe by taking a short break. There’s even advice here on how to apologize and what common apologies aren’t going to help people.
This leads to the other part of the middle-section in this pdf which has to do with emotional care. Again, awesome advice here on making sure that the players and GM are having fun, because that’s what’s really important here! The bullet points here are being aware of emotional bleed, being aware of your own feelings, becoming aware of others’ feelings, and (possibly) ending on a positive note. This is some great, pragmatic advice for gaming groups to help you implement the consent guidelines in this pdf.
The Consent Checklist
Speaking of pragmatic, this pdf comes with a consent checklist for implementing the advice here. This checklist is for each person in the group to fill out and hand back to the GM, with their names or anonymously. They can put down their movie rating for the game as an overall statement and then the checklist part for individual topics. Common things like bugs, blood, harm to children, cancer, terrorism, etc, are on this list, plus plenty of blank spots for topics particular to the campaign.
For each topic you can check green (enthusiastic consent!), yellow (somewhat alright, but prefer some veiling), or red (no way). This is a very straightforward way to handle checking in with everyone, but also one that’s as adaptable as you need it to be for your group and campaign. Like the no words and go words, this is quick and easy to do with a ton of information for a better table experience.
Should You Get It?
Well, it’s free so that’s a big plus. Seriously, though, even if you’ve done some legwork figuring out how to be intentional at your table, you might find some new topics in the first part of this pdf. Even if that’s not the case, the pragmatic advice of how to implement these ideas and how to recover when there’s a misstep is well worth the space on your (digital) shelf. Don’t assume you’re doing just fine, be purposeful and respect your friends enough to make their experience a positive one.