the Fairgame Archive

2006-01-17: More Alphabet Soup
by Meguey

I will not abandon you does not equal nobody gets hurt.

In IWNAY, the social agreements are:

I as a player expect to get my buttons pushed, and I will not abandon you, my fellow players, when that happens. I will remain present and engaged and play through the issue.

I as a player expect to push buttons, and I will not abandon you, my fellow players, when you react. I will remain present and engaged as you play through the issue

In NGH, the social agreement is that we know where each other's lines are, and we agree not to cross them.

Both are reciprocal systems. If one person is pushing buttons and the other is supposed to just take it and not respond, the button pusher is a bully and the relationship is abusive. Notice I'm not talking about the characters, here. This is all about the players at the table. In any game. I bet I could get just as hurt playing White Wolf or GURPS as I could playing Dogs in the Vineyard or Sorcerer.

It sure helps to be clear which kind of social contract is expected: If the players are not all clear, sooner or later you'll run into a NGH player in a IWNAY game, and they will get hurt, sometimes in a big way. If you get a IWNAY player in a NGH game, that player will wind up transgressing other people's boundaries and coming off like a jerk. That player may also feel like everyone else is pulling their punches.


NGH play: Jill has a hard line at kids-in-danger; Robin could make the victim a child, but doesn't.

NGH play: Jill has a hard line at kids-in-danger, and Robin makes the victim a child anyway. Robin's obnoxious and Jill may stop playing - Robin has broken NGH.

IWNAY play: Jill has a hard line at kids-in-danger. Robin makes the victim a child, maybe even on purpose to push Jill's buttons. Jill reacts but stays with it, Robin stays engaged, Jill gets to examine something about her issues with kids in danger.

IWNAY play: Jill has a hard line at kids-in-danger. Robin makes the victim a child, maybe even on purpose to push Jill's buttons. Jill bails out - either by actually leaving the game or by disengaging from it. Jill has broken IWNAY.

IWNAY play: Jill has a hard line at kids-in-danger. Robin makes the victim a child, maybe even on purpose to push Jill's buttons. Jill reacts but stays with it, but Robin can't deal with Jill's reaction, so Robin bails out - either by actually leaving the game or by disengaging from it. Robin has broken IWNAY.

There is a design part to this. When a game has solid support for handling highly intense emotional scenes (which are most likely to trigger players, I suspect and in my experience), the tendency for the game to require IWNAY play (in order to be successful) is high. Here I think of DitV, Sorcerer, and to some extent Bacchanal.  I mean mechanical support for getting into and out of emotionally charged conflict, and solid writing that lets the players understand the reasons why they might allow themselves to be pushed emotionally. This is where the designer gets to say "This can create heavy stuff. I know that. I'm prepared for that. Here's where I've thought about it and how I reccomend you handle it my game." This is the designer saying I willl not abandon you; I will give you mechanics to help deal with this when it comes up, I'm with you in this.

2006-01-17 02:59:49 Mark W

Just to complicate things, I've seen and participated in To The Pain, too. This deal is basically a variant on Nobody Gets Hurt - I will push you, maybe past your boundaries, but I will back off when you tell me to. In return, you will only tell me to back off when it hurts, not just when it's hard.

I'm not sure this one is actually all that functional - every case of it I've ever seen has either effectively been Nobody Gets Hurt with more macho rhetoric, or there has ended up being a messy end to it at some point because someone pushed too hard and "sorry" didn't suffice. But it does seem to be a reasonably common form in the wild.

2006-01-17 03:37:49 xenopulse

That's a very useful way of looking at it. Cool.

2006-01-17 05:28:43 John Harper

Very cool. I can think of one session in particular where these two came into conflict (Universalis game) and there was no obvious solution in the moment. We just kind of mumbled and grimaced and stumbled ahead blindly.

2006-01-17 05:25:44 anon.

"This is the designer saying I will not abandon you; I will give you mechanics to help deal with this when it comes up, I'm with you in this."

Good stuff. Good way of looking at it. I find the statement "I will not abandon you" particularly powerful in any social contract context (and in this design context). I think for groups that have trouble with trust and safety, (and who wouldn't run screaming at the idea of doing so) this could also make a particularly powerful ritual phrase to start a game with - reaffirming commitment to each other to get through the dark.

