Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Script Change Changes, Reflection

Hi y'all!

I recently made updates to Script Change (itchio) and wanted to break them down a little! You're going to get some of my recent photography with it, also, because I wanna.

All photos by Brie Beau Sheldon (c) 2019.

A tan labrador mix dog standing in leaf-riddled grass, waiting expectantly.
Whatcha got for me? Charlie is ready to go!

Sorting it out

Some of this was just some reorganization - I wrote this document originally starting like 2012-2013 and it went through some shuffles over that time, and some organization for clarity and approachableness was vital. Now there's a more smooth flow, and the layout is tidied a little bit, too. I also added what I think is an awesome table handout with brief explanations of the tools, with larger text so it's more accessible! There are ways I can expand this, but I gotta take my time sometimes.

Figuring it out

I needed to ask what Script Change was doing in regards to addressing different needs at the table. One of the recent discussions about the topic of safety tools was the Luxton Technique, discussed on Google+ (I'm asking the author of that post if they'd like to duplicate it here, since G+ is dying, but that's where it is now), which addressed the ability to not pretend something didn't happen, to give more narrative control, and to change the way we approach when content comes up in game that we don't want to have ruin our play experience.

One way I wanted to address this was ensuring that it was clear you discuss potential triggers, squicks, etc. up front. Since Script Change approaches this with a "control all content, even without triggers" focus I tried to frame the initial discussion as choosing the rating, then addressing categoric avoidance, noting that they should be recorded but do so without listing player names (because for me, personally, being the person with a giant list of don't-wants is actually really upsetting and makes me less comfortable sharing).

I am considering further expansion by making a printable "triggers, squicks, and dislikes" list where people can print it out or save it (make it digitally editable) and have it separated to "do not use, fast forward if used, pause to ask if used" or something like that. This is a challenge because some of this stuff changes, but if I remind people it can be altered at any time, that should be okay. This is a "next time" piece - I wanted to get the latest update out when I did.

A view looking down an incline with tracks for cars, passing through trees and up to a red building on a two-line road with large buildings on the opposite side.
Every release lately has felt like I'm traveling up a steep hill, with no other side, so I gotta get done what I can.
Next I worked on how the actual tools work. I did an expanded explanation of how each tool works, including expanding that pauses can be used for discussion, ensuring that you identify what the content is that's an issue, and noting that you can identify subjects that frame-by-frame is always used for. This is probably the deeper game design part, so I'll try to detail a little more later. I also, however, added a full question and response to address the issue of pretending things didn't happen.

In one q&a, I detailed how you can discuss together what it means when you rewind - is it a dream? is it a prediction of a possibility that didn't happen? Or is it simply cut on the editing room floor? Nonetheless, I noted:
However, final rulings do reside with the person who called for the tool to be used - in some cases, people may want to just say it didn’t happen and there’s no narrative representation. If this is what is safest for them, we must respect that - just like we should respect people in different scenarios asking to have it be represented as a part of the fiction, if they are the one who called the tool.

It’s important to note that the experiences happened in real life - whether it was triggering content or just simply off tone, it wasn’t disappeared into nothingness for us in real life. Do not erase people’s experiences. Script Change is a meta-toolbox, and we must acknowledge reality regardless of the fiction.
I think my language could be refined, so I'll be revisiting this in the kind of quarterly review I do.
The sun flaring down orange and pink in rays and spheres over a log with some overgrown fungus.
I love this picture so much, it punches me in the soul.

But My Feels

Some people have expressed a desire to educate in response to content they might use Script Change for, or even explain their trauma to others, which is a valid want. My issue with this is that I know how easy it is to trigger a friend when you vent your trauma, and also how sometimes when we're in need of support, we ask for it in a place that can't support it. I tried to keep my language gentle here, like I do in most of Script Change.
If you need to talk about it, you can ask for a pause to explain what’s going on, and the other players should listen. It is also good to discuss topics that come up at a Wrap Meeting. Remember to respect each other in how much you ask of each other, and keep in mind that their capacity is just as other players or possibly friends. You should all be generous to each other, and understanding of each others’ limitations.

During this discussion, if you plan to share anything potentially triggering of others’ traumas, make sure to warn people so they can be safe for themselves. If they need to excuse themselves so you can address the topic, be understanding.
Basically, I want people to have the avenue to discuss things, to speak about why they called the tool. But, I also care about protecting everyone at the table, and that includes the people who are unable to handle triggering content for their own private reasons. I know I am often willing to speak up about my triggers and trauma, but I also know I've hurt people in doing it. This section is to hopefully help ensure we can do one without the other.

