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Produced for the fourth year running, these 'Flash Forward' videos are always greatÂ encapsulationsÂ of what makes GDC talksÂ great: they're fun, lovable, and surprisingly informative! ...
There are moments in time where you declare that you will hold a position no matter what. You will not fall back. You pick your hill to die on. These can be dramatic and important moments. But there are other times when it is just as important to look back and realize how you ended up standing on that hill, and why you need to defend it.
When someone is comfortable, it is too easy for them to ignore the danger that others find themselves facing. A lot of us in the RPG hobby have been very comfortable for a very long time, and that means that we have allowed others to be subjected to dangers that they should never have faced.
Many of us have heard about people in the industry that are a problem. They are abusive and destructive. They treat those that they dislike terribly and make them fear for their safety using online terrorism. They make the RPG hobby a place that holds nothing for the victims of this abuse but regret. When these same abusers have any kind of gravitas in the RPG hobby, this also includes ruining careers and smashing dreams. Those abusers pull strings to make sure the industry regards these people as “unstable” or more “troublesome.”The Cycle
The abusers are terrible. But many of us in the RPG hobby have seen these tactics used. Many of us know the people involved. But when it doesn’t involve us, the problem goes away. If we never had the sights set upon us, we can go back to whatever corner we call our own and live our lives. Others dread any interaction online. They worry about when the next shoe will drop. Will someone get them fired from a project? Will hundreds of people send threats of physical violence or death? Is that strange person across the street someone that found out their address — someone that has decided that online persecution isn’t enough?
The damage that is done by abusers often isn’t defined as a single terrible incident. Often, it is a long term pattern that does not abate. It’s harm that is revisited every time that person looks at the things they used to love. Beyond the fear of violence and death, it is the theft of part of who they are, something they cannot revisit on their own terms any longer.
For those of us that have always been comfortable, it is very easy to point at the abusers when they come to our notice and say, “isn’t that awful,” and go about our business. It is much harder for us to look at ourselves in the mirror and say, “I let this happen.” When the evidence of the abuser’s actions is not in front of us, we forget the abused and their daily contention with the effects of that abuse. We can turn away when they cannot. We are complicit.
It sounds heroic to pick a hill to die on. It’s a grand gesture. It’s the heroic finale. But one hero dying on a hill doesn’t create change. Building a safe community that doesn’t let someone stand on that hill alone is what we need. Having a community that looks out for their own, so that no pack of predators can come for our own is what is needed. We need communities where we don’t need martyrs to remind us of the dangers that exist.Staring Down the Mirror
We need to make sure that the companies that we support are hiring diverse employees that are in positions of authority, so that they can understand the perspective of the marginalized. We need to listen to marginalized voices and believe them. We need to stop reflexively assuming that everything is fine unless presented with overwhelming evidence. When we are the ones in the comfortable position, we need to stop thinking that we, the comfortable, get to determine what constitutes real danger for the people in harm’s way.
Privilege is watching a fight from a distance and deciding if you want to participate. Privilege is showing up for the fight and assuming you will take the lead. Progress is knowing they are all your fights, and your job is to support others when they want to lead.
Too often, those of us that are comfortable descend from on high, get involved in one specific issue, then spend months patting ourselves on the back, while just behind it, more people are being abused and marginalized. This must end. No one deserves praise for doing what they should be doing. They just deserve to be chastised when they abdicate their responsibilities.
This is a microcosm of the world we live in. It is far too easy to ignore the plight of the marginalized because it doesn’t directly affect the privileged. We can’t run to games to hide from the rest of the world. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1EmailThis is a microcosm of the world we live in. It is far too easy to ignore the plight of the marginalized because it doesn’t directly affect the privileged. We can’t run to games to hide from the rest of the world. The world and its patterns of abuse and systemic problems come with us. The patterns of abuse are part of us. Games can help us cope. Games can help us relieve stress. Games are not, however, separate from the worlds that gave birth to them, and they carry with them the same seeds that every other item born from a society bears.
I have long believed that one of the greatest aspects of roleplaying games is the ability of these games to teach us empathy. We continually put ourselves in the place of people that are not who we are, in places we are not. If we cannot engage that fundamental skill to make the spaces where we play more inclusive and safer, we lose one of the most precious gifts that this hobby can give us.