I mean, how many people in your life have ever looked you right in the eye and told you they would not abandon you? For me, there has only been one, and that relationship is the most powerful one I'll ever need. And how much more terribly hard must it become to abandon someone to whom you've looked at in the eye and declared it?

2006-01-17 15:21:01 Sydney Freedberg

Ritual: Yes!

I was just writing up the "this is a roleplaying game, here's how you narrate" section for the revised version of apocalypse girl last night, and I was struggling towards this kind of distinction, including whether to ritualize some kind of "whoa, too much" interjection.

Meguey, this is very helpful to me, in an immediate and concrete way. Many thanks.

2006-01-17 15:51:38 Vaxalon

I'll be bringing this topic up with my group next time I run Dogs.  What are we?  NGH, IWNAY, or TTP?

I'll be interested to hear what their answers are, given that the players are 1> Highly engaged with the Dogs background and system, and 2> mostly strangers to each other.

2006-01-17 16:20:45 Brand Robins


I've done to the pain too. A couple times it worked well, because everyone in the group was adult enough to both tap out and to accept a tap out without taking it as a statement of personal worth. The other time...


I'm reminded of things others said on anyway about grappling and full contact sparring contests. At a dojo or in a standing group of people who actually know what is what, its pretty damn uncommon for anyone to mock someone for tapping out. OTOH, in the world of backyard wrestling and teenagers playing dominance games and pretending its sparring, mocking someone for tapping out (or feeling belittled because you tapped out) is fairly common.

The too the pain game that went so wrong was played by adults who claimed they were all there to make a story together. By the end of the game it was obvious that wasn't the full story. Oh, they wanted the story, but they also wanted to mentally t-bag each other and play the social dominance games of teenagers backyard wrestling and then mocking the little kid for tapping.

Given the discussion in the "slicing up the RPG pie" thread, about how hurting people's characters can hurt the player in many kinds of RP, and the constant rhetoric of "IC vs OOC" in those same circles, I have to wonder how much of it is set up deliberatly to allow for cruelty—to keep people from tapping out so that you can keep twisting their arm up and back.

2006-01-17 16:46:46 Meguey

TTP seems to be a way of playing NGH with a bit more edge, or when you don't know where any established lines are. I think of Kill Puppies as a TTP game - Vincent's always talking about the 'line' that KPFS players come closer and closer to, and sometimes cross over. I think that line might be where it actually hurts. Certainly you could play KPFS as a Nobody Gets Hurt game of buffoonery, or as a truely twisted I Will Not Abandon You game of friendship and betrayal and pathetic evil.

The problem I see with playing TTP is as Mark W pointed out: it leaves a great big hole open for 'macho bullshit'. Who's going to be the first to say "Ok, that's enough with the granny smashing. No more granny smashing" ?

As for actual play tools around NGH and TTP, I suggest / reccomend using "Ouch/Oops". If someone reaches a line, you say "Ouch" and explain as needed. If you accidentally cross a line you know exists, you say "Oops" which lets the other players know you are aware you crossed a line, and it was an accident. This takes the whole judgement piece right out of the picture, so you don't have to fuss about how much IC racism os too much, or whatever

2006-01-17 16:50:39 Brand Robins


I like those tools. Mo and I use something like that—probably from a previous article of yours.

The one thing I have to say is that all such rules only work when we know that the folks around the table aren't trying to hurt each other.

I honestly think that some people's negative response to IWNAY or TtP play is because they have many, many times ben trapped in games where their refusal to "abandon"* has led to them being screwed over and over and over. When confronted with something that looks like what they remember (even if it is actually assuming a very different social structure, it looks superificially similar) there can't help but be some degree of panic.

*This is also because many geeks don't know the difference between "leave in a healthy way" and "desert." They think that any leaving is an abandonment, which leads to all kinds of crap.

2006-01-17 18:42:37 Emily Care

Rock on, Meg!  Fabulous!

I like the fact that NGH also can mean "not go here", which is what I think of as the very functional form that this takes.  Mechanics that enforce this allows you to set social boundaries that will help everyone have a good time. They are formal communication about the comfort levels of the players with one another.

For example, if I'm playing Breaking the Ice with my Mom, sure as shootin' I'm gonna say "let's keep things G or PG" with respect to sex. Other folks might not be able to play the game at all, or be fine with racier descriptions. Or if I was playing at a con with a person I'd just met, having the mechanics there to say "this is all I'm willing to share with you" is good. Is healthy. Is something that can allow games to be socially viable activities rather than raging abuse fests or doors to major issues you might not be ready to deal with.

