Saturday, December 3, 2016

Safety and Table Techniques, My Take

Of late, there have been a lot of people making efforts to design table techniques and safety techniques. This is great and I'm happy to see design work and attention to communication and safety at the table! ...however, I have some thoughts.

The two most recent tools I've seen are the Support Flower and the Edgewise card.

I'm going to be judgy. I know, what do I know? Nothing more than what I know, which is my experience, emotions, and background.

I think the Support Flower is interesting and has good intent. However, the design is an issue. With the arrangement of the flower, if I (someone with relatively short arms) tried to reach across the table to tap or point to the red center, what if I could only reach the green petals, or someone thought I was just pointing at the slow down petals? Maybe I'd have to move it closer to me, moving it farther from other players and also setting up an implication that I would control the content, as well as possibly distracting from the game.

As well, the slow down or gentle option can be confusing. Without discussing what content is troubling, how do you be gentle with it? Isn't it just as much of a disruption of the game to pause to clarify because "hey I'm uncomfortable with or nervous about this content" is very vague and can be an issue? (I have seen this with the X-card, too, and complained about it.) These are things that worry me.

For Edgewise, it has two issues. One, the introduction of the card comes across as an admission that there is no trust for basic respect at the table and no attempt at gaining or giving it. It says "None of you will let me talk, so here is a tool that I'm going to have to use to work around you." This is different than safety cards because we can all assume people want to talk, but knowing what will trigger someone or bother them requires a deeper discussion. 

It also, secondly, completely disrupts norms of communication. It says "I am not listening to what you are saying, I'm just waiting my turn to speak." It gives no respect to people who might just be making their point and not steamrolling if the person who wants to use it is just barely holding back at talking over that person and ignoring their point. I also know it can be used as a means to take control of the discussions at the table.

We have a tendency as gamers to avoid communication. We may not ask each other about how things make us feel. We can be afraid to share the things that make us uncomfortable because people might judge us. We can be afraid to say "Hey, stop, I don't want to see this." But we can learn. We can step up as players and designers and GMs to say "Ask people what is okay for them. Give people space to express *openly and explicitly* what's not comfortable for them." And if people judge others for being uncomfortable with certain content? The uncomfortable people should be the ones who get to stay at a safe table.

We may excuse misbehavior as social awkwardness. We may say that someone is too awkward to know when it's okay to speak, or that some people have trouble using social cues. And for some people, these things are true. For autistic individuals and people with anxiety, I can see a lot of these troubles and accommodation is important. But this is not all of us. We can't excuse everyone because of some people's genuine needs. We can learn and grow and get better at talking to each other and learning body cues. Hell, even people with anxiety typically have the capacity to learn these things. 

If those of us who can learn these things and can design for these things and support these things don't make those efforts, we don't give space for the people who really need support and space. We can learn how we can act and be open and honest about our feelings and perspectives so that people who can't feel safer and if they can, someday might be able to do the same thing.

I see the meaning and intention here, and I know no tool is perfect. This is just where I am seeing flaws and why I wouldn't like these tools at my table.

ETA: I was talking with John about some of the user design issues here and we noted the issues of visual impairment and colorblindness, as well as ability to physically access the tools. (I have in Script Change that you can vocalise the tools, but I haven't seen this as an option in many other tools.) Accessible tools matter!

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