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I love relationships in games. I’ve always been of the opinion that having relationships in your games adds depth, motivation, and to me, fun. I love playing family, friends, parents, children — and definitely romantic and ex-romantic partners. Adding romantic relationships to games gives them the same dimensionality, and also gives us a whole slew of tropes to play with. They’re an easy way to get investment and commitment from your players, and they can work as a great counterpoint to your main plot. In honor of Valentine’s Day tomorrow, I want to talk about my favorite ones, why they are entertaining to play, and tips for incorporating them in to your game!
Never embark on a love relationship with another character without their player’s consent, even if you intend it to be one-sided. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1EmailPlease note that using romance in games requires good communication and expectation setting with your fellow players. Never embark on a love relationship with another character without their player’s consent, even if you intend it to be one-sided. As the recipient of any sort of romantic interest, that player gets to decide what they are comfortable with and what will be fun for them in the game. If they aren’t interested, respect that. The tropes listed here can help you create shared story goals for playing through a relationship, both so that you are on the same page, and so that you can get informed consent. Got another idea? Go for it, of course! But talk it out.
My other note is that because these relationships have the potential to be very emotional, I believe that safety tools are important for any game that contains them. Use whichever tool you like, but please make sure you have a way to revoke consent or call a pause at any point in your game. Here is a list of some of the most commonly used tools, and I can also recommend the OK Check in as adjusted for Turning Point.Hate Kissing
Hate kissing is the age old “we hate each other we hate each other we hate each other and we can’t keep our hands off each other” trope. It can work well for games where characters hold different belief sets — they’re always fighting, until that moment when passion takes over and suddenly they’re kissing instead. Don’t see how this works? It actually happened to me in college. A guy that found me very annoying at first (his own words) fell head over heels for me later. Strong feelings are strong feelings and the lines are closer than we like to think. Examples that work in play: characters who are at cross-purposes, like a notorious space pirate queen and bounty hunter etc. Characters on the same team with very different cultural values, like a paladin and the rogue. Cue emotional turmoil as your romantic leads (and the people around them) are faced with the conundrum of their budding relationship.One-Sided
The object of your affections does not return your interest. You may pine, moon, make sad eyes at them, or pass them love poems at the table. Please note that stalking is really not cool unless that’s specifically the direction you both discuss — clear lines and boundaries about what is or is not acceptable are important with this one.Will They Or Won’t They
The age old classic — they’re in love, probably! But so much dramatic tension! As the writers of this story, we know they’re probably going to get together, but this is the story of how they resisted it for as long as possible. To play this effectively at the table, you’ll need a strong reason they can’t get together, whether that’s some kind of personality trait, a strong belief, or outside circumstances. The key with this trope is that once they get together, there’s not tension left, really, so it should happen right near the end of the game in best dramatic conclusion, or at least in full Romeo and Juliet fashion where they can die in each other’s arms (also a very satisfying conclusion).Old Flames
They had a thing, long ago, and for some reason it didn’t work out. Duty called them apart or they lost each other in a storm at sea. Whatever it was, it wasn’t their choice, but they both moved on. Now, in this new phase of their lives, with new responsibilities and possibly other relationships, they’ve re-discovered each other, and the chemistry is still here. The question is, what will they do about it? Will they make space in their lives for this relationship again, or will it remain a sad and distant ghost?Exes
My last favorite relationship trope is exes. This is when we have tension in a different way — these two characters used to be in a relationship, but now they’re not. It might have been contentious. It might have been one-sided. There were probably hurt feelings. Now they have to work together again, and they’re probably not happy about it. They may have happy memories recalled with a twinge of sadness as well as fights that they fall into comfortably from long history.
I also have to call out some of my favorite games that create romantic relationships, many of these varieties, as the purpose of play. Star Crossed is a beautiful game of forbidden love from Alex Roberts. The Sky Is Gray and You Are Depressed is a story about a committed couple working through a difficult discussion and a secret from Josh Jordan. Yes is a forthcoming game from Wendelyn Reischl in which a nontraditional relationship succeeds. Shooting the Moon is a game of warring suitors and a beloved from Emily Care Boss in the Romance Trilogy. It Was A Mutual Decision is a game about the end of a relationship (and possibly were-rats) from Ron Edwards.
What is your favorite type of romantic relationship to play at the table? What are your best tips for playing characters in love? Have you had a famous love story at your table? What’s your favorite romantic game?
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