So, I guess I disagree with Vincent. : )

Note that having them there gives you the choice to open those doors, or not, rather than dumping you into them unawares. IMO, a good combination would be to have NGH that help you determine where your lines are & pay attention to them, followed up by having IWNAY mechanics you can use if you want to cross the line.

2006-01-17 19:39:41 Meguey

Part of the problem with both systems, but especially with IWNAY, is that it takes a certain degree of plain old personal responsibility to pull it off. As MT said above, it's harder to let someone down if you've promised not to. I think there are definitly mechanics that can help facilitate IWNAY, but it's not all in the text, no matter how clear.

2006-01-17 20:38:15 Levi Kornelsen

This, overall, is a highly useful distinction.

Meguey - would you be irritated if I took what you've said here and ran it through the Darwinian gauntlet of RPGnet?

2006-01-17 21:39:13 Chris

The issues are person to person, so the personal responsibility is in the Social Contract- "Can I work through the emotions and communicate effectively (along the System we're using) or will I lash out or shut down?"

Mechanics can provide good ways to signal the rest of the group what you're going through.  It might become useful at some point to develop a "time-out" signal that allows a person to get some bearings and feel through what's going on in order to better be able to talk to the group.

Sometimes a situation might seem slightly uncomfortable that actually is a bigger, deeper issue, or seem like a big issue that actually isn't, when you get a chance to catch your breath.

I think the closer the play cuts to the bone, the more you have to account for this.

2006-01-17 22:18:05 Ninja Monkey J

Rock the fuck on, Meg. Getting these sorted out is a big step toward figuring out how to play as adults.

Incidentally, Under the Bed, played as NGH is really suck. IWNAY is really built-in ??? the upscaling of the conflicts from one turn to the next, the fact that you're all there in support of the same Child, and the horrible, burning void of childhood experience all point to raking each other over the coals, but lovingly. Obviously, we didn't have the terms when I wrote it, but there were a lot of discussions on the table about it at the time, so you clearly can write it into the rules.

2006-01-18 00:50:53 IMAGinES

I wonder - would Ron Edwards' example Narrativist RPG, Zero at the Bone, be an example of IWNAY? Its Wrongdoing rules are quite confrontational, and seem very likely to push buttons.

2006-01-18 15:20:05 Matt Wilson

I wasn't sure if I should comment here or over on ol' grumpy Vincent's thread. I'm gonna comment here, just to defy him.

IWNAY isn't abusive, I don't think. People are abusive.

See, if we play IWNAY style, and you have disclosure up front (which you really need, I think, in order to bring out the good stuff), then you should have a good idea of how big and red and lit up my various buttons are, and how much pressure to apply to get me engaged. If you just play whack-a-mole, I might shut down, and then you get nothin'.

Not that "I made Matt cry 1d4" isn't everyone's dream trait.

In fact, maybe IWNAY should be "I will not abuse you."

2006-01-18 16:22:52 Sydney Freedberg

Except you can hurt people deeply without meaning to abuse them. I'd even say you can be abusive without really realizing it (though if you keep refusing to realize it after people point it out to you, you are an asshole).

"I will not abandon you" does not mean "I will not hurt you, I will not mistreat you, I will not fail you." It means "I probably will fail you, often, but I will never stop trying."

Being married and being a parent, in my personal experience, are all about IWNAY.

2006-01-18 17:07:18 Matt Wilson

Yeah, I wouldn't call it "I will not hurt you." I've been in games where it hurt just because it was so damn boring. Hurt happens.

But if you're open and making yourself vulnerable about your own stuff, it's hard to be in a position to abuse anyone, and if you know the other person's stuff, you can't accidentally be abusive (or at least it's really really hard).

But you know what, I'm not up on what common definitions of abuse are, so I shouldn't be making my claim too loudly. I sorta think of it as either causing harm for pleasure, or getting pleasure with disregard for the harm it causes. Anyone wanna school me?

2006-01-18 18:15:33 Mark W

Matt, abuse isn't the only - or even, maybe, the most important way that intimate play can be unhealthy. Addictive behavior and/or co-dependence is another. I'm sure somebody other than layman me can say more about that.

