That’s my explanation for something several other bloggers have been ranting about for a couple days now. Some nameless writer, whom I can only assume writes a column about GMing, offered some advice to handling players. One bit of advice: the group should have a “safe word” to let everyone know that they aren’t comfortable with what’s happening in the game.
Tim became violent. Erik was livid. Charles was scornful. The Pundit blamed it on social justice warriors.
But here’s something I haven’t seen anyone mention: It’s my understanding that the BDSM community created the idea of “safe words” because the submissive in a BDSM relationship begs the dom to stop, but doesn't mean it. Begging and pleading and screaming “it hurts!” is part of the kinky game they are playing. So, the sub needs an extra word to say “Time out, we really need to stop.”
In an RPG, this is equivalent to the difference between “in character” and “out of character”. But the majority of gamers switch between these two modes all the time and don’t have a problem telling which is which; the only people who need a “safe word”, then, would be hardcore immersive players who want to do everything in-character and hate the more fluid play of every other gamer because it “breaks immersion”.
But we already have a safe word – many safe words – for RPGs: the real names of the players, plus any system-level terminology, like “roll a d20”. If someone does something at the table that we don’t feel comfortable with, we can say, “No, Bob, we aren’t going to sit around and watch you pretend-rape all the prisoners. Knock it off, jackass.”
I object to the whole “safe word” idea mainly for the same reason I think strict rules about in-character and out-of-character speech and action is idiotic. I remember reading, about twenty years ago, someone suggesting that you should make an “O” with your thumb and index finger and hold your hand near your forehead when speaking out-of-character. Or maybe it was a “C”; who knows? Both are stupid ideas. Perhaps I’m biased, because I play/run games 75% to 80% out-of-character, anyways. But to me, these extremely anal attempts to separate one from the other seem a waste of time, unless you have a brain-damaged player who might mix up reality with role-playing unless you keep them strictly separated.
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