“Don’t be a dick” – such a simple rule in gaming and geekdom.
Somehow, it keeps being brought up, and (for some reason) there’s a backlash. Not against the rule but against the fact that it’s being discussed.
We previously discussed the importance of tabletop role-playing game aids, including those that address “how to behave.” The backlash against those aids made no sense, and I had no problem explaining why these things are necessary.
Recently, however, I noticed several people complaining – not about RPG toolkits – but about warnings or chapters in RPGs that addressed these topics.
The general complaint was that too many RPG books these days discuss safety, consent, and inclusivity. Critics felt they were under a barrage of “unnecessary” information, and it’s not on authors to teach gamers how “not to be a dick.”
To that, I say, “too bad” – these discussions or blurbs are necessary for significant reasons, and some of that responsibility does fall on writers and designers.
Let’s be clear that RPGs are products that can be picked up by anyone and used in many ways. That includes ways that cause emotional or psychological harm, whether purposefully or not, or even encourage negative behaviors.
Movies, television, and video games have warnings and ratings, from age-appropriate material to scenes that might be disturbing. One recent criticism was against a television show that crossed lines, to the point they had to put notices before episodes (and it still wasn’t enough).
RPGs can be more intense than what’s on a screen because they are social, immersive experiences that involve emotions and putting a part of your self out there. That’s in addition to the out-of-game behavior of those with which you’re interacting.
And because some gamers can’t seem to get a clue about proper behavior, or even fall victim to delusional psychoses, RPG companies have to include these discussions. Whether it’s out of a sense of altruism, trying to guide geekdom toward less dickery, or a need for legal self-preservation, they’re there.
I’d also like to note that these discussions in RPG books aren’t anything new. They’re just becoming more specific as well as talked about more often (thanks to open dialogue).
I first came across warnings in the ’90s, particularly with material like the World of Darkness, presumably as a response to the Satanic Panic and other incidents. They were pretty basic then, with a blurb saying, “this is a game, none of it’s real.”
The GM sections also had various parts dedicated to topics of behavior. Often these were precursors to discussions like “make sure your players are all being treated well” or “take a break and listen to your players.”
That wasn’t enough, apparently, because here we are 30 years later, with entire chapters explaining in detail “how not to be a dick.” What should be common sense and a given, obviously hasn’t been, and it’s created problems among the community, at events or stores, for the industry, etc.
So yes, while we all are responsible for our behavior, whether there are warnings in books or not, the publishers and writers still have some onus. Seeing as gamers still can’t grasp the concept, it’s up to them to make sure anyone who picks up their product has the opportunity to listen and learn.
Now, one of the essential things to remember about RPGs is they’re not just in controlled environments, like among a close group of friends. Many people who criticize the warnings use the whole, “I don’t see it at my table” excuse that we’ve already refuted.
RPGs have been run for random people in clubs and conventions since the dawn of the industry. With that practice has brought a whole new level of interpersonal concerns, as diverse people gather together to game.
This concept was one of my biggest lessons when I “graduated” from only playing with grade school friends to my first college and convention games. There are a lot of people out there who aren’t simply doing things differently, they’re gaming in odd, offensive, or outright disturbing ways.
In a house game, it’s friends who usually know each other’s boundaries, or the homeowner or GM can kick people out. In public sessions, however, it’s often with strangers, and there’s a lot less control.
Especially before the advent of online discussions, convention rules, etc., there weren’t many safeguards with college clubs or convention staff and attendees. Gaming in public was a random crapshoot, and if you had a problem, you might be the one blamed, mocked, or kicked out.
Finally, we also need to remember that times have changed, even if some gamers may not have. What was once considered acceptable in the past, even among “socially progressive” circles, may no longer be tolerable.
Far too much tabletop behavior in the late-20th century often involved misogynistic concepts, racial or LGBT stereotypes, or just plain offensive language. It’s not that these things were genuinely OK “back then”; it’s that finally, the diverse populations of gamers have the support to call people out.
So, including a chapter, particularly for older generations, is smart if they want to run (or play in) open and inclusive games. This concept isn’t just for public spaces but also to hopefully provide a dose of reality to those still living that mentality in private groups.
Gaming is done with the edgelords and broflakes, and chapters like “How to Behave” are an essential indicator (and lesson).
So, yes – these warnings and discussions are necessary, and the authors, designers, publishers, etc. very much have a responsibility to include them.
Because we, as gamers, certainly haven’t been doing that good a job on our end.