2006-01-18 19:38:27 Blankshield

Hmm.  In regards to the last few comments on this thread...

My take on IWNAY is that it's not just about "I will push your buttons"  It also includes a very important bit, at the end of Meg's definition above, which is "and play through the issue."

Now, I might be projecting here, but I completely understand that to mean: Not only will I go to those places, and push those buttons, and make sure I don't back off or wimp out, but - BUT - I will also follow through to the end, and stick with you until we're all back out of that territory and on stable ground again.

And on that whole parent/spouse=IWNAY?  YES.  Or at least, if it's a healthy relationship.


2006-01-18 20:24:44 Mark W

Okay. I've alluded to it a few times, but I'm going to come out and explain it.

Matt: But if you're open and making yourself vulnerable about your own stuff, it's hard to be in a position to abuse anyone, and if you know the other person's stuff, you can't accidentally be abusive (or at least it's really really hard).

James: Not only will I go to those places, and push those buttons, and make sure I don't back off or wimp out, but - BUT - I will also follow through to the end, and stick with you until we're all back out of that territory and on stable ground again.

All good and healthy, right? Maybe.

Maybe not. If the IWNAY social agreement is read as "I will not judge, I will not reflect, only you have standing to do that. My job is just to be supportive." -AND- the painful/traumatic content that's being explored is NOT cathartic - the exploration of it does not lead to any understanding, change, or growth. That's (potentially) addictive behavior.

Maybe not. If I am deriving self-esteem, social power, or fostering dependency by encouraging you to be vulnerable to me - what happens to that when you don't want to be vulnerable any more? If you stop needing me, will you still be willing to play with me? That's (potentially) co-dependent behavior.

Both those dysfunctional cases fit within the basic IWNAY contract.

Does the ability/obligation to honestly judge what is shared defuse that? I don't know.

And, having dropped a bomb in the thread, I'll shut up for a while.

2006-01-18 21:18:50 Emily

Thanks, Mark.

This is no small matter. Creating games that open the door—or rather, that point you straight at the real, serious, hard things in our lives & psyches is a major step and a major change.  In order to do so we had damned sure better be thinking about what Meg writes about here, and a lot more besides.

2006-01-19 00:20:40 John Kim

Hi.  I started to go on at length about this, and then just made it a post on my own blog.  The link is here: Veils and NGH.

2006-01-19 02:00:32 Sydney Freedberg

And I've posted my draft of the "how we play without hurting each other excessively" rules for apocalypse girl on the Forge ( if the link in the marginalia doesn't work.)

2006-01-19 14:24:31 Meguey

Mark points out that IWNAY can be addictive, co-dependent, and lead to an abuse of power (especially, I read, if one person is the habitually vulnerable and another the habitually 'supportive'). He's totally right. I also expect any game or play style could go septic. I think it rests in the hands/hearts/heads of each person and/or gaming group to self-monitor for the extremes. Designers certainly can't be expected to consider and plan for *every* possible configuration.

I think designers CAN take a certain level of responsibility for letting folks know what could reasonably happen in the game, and provide tools/terms/mechanics to assist. Ron providing the lines and veils in Sex & Sorcery is possibly the best example of such a tool. Just for the sake of clarity, I want to sketch where I see NGH, TtP, IWNAY, and lines and veils intersecting.

Lines = how far do we go? This is part of TtP and NGH, clearly. Knowing where the lines are, or having some mechanic in place to alert fellow players when a line has been reached ( Sydney's Forge post).

Veils = how opaque is the detail? This is it's own thing. I can imagine a hard-core, hard-hitting IWNAY game in which lots of detail gets glossed over, and fairly easy-going NGH where there's really explicit scenes. Also, there may be games where the Veil is opaque about violence but transparent about sex, or whatever.

IWNAY = willingness to go through difficult/painful issues together. This is about the judicious crossing of Lines.  As above, I expect the Veils could be all over the place.

2006-01-19 16:19:14 Meguey

Another thing. Sometimes the lines crossed have nothing to do with the game, per se, at all. Sometimes IWNAY means you stick with the people and work it out, whatever ???it??? is. I think the highest tension, worst breakdown in the Meg-Vincent-Emily game may have been when Emily and I collided over what the town should look like, and whose vision/version of the (very sketchy) ???map??? was better/clearer/more accurate.

