Sunday, October 22, 2017

Big Bad Con 2017 Saturday & Panels

I attended Big Bad Con 2017 in Walnut Creek, CA on a scholarship from the con. This is post two! Find post one here.
I got room service to make sure I finished my homework. >.<
I woke up after like, real sleep for the first time in a while, and wrote a paper for school before messing about hanging around with people until my next panel. I was brought a handy towel by Dante so I didn't ruin the hotel towels and, tbh, I couldn't find the towel before I left Monday morning, so no idea what happened there.

The next panel I was on was Gaming and Emotional Safety, with Mickey and Misha. Everyone knows I'm a pretty woobie heart person so I get emotional a lot, and I also have had some trauma in my life that I struggle with and that can (sometimes nonsensically) come up in game. We reviewed many of the various safety tools (though not all), noting that they're not one size fits all and that people should use what works for them.

We discussed the importance of pregame discussion of content and tone, debriefs, and emotional safety as a whole. Games might not be everyone's standard definition of “fun” but we aren't there for abuse. It's important to be on the same page, respect each other, and check in. I reminded people that even if they've had the same group for decades, they may make their games more fun for everyone by talking to their friends about their preferences. This included discussing racism, sexism, homophobia, mental illness, and so on.

more here>>>>

Games here that have risks in them: Misspent Youth, Lovecraftesque, Night Witches, Dread... that's just a few. They are awesome games, but we gotta be safe. This is taken when I realized that games I worked on were for sale (Lovecraftesque), but handy for demonstrating games with inherent issues - like the racism and mental illness stigma in Lovecraft.
I also noted the difference between a squick and a trigger. Squicks are things that gross you out, make you a little uncomfortable, etc. They can stick with you, but are unlikely to have long term mental health impact. Treat these with respect - make sure people are okay with them, ensure they're tonally appropriate, and be willing to alter content if it needs to be done. Triggers are typically tied directly to trauma and can result in panic attacks, nightmares, and activation of things like paranoia and mania (in my case). Don't approach people's triggers without checking in and getting their permission! And if you know about common triggers, ask your group before including them, but don't require details. There's also phobias, which I suggest treating much like triggers. Always check in.

There are some people comfortable with approaching their triggers and phobias on purpose, which Mickey and Misha discussed a bit. It's not something I normally venture into, but they talked about how it can be helpful to work in that abstracted environment. Really loved that part of the panel!

Finally, we talked about inclusion, exclusion, and bad actors. The key points were 1) it is always okay to leave a game for any reason and especially if you don't feel safe; 2) if you include people who hurt others with the content included in their play, you are excluding those who will be hurt, including excluding people of color in favor of racists, excluding women in favor of rapey men, etc.; and 3) you can always eject someone from the group. Always. If someone is hurtful, if they're unsafe, don't give them a space to be that way.

I was reminded later in the weekend how vile in-game violation of consent is. If you force a player or a character to do ANYTHING they don't consent to, including ignoring at-the-moment objections, you are behaving inappropriately and you're hurting people. Reconsider your role until you learn how to play games without hurting people.

I was lucky enough after the panel to meet up with Brian Vo, who made me a cocktail! It was nice to meet him and the drink was great. :D

My nerding out in clothes for fandoms I'm not in.
The final panel I participated in was Adult Themes in Gaming: Adult versus “Adult” with Mickey Schulz, Clint “Ogre” Whiteside, and Jason Morningstar. It was a really great panel and I was excited for it because this is a topic that’s meaningful to me, specifically: what content is really mature content, how to present it, the tools we have to manage it, and adult content that isn’t just sex.

(It’s always funny when I run into Jason because we’re both typically busy, and we have these mini conferences like “what are you doing?” “what are YOU doing?” “I’m doing THIS!” “OMG tell me more about this!” and it sounds silly maybe but running into him like that is always awesome.)

We talked about the content we include in games - Mickey and Ogre include pretty much everything that their table is safe with, which is a lot (sex, romance, violence, and other stuff that needs to be approached with caution); I tend towards having lighter content, emotional interaction, some tougher topics, and I don’t approach sex very much; and while Jason covers a lot of more complicated stuff like grief and war, he doesn’t really touch the subject of sex at all in his games, though he discussed a recent experience playing a happy, healthy married couple and how transgressive it felt. It was so cool to see a variety of experiences at the table.

One note: Mickey commented on this and is making changes for future panels, but everyone at the table was white. This is something that is actually common to happen, but it wasn’t intended and it's not a good trend, so more effort going forward will happen.

We talked about the difference between having content exist and be played out (which some people might consider more pornographic in regards to sex), and having content that fades to black or is glossed over. This is something I think really needs to be discussed in detail with players and GMs at the table, making sure everyone is comfortable.

Some people might want to push their own boundaries, too, which is dependent on a lot of factors. Specifically, I might be willing to address sexual content at a table full of close friends, but at a table with strangers it might not be okay. Likewise, there are non-sex topics that are challenging and mature. Violence is one of them! We use violence freely, but that’s not necessarily because it’s appropriate. We should be more considerate of this - Jason even said he’d like to explore more ways to resolve conflict without violence (my mini pacifist high fives this idea). Grief is another subject.

Before this con, and before last year’s Metatopia, I had a grandparent pass away (my grandmother first, then grandfather). I still went to the cons, and played in games where grief was relevant. At a lot of tables I might have stepped away or asked not to cover it, but both of these times I had people I trusted (last year was Jason, Amanda Valentine, and Roe Nix playing Storybox and this year was Hakan Seyalioglu, Kristine Hassell, Vera Vartanian, and Vivian Paul playing Dialect), and who I knew wouldn’t treat me badly if I cried a little or if I needed a break.

Honestly, the newest addition to Script Change, frame-by-frame, is here so that when people want to explore topics that are challenging, they can do so. It’s not always easy, but making a safe environment matters. Safety tools, discussion among players, developing a social contract - these things matter.

Useful tool (yes I'm reusing this picture) even at its base mechanics - using more of them can make games better.
One of the things we discussed was about deciding not to play or leaving groups. Just like in previous panels, we talked about ejecting harmful people and bad actors, but we also talked about self-selecting your group. Stepping away if the space isn’t safe, tapping out, or leaving groups: these are all okay. It’s okay to say no. We need to make it normal to leave games, to step away, and to take care of ourselves. That’s part of handling adult content.

After the panel, I had a bit of a breakdown. I was still processing grief (I still am!), I had done three panels without a panic attack which is amazing, and I’d been traveling and surrounded with people and writing a paper… I was exhausted. I burst into tears when I was alone by the elevator, fell to the floor, and just sobbed until Stephanie Bryant found me. Angel that she is, she made sure I was okay, took me up to my room, and reassured me it was okay to be upset. I’m so grateful for that!

I spent some time talking with Tanya and some Twitch and gaming friends of hers, & one of them who had attended the panel said the work I was doing was “so important, so valuable” and it really felt amazing to hear. I don’t often think of anything I do making a difference, but hearing other people say it is super awesome. It matters a lot to me. Thank you to anyone who thinks well of my work - I appreciate it so much.

I’ll have one more post covering Sunday with my games of Who Made Me Smile? and Dialect. Thanks for reading!

SNEAK PREVIEW! Dialect table!


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