As I creeped down the hall, I couldn’t close my ears. The sounds surrounded me, like a bag thrown over my head. I had to step around the corner, I had to face this thing. Yet, the longer I waited the longer I felt like I had a chance to escape the horror I knew would be on the other side. I knew what I was stalking, I knew what my chances would be that those sounds were just… chicken bones.
As a player, I reached out and tapped the X card. I knew what the description was going to be, we were hunting down a killer clown and the description of the sounds were bad enough. I couldn’t handle a deep description that I knew the Storyteller was about to provide. The ST saw me, nodded her head and shifted the narrative. The clown ran out from his hiding place, and we fought. When the fight ended, she gave an overview of what we found and excluded the gorier details based on the discussion we had about descriptive preference before we started playing.
What is the X card? The X Card was created by John Stavropoulos. It’s a mechanic that allows players to opt-out of something in a scene that is uncomfortable. Even the Game Master/Storyteller can perform this edit if a player is adding description that they would prefer not to engage with. This is a great mechanic for convention games, and that is where it sees the most use. In a public game its less likely that you’ve had significant conversations about needs, wants, and gaming interests, so the X card helps to control the game content in an easy to understand way. Now, some folks worry about this mechanic being misused by players hoping to avoid in-character consequences for their actions.
From my experience with similar mechanics, I usually ask a few follow-up questions if I think someone is trying to take advantage of ANY situation or mechanic in an unhealthy way. I don’t ask these questions in an interrogative way, just in a clarifying way. “I’m happy to edit the scene, which elements would you like me to remove or cut out? Is this a player comfort concern or a character comfort problem? How would you run this in a way that you would be comfortable? I think we can work together to make the scene work for everyone.”
Fade To Black
This is one version of what I consider, Fade to Black mechanics. These are mechanics that support player enjoyment and safety. Fade to Black is a movie trope that cuts away from horrific elements. These elements are known, there are enough hints that explain what is happening, but they are never stated explicitly, to ensure that viewers do not have to see something particularly heinous. In some ways, there is more positive emotional impact from keeping certain elements off-screen, and this is true in games as much as movies and TV.
A great article was released today that talks about using consent strategies in LARP, and I think these are wonderful and can also be used in table-top environments. In the end, we want our players to keep player, right? Working with things like the X card will help us to build our community which means more gaming!