2006-01-19 15:46:55 timfire

Maybe I'm looking at this wrong, but it seems to me that NGH vs IWNAY is basically about where do we draw the line in play, rather than two distinct play styles. As such, it seems to me that NGH vs IWNAY is really a continuum. Certainly there are the two extremes, but isn't there middle ground?

I don't buy the argument that there's no line (or is it better to say stopping point) in IWNAY. If the extreme of IWNAY is abuse, and the players want to refrain from abuse (at least in the long run), then there has to be a line there somewhere. And certainly different individuals have different tolerances for pain. So presumably, different groups or even players will play IWNAY to different extremes.

I guess I'm arguing that all INWAY play is "To the Pain" in certain ways. It just doesn't seem to me that INWAY is as monolithic as it seems to be being portaryed.

2006-01-19 20:39:25 anon.

In Marginalia, above:

NGH - "if painful, don't go" IWNAY - "if painful, commitment to support/take responsibility/go slow and careful"

To which I say:

Noooo, not quite. Or, sure, but that's only part of the story.

Here's another example of what I mean by IWNAY.

Jill has a hard line at kids-in-danger. Robin says "The victim is a child."

Jill says "Please don't make the victim a child. I really don't want the victim to be a child." Robin says "I know you don't like it, but the victim is a child."

Jill says "You *suck*, Robin. And I'm still not going to abandon you." Robin says "I know you think I suck. I know this is sucky of me to do. And I'm still not going to bail on you and your reaction to me being a sucky person right now."

Do you see how this goes beyond "support/take responsibility/go slow and careful" ?

2006-01-19 22:40:06 Ninja Monkey J

That's some hot shit there, Meg.

2006-01-19 23:52:48 anon.

IWNAY = my role-playing.

Lines & Veils are only a little part of it, though - just sort-of techniques to adjust within it. I think the main expression of IWNAY in the Sex & Sorcery text comes out in the quotes I chose, particularly from Robert Bly and Simone de Beauvoir.

However, the issues those quotes address still make people flip out and start screaming, whenever they show up on-line.

2006-01-20 13:53:35 Meguey

Good point, Ron. The way the game writen includes all the quotes, color text, etc., not just the bare system and mechanics. If I write a mechanic for pushing buttons that's one thing; if I write a mechanic for pushing buttons and also have a quote or something that illuminates what I mean or expect from that mechanic, the overall point is clearer and stronger.

I think there was a time in recent memory (and it continues in many places, alas)when you could totally skip over the color, the quotes, the little fictions in an RPG book, and you wouldn't miss much. If those things don't distinctly add to the game, why use them as filler?

2006-01-20 14:10:40 Vincent

A true conversation, actually several true conversations, reconstructed from memory:

"Do all writers cannibalize their friends, Vincent, or are you just a complete dick?"

"I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one."

2006-01-23 23:30:10 Judd

This was all so damned relevant to our PTA session that went down on Saturday night at Dreamation this weekend.  I've come back and read this over a number of times today and just nodded my way through.

The Hare and Hound

2006-01-25 21:33:34 Joshua Kronengold

This started as a reply to MWM's marginalia to #26. got long, so I'm dropping it here instead.

Yeah, but IWNAY doesn't really exist.

No, that's not right -functional- IWNAY doesn't exist.

No, that's not right either.  Functional IWNAY, as described, with no further description doesn't exist.  Certainly, something that goes further, or rather, is about something further than TTP does exist, but IWNAY doesn't quite encapsulate it.

No, that's not right either.  Well, maybe it is.  Taken literally, IWNAY play has no limits, no safewords, no escape route aside from breaking the contract.  I think I touched on this on Anyway, but the problem is that almost nobody has -no- limits.  We've got a whole set of gradations—things that are cool and fun, things that are "edgy", things that -hurt-, and beyond that, things we're bored with, things that squick us, things that run up against our moral or ethical codes, and things that we're just not ready for.

It's entirely possible (common, even) for there to be "IWNAY" play that pushes limits, and yet has hard limits that won't be crossed—in fact, I'd go as far as to say that all functional IWNAY play has both such limits—the first to play against, the second for sanity.  They might not be codified—just like any part of system may be implicit—but they're there or something is badly broken.

