Conscientious Gamers

When given a tool to solve a problem, it makes good sense to learn how to use it properly. One way to learn is to ask questions – including whether that tool is the right one for the job.

Recently, Monte Cook Games released a free PDF and that normally innocent act has sparked off a round of arguments and wagon-circling. Why? What was in the document that roused such passion?

For some, the PDF was a sign of positive change, for others it was a sign of negative change. For some it was a banner around which to flock in defense of the notion that gaming together (with mature topics) requires a conversation first. For others, it was a signal flare that something that they did not feel comfortable with had happened. They weren’t so sure that they wanted to be in this consent conversation and instead wanted to talk about the contents of the PDF. For some others, the need for conversation was a part of the reaction, but the tone and content of that conversation was quite different. Some of these went on the attack, either praising the PDF by reviling those who were not ‘on the right side’ or reviling the PDF by praising those who in resistance they saw as being ‘on the right side.’

You can guess which of the three groups that I just described were the loudest.

Consent in Games

I have questions about this PDF. I have read it more than once, and like Inigo, I do not think it means what some think it means. I think the PDF conflates gaining/giving consent with gaming with conscience, but the lens with which I view this PDF may not be the one that you, Dear Reader, view it through. To share my point of view, this post will ask some of those questions, and it will answer none of them.

Why was the PDF released when it was? Why does it bear the Cypher System logo on each interior page while billing itself as system neutral? Why were the two authors chosen to be the authors? Why do they quote extensively (exclusively?) from the Monte Cook Games GM advice book, Your Best Game Ever ? Why does the PDF attempt to frame RPGs as being built on Consent? Where does joining a group and choosing a game to play fit into this consent-centric paradigm of gaming? Is this PDF focused on public and convention gaming – does it indicate its target audience and context? Where is the justification that RPG playing must begin with gaining consent as demonstrated in the following statement from page 2 of the PDF (the first page of text):

Playing RPGs is a shared experience that is supposed to be fun for everyone involved, and part of that is making sure that everyone in the game has consented to the premise and expectations of the campaign and game genre.

-Consent in Gaming, page 2

Why is the emphasis on conditions like “uncomfortable” rather than words with more importance? Why try to argue a strong point (We need consent) with weak words? Is this an example of rushed writing or is this part of an implication that any negative reaction to a fictional element in the game merits the use of the tools referred to in the PDF, even if they are as mundane as discomfort? Further, why is the focus on the fictional content of the games rather than the social context of the games and how that connects (or doesn’t) to the concept of consent? Where is the support and explanation for framing this document in the context of the individual person submitting to what the group decides, and/or allowing the group to do something (ostensibly to them)? What role does collaboration, improvisation, and consensus play in this consent-driven model of the RPG hobby? Why are the fantastic tools present in the appendix not the real meat of this release? Is the purpose of this release to offer tools or something else?

Will this PDF give rise to others? To what extent will this PDF poison the well of gamers who, not being active in less mainstream games, have not yet been exposed to the material in a more neutral document?

My Thoughts

I am not against the use of gaining consent for difficult topics, far from it, but I put it in an entirely different context. I think there are other things which should be considered first – consideration, for one.

Conscience

For me, gaming is done with a circle of friends (or soon-to-be friends). That small bit of context makes a significant impact on the rest of whatever conversation one might want to have about ‘gaming.’ As friends, the people that I game with are people I care about. Although I seek to act in good conscience with all people, those I care cause mistakes of conscience to be felt more sharply. I neither want to hurt nor be hurt by those who I hold close. Consideration, conscience, and connection are at the core of the relationship I see gaming as being. We see this in the games of others as well when we see admonishments against cheating, against bullying, against racism and propaganda, against self-destructive behaviors. We also see it in outpourings of charity and support by gamers for gamers – even ones they have never met. Conscience plays a role in group activities be they those of the non-gaming world or those of our gaming groups.

With conscience as the guide, there is much that affects different contexts of gaming, such as public play in convention spaces, which may simply never arise – and if it does, it can be handled among friends. The excellent tools now very easily found complied in the TTRPG Safety Toolkit have been for years, are, and continue to be effective examples of doing just that.



The TTRPG Safety Toolkit is a resource created by Kienna Shaw and Lauren Bryant-Monk. The TTRPG Safety Toolkit is a compilation of safety tools that have been designed by members of the tabletop roleplaying games community for use by players and GMs at the table. You can find it at bit.ly/ttrpgsafetytoolkit.

Consensus

For me, agreeing to play a game leads to the group sitting in judgement over pitches and proposals until a choice has been made – until consensus has been reached. This is harder and more personal that it might be in some other contexts as it is an outgrowth of the degree to which the group bond has set, how well each member knows the others, and – of course – because of the foundation of good conscience that is a part of healthy human interaction. We might argue or we might decide to sit a game out, or we might inspire or goad the group into taking on more than one game, but at the heart of the conversation is what do WE want to play? The choice of game, the recognition of its genre and conventions of play, the choice of players, character options, and campaign pitch all feed into some level of informed decision and the choice to play – reached by natural means – is a mutual one. With the governance of acting in good conscience, a choice any of us can make or forego at any time, no one needs to submit to the will of others or require others to submit to theirs, as the requirement of consent can imply. Rather than a power dynamic between competing needs and desires, we have agreement on what play will be and how it will be conducted.

This may seem like splitting hairs, and that is good. This part of the discussion has two thinly separated sides. Each drawn from the other by the force with which consent is applied and in which direction – the group exercising choice as a group of cognizant and communicating members, or the group as a collective of individuals seeking to protect themselves from potential harm.

Consent

In certain contexts, particularly those involving mature or outre subject matter among strangers and those games with players who suffer from legitimate trauma which affects their ability to control themselves, consent is not something to be ignored. Being clear and agreeing with everyone up front that the game’s intent is explore some challenging ground, to confront some problems, to push some boundaries, to walk near, on, or over some lines or through some veils, or into some triggers should understandably need to address the notion of adding tools to play which will help prevent harm, or will help to recover from it.

I accept this and am glad that these tools exist. What I do not accept is that gaming starts at this end of a spectrum of connection. Consent is something needed for the special cases, for the commercial cases, and for the experimental cases. It is not the gateway to safe gaming, it is a safety tool (and possibly a legal cover in commercial contexts) for certain gaming activities or situations. In other cases, aren’t conscience and consensus the first steps that have us giving the care and consideration that our fellow players need? Surely they lead us to discover their needs, their weak spots and strengths, their hopes, fears, and dreams, and give us the means to make gaming the fantastic opportunity it promises to be when we open a new game. If we as gamers are having problems seeing eye to eye we aren’t going to address that by giving or granting consent – we will get it by acting in good faith, in good conscience, toward one another.

Consent, if we need it, comes afterward.

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  1. […] Conscientious Gamers @ Casting Shadows – I’ve seen mention of the Consent in Gaming PDF from Monte Cook Games.  As the author of this article explains, it does seem to be a particularly divisive document.  This is a good, reflective article that looks closely at the PDF.  It makes fo an interesting, considered read. […]



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