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(4 edits) (+3)

"The major issue i have with both of these tools is that the responsibility is on the person who is uncomfortable with the subject matter to speak out."

I guess my issue here is that I don't understand the alternative. Whether you use the X-Card or the "Be excellent to each other" boilerplate or any standard politeness metric or what-have-you, there isn't a way to access what people are uncomfortable with that isn't communication. You can ask people what they're comfortable with outright, you can encourage them to speak up if there's an issue that you're not aware of, you can pay attention  and check in periodically even if the explicit tool or tools in use haven't been engaged, and so on. Some of these "back to basics" sorts of maneuvers are just less formalized versions of popular safety tools for hopefully obvious reasons. They're mostly just nice efficient packages for the same sorts of rules that keep our friends safe in any less formal conversation.

But nothing, formalized tool or not, functions when the person who is uncomfortable does not speak out. The rest of the table can use all sorts of tools (x-card, "back to basics", whatever) to try and encourage that and can hunt around for whatever best fits the group, but these are all just frameworks for communication. You can't skip the communication part and even "back to basics" doesn't skip it. You're always going to be left with guessing what someone might be comfortable with until room is created for them to speak up and they take advantage of that.

I get why it sounds right to say that it shouldn't be your responsibility to compel everyone to treat you with respect and dignity. I don't get why it sounds right to expect other people to know what treating you with respect and dignity looks like in minute detail without you stepping into that conversation. There will never be a substitute for communicating your needs and preferences. If you can't trust the people at your table to respect that or hear that, there's a problem. Maybe there's a problem with those people or with the community that those people were drawn from or with the kinds of things that particular game is encouraging people at the table to do, and so on and so forth. But I would echo the earlier sentiment that if people are coming to the table and unilaterally deciding to push up close to people's boundaries ... the biggest problem isn't naming those boundaries but those people.  I can see why naming those boundaries might make it worse--there's always going to be a bit of the "don't think of the white elephant" problem even in good faith, but that is miles away from playing chicken with the comfort of other people at the table as you describe players doing in that thread.

That's not a broken safety tool. That's an asshole, and there isn't a safe way to play with people who are not interested in your comfort.


In my experience, it is much easier to say that I am uncomfortable when someone checks in on me than it to say it in the moment when something uncomfortable happens. A check-in is vastly easier to respond to, is usually predicated on care (someone sees that I'm not acting like usual and takes the time to say "are you alright?"), and can be done privately so I'm not put on the spot. There are also ways to do check ins that can involve group consensus around something. You can say "hey, I think this topic might be a bit rocky. What are we feeling about this?" and have people give 👍 or 👎 based on what how they feel about it.

But to your main point, all safety tools are shorthands or replacements for direct communication and that is why they exist. If no one needed a safety tool to communicate their needs fully, then safety tools wouldn't exist or no one would use them. They're frameworks in which rules about how to communicate are established - some safety tools give an outline for direct communication, such as the Luxton Technique - but that's not necessarily what a person needs in the moment. Some people have needs that are best supported by a tool like the x-card, and for some people the x-card fails to support them.

Sterling is expressing how the x-card fails to support their needs in the moment, and the specific ways it fails to support them. There are absolutely tools that exist that could support them better, and that failure is indeed directly the fault of the x-cards design. That doesn't make the x-card useless in all scenarios, but it also doesn't make Sterling incorrect about their own needs either.

I feel like a lot of safety tools are useful for groups that are inclined to use them, and have the potential to make things more uncomfortable in groups that aren't already inclined to use them.


Yeah, I think the fact that the X card has issues doesn't mean all safety tools are bad. I think regular check-ins are an important thing and something I've been trying to build into my games lately, on top of an X-card-like mechanism. I think the Twitter thread that Sterling quotes is less an argument against safety tools in general and more an argument against a particular class of safety tools. It's perhaps not surprising that the earliest version of the tools available aren't perfect.


I think regular check-in is an important part of running a smooth session in general--whether it's for safety or for narrative resonance or for having fun or even just to decide when to take a break or stop for the night.

I'm not expressing that because the tools are a shorthand for direct communication clearly they are a panacea, I am expressing that the abuse of the tools that was described does not look like a tool problem, it looks like a more specific problem with the behavior of the people who did those things. You can't replace caring how people feel and paying attention to that with a pithy rule system nor can you replace feedback from people who are uncomfortable--on the spot, in private, or wherever--with an external tool-suite. These things do not offload the responsibility of diligence, but neither are they supposed to.

I'm not trying to correct anyone on their own needs, but I'm wondering how useful the framework that many or most of these tools are bad because some people misuse them or because they aren't one-size fits all really is. I completely understand that these tools will not support everyone in every situation of need and I personally find the x-card in particular far less useful than other approaches. I'm not looking to dispute any of that, but I'm not seeing where this particular approach leads to.

I suppose we can launch in a slightly different direction and express which tools are best for which sorts of issues and groups, but beyond that I'm in a more optimistic version of the end of the thread--there really isn't a way to design around people engaging recklessly or harmfully, but there are ways to prepare players acting in good faith for issues they might not anticipate. I think my favorite approach is definitely games that describe several of these tools and the reasons for using them rather than dropping one or even several into place as though they're part of the system of the rules rather than part of the more nebulous social contract of sitting down to enjoy this thing together.