Other Players

I'd previously addressed whether others would take tools seriously, but I expanded this section to cover something I've written about before - leaving the group, or finding an alternative way to engage, including using a tool other than Script Change.
If you encounter an issue where you are afraid or uncomfortable using Script Change tools with your group, it’s possible that Script Change is not the right toolbox for you. it’s also possible that the group is not right for you, and you should consider finding an alternative option. If you want to press forward with both of them, the best option is to speak plainly about your concerns. If you trust these people enough to game with them, you will hopefully find the day they respond with care to you saying “hey, I don’t feel comfortable.” If they don’t, then you have a bigger problem that needs to be approached with a longer dialogue – or by ending the dialogue.
a wooden sign that says "No Launching, No Fishing" beside some green grass and weeds that butt up against a lake.
Sometimes you gotta have rules on what you're willing to take.
Speaking of other players, I also encouraged people to speak up for other players! This was talked about in the Luxton technique, too, and is something I have personal experience. Once, while playing a horror game, the story turned and headed into a mental hospital. I froze completely, just totally not okay with dealing with one of my worst fears. My husband John knew I was not okay both by looking at me and by our prior discussions about content, so he tagged an X-card for me. Saved me from a real rough experience! So I broke it down a little:

You can use Script Change tools on behalf of other players! If you notice your friend is acting uncomfortable and something is happening in game that might be causing it, it’s okay to use a tool to either check in with them (like a pause) or to directly address the content (like rewind or fast forward). It’s okay for you to do that and say that you feel like it might be making people uncomfortable, and not put any direct light on the person in question, or to just say you personally don’t want to see that content.
Sometimes, we step up for other people, and it makes the game a better experience!
That was important to me, honestly.

Addressing the Crunch

I personally play some games that are pretty crunchy sometimes, where it might seem like the players or even the facilitator are at the whim of the calculations. I also kind of hate that aspect of it - if a mechanical result is going to traumatize me or ruin my fun, fuck that, I want a different option. So I clarified something that I've been hesitant to do, but have been doing for a while: Script Change can change mechanical results. In fact, this has been core in Turn's design since the game's inception. Example:

In our current game of Turn, I'm playing Beau, a cougar Late-Bloomer who has struggled a lot. He's queer, and over the course of the story, he's had to come out to friends and family members in both shifter and queer identity, and also deal with an ailing adoptive father. His biggest upside is he's found his true love, a guy named Diego who is also his best friend. Beau currently has one mark left on his town exposure track, meaning he could be expelled from the town or killed if the roll goes badly, because small towns are fickle with their love when it comes to being different.
a black and white photo of broken pumpkins scattered across grass.
I might have shared this before but every time I feel kind of sad for being weird I think of these damn pumpkins.

I updated the "don't wants" kind of list by telling our Town Manager, John, that if Beau has to leave the town, Diego comes with him - no arguments. If I get to the roll and it's really bad, I could back up the scene using a rewind and approach it differently, and when the roll comes again it could be different. But, at least with this, I know I have the security to get a satisfying end to my character's story - a character who carries my chosen name, who I have played for like a year.

It may not always be what you want, and I can understand how people might fear its abuse as a toolbox function! So I wrote it in like this:

Script Change can also be used for mechanical results if the group agrees to it. There are times when one bad roll, or one potential consequence, would be enough to make a game unpleasant or even upsetting for us. So long as the group agrees to use it in this context, it’s okay to rewind a roll or fast-forward an unnecessarily long combat. It’s important to remember that when you rewind a roll, you will typically rewind to before you took the action that prompted the roll, and have to take a reasonably different action going forward. This helps to ensure fairness in play!
I personally love it! If someone's deeply in love with crunchy games (like me with Shadowrun 3e!) or just gets super attached to characters, using Script Change and knowing it takes some thoughtfulness to use may help them have a less risky play time.

Wrapping It Up

The last BIG change was that I added a lot of detail to wrap meetings! I even offered a list of questions to help guide the meetings, encouraging a supportive environment, one where you ask questions and elaborate as you're comfortable. It includes this section, which I think is important:
If someone is uncomfortable addressing the issue from game during the wrap meeting out loud and at that time, they should be an option to send an email, write a note, or have a later discussion to follow up to make sure that everyone is comfortable and knows what’s happening. This lets people address topics more safely and reduces repeat errors.
I realized just now there's a duplicate later in the actual PDF, so I'll add that to the to-fix. But, this part was important to me because sometimes we don't process our feelings right away, or need to calm down, but still deserve to be heard. So, I'm encouraging using all the tools at our disposal to ensure wrap meetings are effective!

One final change I plan to make in the next revision for sure is changing all uses of GM to facilitator. It was irresponsible to leave it this time - I just didn't feel like dealing with what it might do to the layout, but GM isn't the best term. Added to the list!

So that's that! The work I've done for Script Change has been extensive. I do a fair bit of reading, and a lot of thinking and writing/re-writing. The project means so much to me, and I love it a lot. Every time someone shares and recommends it on social media and tags me on like @ThoughtyGames and stuff, it makes me feel proud! I don't feel proud a lot, so that matters. And it matters most that people are learning about some options for how to stay safer at the table, and have a more fun time. :)

Smooth, silky water pouring over different levels of rocks in a brook, looking almost unreal while green trees poke into view.
It's sometimes worth it to hold still for a while and see what's underneath the surface, and watch the water turn to silk and blur. When you see the rough edges, will you try to smooth them out, or flow with them to create something beautiful?

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