The BDSM analogy is just screaming to be made, and the entire topic is close enough that I think it has to be.  BDSM, like any other form of play, has limits.  Some play stays well away from limits—"if they safeword, you've done something wrong" or the like.  Other play pushes limits, constantly exploring what's OK and playing with the concept.  However, there are always boundaries that can't be crossed—obviously, this varies with the people, but in any sane play will include some boundaries.

Now, some people use safewords almost like a religon.  Others rely on communication, understanding, and sanity.  But regardless, in any sane play, there's always -some- escape; some way to stop when things go to far.

Now, obviously, the consequences for messing this stuff up in roleplaying—assuming things stay with a tabletop game, anwyay—are far more minor than in BDSM.  But the principle still applies—the distinction isn't really between "safe" and "unsafe" play, but between play that's vanilla, play that's boundary-avoiding, and play that's boundary-pushing.

2006-01-26 07:27:42 Ninja Monkey J

The only safewords you need in an RPG are "Dude, you're being a dick." Because it means just that. Whatever you say out of character is you, right there, saying it.

2006-01-26 10:26:07 Charles

The question is whether, "Dude, you're being a dick," is accepted as a sign to pull back, or whether it is a sign to snicker and say, "Yeah, aren't I?" Also, the safeword aspect remains in a different sense, which is that safe-wording needs to be completely comfortable and supported, where "Dude, you're being a dick," may or may not be comfortable and supported, it may be met with "No, I'm not," or "Jeez, why'd you call her a dick? What's wrong with you?" Having ways to pull back (Meg's "Ouch!" "Oops" being a good one) without breaking the game, and having ways of saying "That hurt more than I can take," without adding "you asshole!" are both important.

If I know that chilldren in danger is a hot button for you, and I push on it, and you say, "Oh shit, don't push on that button!" do you mean: "Stop, now, and let's retcon the fact you even went there," or do you mean "Watch it, if you don't handle this really well, you are going to be dealing with major and horrible emotional fall-out." Also, if you do mean the first one, does that mean you've violated the IWNAY promise of the game by placing a subject off limits (even if only for this evening or this situation)? Meg's original post suggests that it is, but I feel pretty strongly that there is a continuum along that axis. IWNAY play doesn't need to be "no limits," it just needs the promise not to abandon the other players when the game gets into hard territory. I seems to me that you can lead the other players back from the hard territory without abandon them.

I've read someone on the Forge (I don't remember who) talking about the relationship between roleplaying and psychodrama practice. No limits IWNAY is very much in the direction of psychodrama, and if a particular group is capable doing it and doing it well, then good. Certainly, they will be better off with system that supports them well in that endeavour. However, I can't imagine a system that could provide assurance that a random group of well meaning players would not do horrible damage to each other trying to do no limits IWNAY. I think you need to know people well to do NL-IWNAY reasonably safely (and safely should be the goal) or have a system that leads you gradually in to full NL-IWNAY.

Actually, "I will not abandon you" is a starting point for serious psychological play, the question is what limits are imposed. The limits probably need to start out bright-lined, or there need to be effective mechanics (the equivalent of safe words) for gradually pushing at and flagging boundaries. IWNAY seems to me to be about exactly what it says, the question of how far into dangerous territory we're going to go is a seperate one. If we aren't playing IWNAY, we'd better be playing safe NWGH, as we have no promise that I won't abandon you when you get hurt. TTP is probably disfunctional if it isn't played IWNAY, but lots of IWNAY is TTP (and potentially functional). I wouldn't say that NL-IWNAY is disfunctional, but I think it has that potential, if it pushes people far enough that they renege and abandon.

More important than the safe-word concept everyone usually brings over (often inappropriately) from BDSM is the central concept of functional BDSM: safe-sane-consensual (SSC). IWNAY is certainly an attempt at that, but no limits without a way of pulling back without breaking the contract seems to me to be very much pushing the edge of SSC. If the only way out (If you are no longer consenting) is to violate the contract, then you risk leaving the other players stranded and damaged.

2006-01-26 19:12:25 anon.

Good points, all, Charles.

I think this gets back to Meg's discussion of Ritual.

2006-01-26 22:21:49 Meguey

I think what we're doing by examining the whole idea of lines, veils, TtP, NGH, IWNAY, etc, is trying to find functional ways to talk about and design for things that are actually pretty simple:

Know your limits.

Stand up for your limits.

Don't push when you know it's not ok.

