We've developed social technologies for expressing your discomfort in games: lines, veils, "Try a different way," simply walking away. There are others, too.
Those are really good technologies to have, and to develop a comfort in using.
However, it fucking stings to be on the receiving end of any of them. It sucks to feel judged.
The choice to post this thread now was triggered by Todd L's thread, but is in no way "about" that thread.
Instead, it's about a difficult part of the making-art-together process that we're in.
I've got two questions, and after asking each I'm going to respond with a personal story about them.
I'd like people to stay close to these questions when participating, and to try to highlight their experiences above all else.
Feel free to only answer one or the other - I feel like we need more #2
responses than #1
responses, anyways.1.) When you felt judged during a gaming session, how did it feel and how did you react?
This story is interesting, because the person who I felt judged by did everything right - spoke up early about her sensitivities, couched her concerns in gentle terms, suggested alternatives, and stayed positive (making the concern about the story we were telling, and not about the people telling it).
At the last slot of Fabricated Realities, Daniel ran Ribbon Drive. While people were sorting themselves into games, Carla (not her real name)
expressed that, "I am looking to play a game without lots of murder and sexual violence." We definitely recommended Ribbon Drive over the other things that were being offered - Monsterhearts, Apocalypse World, and Polaris. As we were setting up to play, I think someone might have probed her about that comment, and she'd described this play experience she had with Monsterhearts that she didn't like. While all she really said was, "It was just too dark for my tastes," and "there was some sexual violence in the game," my take-away message from that was: Whoever wrote that game is clearly an offensive pervert
. I wrote that game.
This primed me to be hyper-sensitive about any lines that Carla expressed. My reptile brain was priming itself for conflict. During the stage in Ribbon Drive where you decide what kind of road trip everyone is playing, I suggested that we were a poor inner-city family trying to escape social services. I'd just finished watching Season 1 of Shameless, and felt inspired to play in that vein. Carla expressed a concern with playing a poor inner-city family, because it was easy to drift into tokenism and caricatured versions of the poor. She also expressed a discomfort with playing out family mental health issues, which was also wrapped up in my pitch.
She explained these "soft lines" really even-handedly, but I felt like my ideas were being judged. I felt like this was the second time a game of mine was on trial within the span of an hour. A lot of these feelings were pretty irrational. Irrational feelings often rise up when you attempt to make art together, with strangers who have different buttons and viewpoints than you do. I tried to keep my feelings inside my chest for long enough to process them, and realized that when I feel judged in a game, my first reaction is to get paranoid and defensive.
The game turned out to be awesome and fun. Carla's character (a young idealist who recently "quit the internet") was awesome, and my character (a horny twelve-year-old who fantasizes about sleeping with his brother's girlfriend) was awesome, and each other character was awesome too. But it felt like it took a lot to move back out of that defensive territory.2.) What social technologies do we have for dealing with feeling judged?
One thing that helped me get back on track, emotionally, was to remember that everyone comes to the table with different stories. It's rare that a person is condemning you; it is more frequent that they're reacting to their own contexts and their own experiences. When I was a support worker, and spent 10-20 hours a week supporting someone with violent hallucinations, I remember trying to sit down to play Don't Rest Your Head. It was difficult. I had to shut a lot of ideas down in order to feel okay playing that game. It didn't make the other players "bad" for wanting to explore that terrain; that terrain just wasn't going to fit smoothly with my recent experiences.
So, my one and only tool in my "dealing with judgment" toolbox at the moment is a mantra: Everyone is carrying different stories
It's helpful to remember, in the moment, that there's a lot of reasons that the other player might want to draw a line or avoid a certain play topic. Maybe their mother is bipolar and suicidal. Maybe their father is in prison for the very crime that we're about to place into a Fiasco story. Maybe they deal with X as their day job, and they want to play games as a way to avoid that. Whatever the case might be, everyone is carrying different stories, and are likely to be filtering your creative input through those stories. Remembering that helps me to avoid taking shit personally.But that one tool/mantra isn't enough, really, to deal with feelings of judgment during play. What other tools exist?