Don't push and then ditch out when someone responds.

If someone calls you on your crap, own up.

I think part of the reason this is an important conversation is due to the whole bit about the damage (generally) inherent in the hobby, where banning Cat Piss Guy is unacceptable because saying 'No' is counter to the geek social code. (Will some kind person put the link to the article I'm thinking of in the marginalia? Thanks.)

2006-01-27 04:09:25 Charles

I think that saying no is harder even than just the Geek code aspect. I think saying no to abusive play (even/particularly unintentionally abusive play) also draws in the cool kid/ social pressure problem with saying no. While there are abusive players who are the equivalent of Cat Piss Guy (abusive because they are too socially incompetent to avoid it, or too socially incompetent to understand that no one else finds their abusiveness fun or funny), there is also plenty of social pressure (in some circles, it varies) to play rough, even if playing rough hurts more than it benefits. If saying stop is going to mark you as someone who failed the play style by wimping out (macho TtP or NL play), then that is at least as much of a problem as the hesitancy to kick out abusive Cat Piss Guy, particularly since Cat Piss Guy mostly forces you to shut down, rather than forcing you to remain fully engaged in the abuse.

I think an important aspect of IWNAY might also be that whoever's boundaries are getting pushed probably needs to be the author. I shouldn't use your issues with children in danger to make my own statement (about, say, people having issues with children in danger or people needing to face their issues), but it is valid for me to set up situations that allow you to work with those issues and make your own statements about them, so long as I am also willing to not abandon you in making those statements. I could legitimately use your issues in a book to make my own statement, but I can't force you to engage fully with the book I write. Because I am demanding that you engage fully in the game, using you to make my statements in game is forcing you to participate in my use in a way that writing a novel that plays with you having your issues doesn't. It seems to me that that potentially crosses the line into abuse.

The problem, to my mind, comes when we are both over our lines into dangerous territory, and where both of us therefore feel the right to make our own statements with the situation. If our statements conflict, then we can easily find ourselves in a position where it is hard to neither abandon nor to come out uninjured. I don't know what the solution to that situation is, although strong structurally supported IWNAY, including the commitment to serious post-play work if necessary does seem like a reasonable start. Knowing your fellow players helps to prevent such situations, and probably helps with getting through them uninjured as well, but it isn't a surety.

Personally, the emotional damage I suffered (and did) back in my college days was all about the peer pressure to go too far in emotional head games (which also provide a transgressive high), and never about tolerating Cat Piss Guy (we didn't), so I'm doubtful that it is all about the traditional geek damage (and we were geeks). Emily's deep trance example is also all about transgressive irresponsibility, rather than geek damage, so I think I'm not alone.

2006-01-27 16:38:42 Vincent

I think that Charles is correct in characterizing IWNAY as dangerous, especially this stuff:

"I can't imagine a system that could provide assurance that a random group of well meaning players would not do horrible damage to each other trying to do no limits IWNAY."


" limits without a way of pulling back without breaking the contract seems to me to be very much pushing the edge of SSC. If the only way out (If you are no longer consenting) is to violate the contract, then you risk leaving the other players stranded and damaged."


"If our statements conflict, then we can easily find ourselves in a position where it is hard to neither abandon nor to come out uninjured."

That all seems very true to me.

The questions, then, of whether safety should be my primary concern as a designer, or even a concern at all, and whether I shouldn't instead design games to protect their players - and then, the questions of whether as an IWNAY player I should bring Meg's issues to the table, or limit myself to my own issues - those are the ethical questions that follow from the observation.

One person says "ooh, dangerous, let's go into that slowly and carefully, with our eyes open."

Another person says "ooh, dangerous, LET ME AT IT!"

Another person says "ooh, dangerous, you go first!"

Who's right? Who's a good person? I think we can only each bring our own consciences and moral judgements to bear.

2006-02-02 00:54:41 John Kim

Just thought I'd bring up one more reference here, on the topic of Nobody Gets Hurt (NGH).

Emma Wieslander, in an essay for the Solmukohta book Beyond Role and Play, has an essay called "Positive Power Drama" in the fourth chapter, Openings (a link to the PDF is on the left in the chapter contents).  It is essentially a call to have more games that centered on positive emotions rather than negative.  i.e. About healing rather than killing; about sex and love rather than rape; about support rather than abuse.

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